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Rethinking Zinfandel

Robert Whitley on

But the zinfandel that inspired those passions disappeared some time ago, morphing into a sometimes unrecognizable beverage that was dense, almost black in color, and exceedingly high in alcohol with Port-like aromas of prunes and raisins. Many wine enthusiasts were turned off, including yours truly.

I hadn't attended ZAP for about a decade. Then I got vibes from the ZAP crowd that the pendulum was swinging back the other way, toward balance and elegance. The proof, however, is always in the bottle. So I signed up for ZAP this year specifically to attend the tasting Peterson, the moderator and curator, headlined "Zinfandel, Exposing the Next Generation aka the Young Guns."

I am happy to report that the tasting was an eye-opening experience. The wines exhibited freshness and balance beyond anything I could have dreamed of. I was heartened when Bilbro told me at an opening-night reception: "I'm not afraid of acidity, and I'm not afraid of tannin. I believe zinfandel has the ability age, and it needs structure to do that."

Added Rashell Rafanelli: "We want to make a wine WE like to drink. We have resisted the high-alcohol ripe style. We said, 'It's just not our style.'"

I evaluated and graded the wines presented. Each winemaker poured two wines. Rory Williams of Calder Wine Company presented one wine each from his mother's winery, Tres Sabores, and his father's winery, Frog's Leap. Due to the format, especially the limited pour, I utilized a letter grade based upon my perception of overall balance, structure and fruit purity.

The Wines (in tasting order):

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Tres Sabores Estate 2015, Rutherford, A-

Frog's Leap 1987, Napa Valley, A

Bella Grace Vineyards 2014 Bella Grace Reserve, Amador County, A

Bella Grace Vineyards 2015 Estate, Amador County, A-

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