Is anyone making a zin like they used to be, I wondered? One that was round and yet peppery, fruity but with a brambly edge. And, one that doesn't knock you over with its power. So I went to the store in search of a lower alcohol zinfandel that might remind me of the wines I drank through the 90s. After turning around what seemed like every zin on the shelf, I found one that came in at just 13.5% alc/vol.
The 2004 Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Zinfandel ($15 direct from the winery; check Wine Zap for lots of other merchants who are selling it for $11-$18) reminded me of the way zins were. An old-school Zin, with only 13.5% alch/vol, this is a subtle, smooth wine with textbook zin characteristics. Blended from 84% Zinfandel and 16% Petite Sirah grapes, it is dark, inky purple in color. Potent aromas of spice and blackberry come from the glass before you take your first sip. These aromas are followed up by blackberry, huckleberry at first taste, then waves of woody, brushy flavors and freshly cracked pepper. This wine had bright acidity and a long, juicy finish. Not a jam pot in sight! This was the kind of wine that made me love zinfandel, and I haven't had one like it for years. It represented excellent QPR, especially if this is the style of zinfandel you long for and rarely find these days.
With my zinfandel I had a simply grilled steak; a salad made with baby lettuces, red beets, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and olive oil; and some toasted baguette with goat cheese. Beef and zinfandel are a natural pairing, and the beets picked up the woody flavors in the zinfandel.
I'll be on the lookout for more zinfandels like this, and perhaps continue to scan the shelves for zins with lower alcohol to see if that is a consistent clue that helps me to find the brambly, peppery wines that remind me of the way zins were.