Mother Nature apparently put the kabosh on screeching, high-alcohol zinfandels during the 2011 growing season. It was a genteel vintage that rolled onto the market.
Nearly 8,000 people gathered in San Francisco for the 22nd annual ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Tasting Saturday to taste through hundreds of zinfandel bottlings and barrel samples.
"The 2011 vintage was interesting," said Joel Peterson, founding winemaker of Sonoma's Ravenswood Winery. "It forced zinfandel makers to make wine that they wouldn't have otherwise made... We made very pretty wines as opposed to powerful, overwhelming wines."
Peterson said the cool 2011 vintage suffered from two early rainstorms in late August and early September.
"The first rain loaded the gun and the second one a week later pulled the trigger," Peterson said. "The wines are more focused and tend to be lower in alcohol."
The Turley, 2011 Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel is a good example of this restraint in alcohol level. The bottling's alcohol level is 15.6 percent, down from its typical 15.9 or 16 percent.
"This is indicative of the cool vintage," said Brennan Stover, vineyard manager of St. Helena's Turley Wine Cellars. "The acidity levels are higher."
Here's a look at some impressive zins of the 2011 vintage, and a few earlier vintages, from the ZAP tasting:
Ridge, 2011 Pagani Vineyard Zinfandel, 14.7 percent, $35. An elegant zin with layered flavors. Aromas and flavors of black raspberry, herbs, spice and a hint of caramel. Seamless texture.
Bedrock Wine Co., 2011 Old Vine Sonoma County Zinfandel, 14.8 percent, $24. A rock star zin. Notes of deep, rich blackberry and black raspberry, herbs and spice. Zesty finish.
Carlisle, 2011 Monte Rosso, 15.8 percent, $45, April release. A zin with depth. Peppery aromas with flavors of black and red fruit, herbs and spice. A knockout.
Hartford, 2011 Russian River Valley, 15 percent, $38. A very tasty zin with notes of black cherry, cherry, herbs and cracked black pepper. Good acid. Nice length.