A recent article by Talia Baiocchi in the San Francisco Chronicle, Zinfandel Finds an Elegant Balance, commented on a trend towards more “claret” style Zinfandels that were thought to be a relic of the 1970’s, 80’s and early 90’s. The claret style championed by producers like Ridge and Ravenswood featured wines with bright fruit flavors that were relatively low in alcohol. Over the last decade though Zinfandel became more associated with high alcohol wines and an ultra ripe fruit profile.
The movement back to the claret style is being led by the likes of Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock, Steve Hall of Biale and Tegan Passalacqua of Turley. One of the biggest factors in creating this style is an earlier harvesting of the grapes. Some winemakers like Mike Dashe of Dashe Cellars are even looking at cooler sites as a way to bring down alcohol levels in their wines.
With this in mind, I began to wonder if and how the wines would differ when tasted as an end product. Since Turley was the “poster child” for ultra ripe Zinfandels, and is now one of the leaders in this new movement I decided to incorporate their offerings into my experiment. My first thought was to open the same Turley bottlings from several vintages to see if I could pick up on any differences. After receiving some advice from Tegan Passalacqua, I opted to go with opening an ’03 Turley Hayne and a ’10 Turley Dogtown. I think the Hayne is representative of the previous style and, per Tegan, the Dogtown “shows more precise vineyard work” for which Turley is now striving.
Both wines were purchased upon release from Turley and cellared until now.
- 2003 Turley Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel – The most acclaimed Zinfandel in the Turley portfolio. Hayne Vineyard is in St. Helena and has vines dating back to 1903. 16.5% ABV. Still opaque purple in color. A slightly medicinal nose with a touch of heat followed by pepper and jammy red fruits. The heat subsided after 30 minutes or so making me think the wine may have benefited from a brief decanting. The wine is powerful and concentrated. Gobs of black cherries, kirsch, glycerine, cassis, raspberries and licorice. The finish lingers for almost a minute. This wine is jammy, ripe, hedonistic and downright delicious. My rating: 93 points.
- 2010 Turley Dogtown Vineyard Zinfandel – Dogtown Vineyard is in the Lodi appelation and was planted in 1944. 16.2% ABV. Ruby red in color. Bright aromas of raspberry, blackberry and anise. Unctuous, intense and creamy on the palate. The wine is at the same time light on its feet and powerful. Dark fruits, pepper, vanilla and a hint of licorice. The wine finishes with a wallop of tannins. My rating: 93 points (with a point of upside after a year or so in the cellar).
The difference between the two wines could not be more apparent. Despite having almost identical ABV’s, the ’03 Hayne shows some of the hot characteristics that many feel detracted from Zinfandel for the better part of a decade. The ’10 Dogtown, on the other hand, is simply light, bright and yes… elegant. I do realize I scored both wines 93 points but I am admittedly an unabashed Turley fan.
With the likes of Turley, Bedrock and Carlisle at the forefront of the revolution, the future of Zinfandel has never been more exciting and promising.
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