Dashe Cellars says that they knew in advance that their stellar, 2007 vintage, Dry Creek zinfandels would ‘make themselves’. Good news for Dashe; not so much for the migrants who will now have to be trucked into Oregon to find a job.
Kidding, kidding. Zinfandel is that kind of wine—you can make with the jokes and nobody thinks it’s a mortal zin. Zin is fun, whether it’s wearing a dark and dry business suit, a casual, pink and off-dry costume or a multi-hued, molar-crumbling, sugarific Mardi Gras get-up.
The inky-purple, pretty in pink or shades-of-both giggle juice is responsible for ten percent of all wine grapes grown in California, and was the most widely planted wine varietal until 1998. But nowhere in the state has zinfandel found a home-base better than Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley.
That’s because Dry Creek Valley zins ripen with the same aggression as those grown in nearby Paso Robles and Lodi, but being in a river valley near the coast, Dry Creek’s warm days are tempered by cool evenings—imperitive for maintaining grape acidity. The need for an acidic balance to palate-friendly sweetness cannot be understated—liken it to the refreshment difference between sugar water and lemonade—all you are really doing is adjusting the pH.
Speaking of science, DNA profilers have said that zinfandel is genetically identical to Croatia’s crljenak kaštelanski grape—that or they mixed it up with samples from Slobodan Milošević’s mother, who had the same name.
Again With The Jokes?
The Italian boot-heel grape primitivo is also listed as having zinfandel’s genetic footprint, but new studies suggest that primitivo may have migrated to Italy via Croatia—and both may have been born in prehistoric Greece.
Whatever the genealogy, zinfandel is unquestionably America’s wine—and you won’t find the name on any off-shore label that I’m aware of, though there are plantings in South Africa and Australia. It’s Gold Rush wine, the favorite of the real Forty-niners, the stuff that made Clementine fall into foaming brine and not come up. In those days it was high-octane, unsophisticated grog—as befit the folks who swilled it.
Not so the wines of Dashe Cellars, who have been turning out sleek, elegant, award-winning zinfandels since 1996. The Dashe endeavor was the brainchild of enologists Michael and Anne Dashe, who were married the same year as they founded the Cellars. Wineries begun by hardscrabble winemakers have a charm that somehow outstrips those started by thirsty, ego-driven San Francisco businessmen, don’t you agree?
The Dashes’ approach to zinfandel has remained uniquely plot-focused; they have partnered with some top Dry Creek zinfandel vineyards like Louvau, Bella and the Shaddick where the vines are old and the yields are low. This results in concentrated wines of complexity and subtlety. The Dashes’ artisan-obsession extends to barrel-making (they use only nearby family coopers) and technique (small-lot fermentation and indigenous years). More than most other grapes, zinfandel requires clever management, especially at harvest time, because it tends to ripen unevenly; often it’s a hands-on style like Anne and Michael’s that’s the difference between boom or bust.
One thing that’s not a joke is the consistent quality of Dashe zins; the late harvest bottlings, which requires an additional month of ‘hang time’ on the vine to concentrate sugars, is reminiscent of a jammy, miles-deep vintage Port. The experimental L’Enfant Terrible is a bantam-weight, all-organic zinfandel that relies less on sulfites and more on natural acidity to preserve quality. L’Enfant Terrible is Beaujolais-esque; the style may not be to every zin lovers tastes—better pop a cork and find out.
The 2007 vintage may have made itself, but I’ll be damned if I going to let it drink itself.
Dashe Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, 2007, about $25: Intense in Dry Creek’s inimical, India ink sort of way. Fully concentrated with blackberry and black cherry notes, clove on the nose and chocolate on the finish.
Dashe Late Harvest Zinfandel, Lily Hill Vineyard, 2007, about $28: Sweet but balanced with acidity; blackberry and cassis-centered, luscious and spicy, a great foil for black fruit desserts.
Dashe L’Enfant Terrible, McFadden Farms, Potter Valley, 2007, about $26: Unfined, unfiltered, mostly un-oaked and totally un-adorned with the monkey-fish trademark, the Dashe’s rebel child is more Cru Beaujolais than sledgehammer zin. Spicy black cherry notes and a low alcohol lightness.