Wine of the Week: A zin that pays tribute to the past

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THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Snappy Zinfandels

TOP PICK: Dry Creek Vineyard

Dry Creek Vineyard, 2016 Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, Old Vine Zinfandel, 14.5% alcohol, $35. ★★★★

What makes this zin a standout is its complexity. It’s layered with raspberry, cranberry, mocha and cracked black pepper. It has ripe tannins and a supple texture. Impressive.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Frank Family Vineyards, 2015 Napa Valley Zinfandel, 14.8%, $38. ★★★★: This zin is weighted to red fruit with both savory and spice notes. It has layered flavors of raspberry, plum and black pepper. Nice length.

Cline, 2017 Lodi California Zinfandel, 14.8%, $12. ★★★1/2: A snappy zin with notes of strawberry, plum, cherry and vanilla. Round texture. Lingering finish. Smart.

Decoy, 2016 Sonoma County Zinfandel, 13.9%, $25. ★★★1/2: A tasty zin with a mix of black and red fruit. Notes of sour cherry, blackberry, black pepper and a hint of caramel. Rich, yet balanced. Pretty.

Pedroncelli, 2016 Dry Creek Valley Mother Clone, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 14.9%, $19. ★★★1/2: A zin with concentrated flavors. Notes of blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, toast and pepper. Balanced. Nice length.

Zinfandel is a great immigrant success story.

Once California’s mystery grape, DNA fingerprinting revealed this renegade grape was genetically identical to Italy’s primitivo and the Croatian variety crljenak kastelanski.

The grape found its way to the United States in the late 1800s, where it has found both fame and fortune. At least that’s how Tim Bell and the zin-crazed see it.

A self-proclaimed zin-fanatic, Bell has mastered how to craft old vine zin. He’s the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner – the Dry Creek Vineyard, 2016 Old Vine Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County at $35. What makes this zin a standout is its complexity. It’s layered with raspberry, cranberry, mocha and cracked black pepper. It has ripe tannins and a supple texture.

People who don’t know zinfandel, Bell said, may not realize the connection between old vine zin and field blends.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Bell explained, zinfandel was plentiful in “field blend” vineyards.

“These vineyards were planted largely to zinfandel, but other red and sometimes white grape varieties were planted randomly throughout these vineyards,” Bell said.

By way of example, the winemaker explained, the Beeson Ranch vineyard includes zinfandel with a few vines of petite sirah, grenache, pinot St. George, and alicante bouschet, along with a few white vines.

“All these different grape varieties are harvested together, so nature and the vineyard really determine the blend each year,” Bell said. “If the carignane vines produce a few more pounds per vine this year than last year, then that alters the blend in subtle ways.”

Bell said he’s a natural to make a concoction of old vine zin with its field blend variables because he’s such a fan.

“I love zinfandel’s story: the mystery of its origins that was solved by detective work and DNA testing,” Bell said. “I also like the fact that zin was not considered a ‘noble’ grape but made a name for itself here in California. And I like the challenge it presents with its uneven ripening. But it is one of the most versatile red wines and is a staple at the table in our house.”

Bell, 54, has a degree in fermentation science from UC Davis. His credits include Sonoma County wineries Gloria Ferrer and Kunde Family Estate. The house style Bell is intent on producing at Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Vineyard is one that makes a good dinner companion.

“I want it to have bold fruit flavors with a very moderate use of new oak, and some good balance between rich body and acidity,” Bell said. “Our wines are meant to be at home with some great food.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.

THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING: Snappy Zinfandels

TOP PICK: Dry Creek Vineyard

Dry Creek Vineyard, 2016 Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, Old Vine Zinfandel, 14.5% alcohol, $35. ★★★★

What makes this zin a standout is its complexity. It’s layered with raspberry, cranberry, mocha and cracked black pepper. It has ripe tannins and a supple texture. Impressive.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Frank Family Vineyards, 2015 Napa Valley Zinfandel, 14.8%, $38. ★★★★: This zin is weighted to red fruit with both savory and spice notes. It has layered flavors of raspberry, plum and black pepper. Nice length.

Cline, 2017 Lodi California Zinfandel, 14.8%, $12. ★★★1/2: A snappy zin with notes of strawberry, plum, cherry and vanilla. Round texture. Lingering finish. Smart.

Decoy, 2016 Sonoma County Zinfandel, 13.9%, $25. ★★★1/2: A tasty zin with a mix of black and red fruit. Notes of sour cherry, blackberry, black pepper and a hint of caramel. Rich, yet balanced. Pretty.

Pedroncelli, 2016 Dry Creek Valley Mother Clone, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 14.9%, $19. ★★★1/2: A zin with concentrated flavors. Notes of blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, toast and pepper. Balanced. Nice length.

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