Originally created 11/28/01

Zinfandels on steroids pummel the palate



Last week we looked at 15 zinfandel wines that seemed appropriate with Thanksgiving dinner. This week we tackle another 15 zinfandels, but these are bigger and bolder wines and a few burst out to the area beyond the pale where, frankly, one wonders what we're supposed to do with them. These are the wines that are so rudely over-ripe, so bodaciously alcoholic, so exotic and pruny that they seem to have little purpose in life other than to be specimens of California's winemaking bravura.

Not that all the wines in this category are bad or badly made - some are splendid - but they make assertive statements that might bury meals based on anything other than wild boar that you and the other Pilgrims had killed with your bare hands and roasted over a fire at the mouth of your cave. The order ascends on the alcohol scale.

- Kempton Clark MAD ZIN 1998, Dunnigan Hills (made by R.H. Phillips). Ripe, florid, funky style, roasted and fleshy and with a touch of wet dog, boysenberry and blueberry with a hint of fruitcake and chocolate. 14 percent alcohol. Quite individual and a Great Bargain at about $10.

- Cline Big Break Vineyard Zinfandel 1999, Contra Costa County. Whoa! Inky, smoldering, teeth-staining and mouth-coating, mint, black pepper, exotic spice, very intense boysenberry, blueberry, cranberry and plum flavors. 14 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $29.

- Edizione Pennino Zinfandel 1999, Napa Valley (made by Niebaum-Coppola). Only 14.1 percent alcohol, but, boy, what incredible sleek intensity and concentration, what gravity and, for all that, how wonderfully drinkable, what enticing smoke and lavender and bittersweet chocolate under black fruits and polished tannin. Exceptional. About $28.

- Rancho Zabaco Stefani Vineyard Zinfandel 1999, Dry Creek Valley. Deep and rich, powerful structure and velvety texture, very ripe and intense and funky, lip-smacking flavors and acidity but overwhelming tannin. 14.3 percent alcohol. Very good+. About $25.

- Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel 1997, Sonoma County. A beautiful manifestation of the grape. Warm, rich and mellow, rich, spicy, balancing size and scope with slightly jammy flavors, and exhibiting a sort of confidence that makes it a joy to drink. 14.3 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $20.

- Ridge Lytton Springs 1999, Dry Creek Valley. A wine with vast subterranean elements that minute by minute loads on pure, fresh, succulent qualities: boysenberry and blueberry, minerals and mocha, leather and black pepper. Substantial yet sensual. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.

- Geyser Peak Zinfandel 1999, Sonoma County. Voluptuous, smoky, intense, phalanxes of dusty, chewy tannins, big whiff of black pepper, earth and mushrooms, leather and minerals, pretty darned formidable. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $17.

- Fritz Old Vine Zinfandel 1998, Dry Creek Valley. Funky, earthy, smoky, ashy style, wonderful velvety texture and many layers of black and red fruit flavors and a core of incredible sweet ripeness, but stout oak and tannin make it daunting. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.

- Geyser Peak Block Collection De Ambrogio Ranch Zinfandel 1999, Cucamonga Valley. Pushes the ripeness pedal to the metal with scintillating blueberry and boysenberry flavors, very smoky and minerally, a dense, plush, chewy wine, slightly overwhelming. 14.9 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.

- Coturri Bruschera Vineyards Zinfandel 1999, Sonoma Valley. Absolutely unique, like a combination of the most intense and concentrated zinfandel with port and cherry liqueur, emphatically exotic, rhapsodically ripe, profoundly plummy and pruny. 15.2 percent alcohol. Rating could be anything you want it to be. About $25.

- Peachy Canyon Zinfandel 1998, Paso Robles. Goes straight for earthiness, minerals and austerity, though gradually yielding smoke and ash and macerated-brandied plum, currant and cherry flavors. A rather severe rendition. 15.3 percent alcohol. Very good+. About $18.

- Norman Vineyards "The Monster" Zinfandel 1999, Paso Robles. Lives up to its nickname, quite portlike, raisiny, pruny, smoky, roasted and fleshy, tastes like plums, currants and blueberries drenched with brandy, but a daunting austere finish. What do you do with it? 15.5 percent alcohol. Very good+. About $19.

- Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel 1998, Paso Robles. A real monster. Very ripe, very earthy, very exotic, intensely plummy and a bit pruny around the edges. Very dry and tannic. No one said drinking wine had to be fun. 15.7 percent alcohol. Very good+. About $20.

- Neyers Tofanelli Vineyard Zinfandel 1999, Napa Valley. Big, bigger, biggest, deep, deeper, deepest, incredibly rich, roasted, minerally, plummy and jammy but by some miracle manages to wear its 15.7 percent alcohol with benign authority. Excellent. About $45.

- Coturri Freiberg Vineyards Zinfandel 1999, Sonoma Valley. Over the top, flamboyantly, decadently ripe, raisiny and pruny but with clear bell tones of blueberries and currants, all leading to a very dry finish. 15.9 percent alcohol. You have to wonder what the raison d'etre of such a wine is. About $28.