Striking a balance with lower alcohol content zinfandels 

A late ripener, zinfandel is typically thought of as a high-alcohol wine. And it often is. Many red wine grapes cannot withstand 14 percent alcohol without seeming “hot,” a term that indicates the alcohol has become an overriding feature of the wine. However, zinfandel can approach 15 percent alcohol content and seem balanced — sometimes. That said, as the trend to make lower-alcohol-content wines has pervaded the consciousness of a lot of winemakers, especially the young ’uns, I’ve noticed more zins that are less than 14 percent alcohol on the market. Personally, I welcome this, as lower alcohol also means lighter and usually brighter. But above all, if I purchase a zinfandel, I want it to taste like the spiced, berried wine that it is. Striking this balance is not that easy, but a few vintners have shown us it is possible.

Dashe Heart Arrow Ranch Zinfandel, Les Enfants Terribles, 2012 (Mendocino County): This is made from a biodynamic vineyard in Mendocino County. In an effort to make a more European-style wine, Mike Dashe leaned off the oak, sulfur dioxide and alcohol, so that the fruit and terroir would be free to roam like “wild children,” as the name suggests. Light- to medium-bodied with bright acidity, strawberry licorice, raspberries and white pepper, this is a juicy wine that leaves your palate feeling refreshed. It is 13.1 percent alcohol. Suggested retail: $24

Ridge Three Valleys, 2011 (Sonoma County): Three Valleys is Ridge’s kitchen-sink wine, in a sense. Technically, it is not a zinfandel since it only has 65 percent of this grape, but considering it is the driving force, I’m going to make an exception here. It is composed of six grapes with petite sirah, at 20 percent, being the next most prominent. Three Valleys is aged in American oak. You will certainly get a good whiff of vanilla marshmallow, but there is so much fruit that it just becomes part of the story, with the red berries taking center stage. It is 13.8 percent alcohol. Suggested retail: $26

Broc Cellars Vine Star Zinfandel, 2012 (Sonoma County): Composed of organically farmed fruit from two vineyards in Sonoma County, Broc Cellars Vine Star zin is picked at much lower brix (sugar content) than most other zin grapes. Consequently, it has a lot less alcohol. A couple of years ago, I never would have thought that a zinfandel with close to 12 percent alcohol could have this much varietal character, but Chris Brockway has done it again. With a host of pomegranate, strawberries, cherries and white pepper, all tightly held together with bright acidity, Vine Star shows that zinfandel can be delicious without all of the alcohol. It is 12.1 percent alcohol. Suggested retail: $27

These wines can be found at Arlequin, Beverages and More, Bi-Rite, The Natural Grocery Co., SF Wine Trading Co., Terroir, Village Market and Whole Foods.

Pamela S. Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched TheVinguard.com.

About The Author

Pamela S. Busch

Bio:
Pamela Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched TheVinguard.com.
Pin It
Favorite

More by Pamela S. Busch

Latest in Food & Drink

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Videos

© 2014 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation