Writing about Zinfandel for the October issue (see “Original Zin”) got me thinking about my personal connection to the varietal, and how that’s changed over the years. Zinfandel didn’t really enter my consciousness until 1999, when I first moved to the Bay Area and a friend gave me a bottle of Ravenswood Zin as a welcome gift. Now along with Ridge and more recently, Rosenblum, Ravenswood is one of *the* names in Zinfandel, with winemaker Joel Peterson offering up numerous examples of the varietal. These offerings range from the high-end Vineyard Designates to the more-moderate County Series and the budget-friedly Vintner’s Blend.
You can be sure that the bottle my friend gave me back in ’99 was the latter, given that we were all starving twenty-somethings at the time, and Ravenswood Zin quickly became a favorite for both its price tag, rich flavors, and almost-cocktail-like alcoholic punch (which is, let’s face it, another favorite characteristic among beverages of starving twenty-somethings…).
It’s that alcoholic punch that can occasionally get the varietal into trouble: witness Darrell Corti’s decision to no longer sell his once-beloved Amador County Zinfandels at Corti Brothers gourmet grocery and wine store in Sacramento. Now, if you read my article, you’ll recall that Corti was largely responsible for putting Amador wines on the map in the ’60s and ’70s, thanks to his successful lobbying campaign on behalf of the county’s Zinfandel grapes. That campaign was aimed at Napa winemakers, and given Corti’s reputation as something of an industry sage, those winemakers listened and began to source their grapes from the region — with impressive results.
But in recent years, the alcohol content in Zinfandels has been sneaking ever higher (16 percent isn’t unheard of), perhaps in an effort to suit the tastes of critics who bestow their highest scores upon wines that are big and bold. Corti has said that his objection is not with Amador Zins in particular, but with all unfortified wines whose alcohol content exceeds 14 percent.
Fair enough — even this Zinfandel lover can now only handle the occasional glass of Amador’s old-vine finest. Guess I’ve mellowed with age.