Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2017: Day 16

16 12 2017

By Raymond Lamontagne

Day 16 and we are still in California. Today we leave behind the high ABVs from grapes grown in the hot interior but vinified in Napa, to get a look at what Jon Bonne calls the “new California wine”. Rutherford is considered to be among the finest Napa Valley AVAs. It lies on the valley floor, getting ample sunshine and warm temperatures, two factors that translate into optimally mature grapes that yield opulent, richly-flavored wines. However, a cooling fog also moves northward up the valley from the Bay area, modulating the sunshine that would otherwise napalm the grapes into a watery oblivion. The results are ageworthy wines that display a precise balance of fruit and acidity. Although Cabernet Sauvignon is the undisputed king across the region, more traditional California variety Zinfandel retains a few toeholds here and there. At Frog’s Leap, Zin is the favourite.

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Interestingly enough, the same Riedel varietal tumbler glass is used for Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling on the one hand, and Zinfandel on the other. Maybe they mean white Zinfandel?

John Williams and Larry Turley started Frog’s Leap in 1981, ultimately creating a successful boutique winery that grows only organic grapes and practices dry-farming of vineyards (no irrigation, which many believe leads to sickly vines and bloated grapes that contain less acid, more sugar, and fewer of the  phenolic compounds that make wine worth inspecting, as opposed to crushing). They also incorporate at least certain aspects of biodynamics. Although these guys do not take themselves particularly seriously, stewardship of the land is another matter. Careful attention to yields, the aforementioned dry-farming, and respect for terroir work together to spawn Zins that show restraint, high-toned acids, earthy flavors, and (thankfully for the Advent-soaked liver) more reasonable ABVs. All of this emerges with minimal use of intervention. John Williams believes that nature makes wine, rather than man or woman. Finally, some of Cali’s fascinating grape-growing heritage is reflected in the fact that these old school Zins are often technically field blends: Other black grape varietals grow amongst the Zinfandel vines and are tossed into the pot to round out Zin’s corners and provide additional aromas, flavors, and mouthfeel. These can include various teinturiers (grapes with red flesh, historically used to provide more colour) as well as old warhorses that might be consigned to the dust bin of history were it not for a recent (positive!) trend toward preserving the past. The 2015 Frog’s Leap Napa Valley Zinfandel is 79% Zin, 19% Petit Syrah (or Durif), and 2% Carignan. Let’s delve in.

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Cork Rating: 6.5/10. I like the Frog’s Leap swoosh, but otherwise this looks a bit like a cigarette butt.

This is a truly smoky, meaty wine upon first impression. One quick sniff yields powerful hickory smoke BBQ sauce and fresh ground beef. A few more sniffs reveal bramble jam, complete with canes and leaves, pumice stones in a sauna, dill seed and weed, allspice (maybe I should just say pickling spices across the board). I taste mealy Saskatoon berries, blackberries purchased in winter when they are rather tart, strawberries, raspberries, maybe a dab of peach conserve and a sprinkle of sweet dried chilli. None of these fruits are overly ripe or cooked, and everything is just a day or two past green. Peter and I exchanged Instagram messages while tasting this wine, and in addition to what turned into a rather wonderful conversation about the twists and turns of life, he helped provide this take on the primary fruit. Somewhat sweet but far from jammy, and every bit as balanced as Rutherford promises to deliver. Fresh acidity lifts everything up, and the tannins have some grip and just enough stem. This is what I absolutely love about an old fashioned Cali Zin: bright fruit but with ample old thorn-bush shrubbery, robust smoke and spice, tons of country character, nothing blowsy. Curry spices (star anise, cumin, coriander) show up late. Finish is persistent and features another perfect symmetry between fruit and aromatics. After last night’s alcoholic explosion, this is a breath of fresh air. Incidentally, some of my favorite wines are those that trigger bittersweet memories. This one takes me back to the raspberry patch in my old backyard in NW suburban Calgary. I do not live there anymore and I am happy in the downtown core. But the memories remain.

92 points

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21 12 2017
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