Too Much Of Everything: California Zin and Chard

raisinsI was reading an article about Zinfandel written by Jon Bonne of the San Francisco Chronicle’s blog, SFGate. The event that prompted the article is the ZAP festival coming soon to SFO. What’s ZAP, you say? The acronym stands for Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, and it’s a group of winemakers and wine drinkers  who love big, juicy, high alcohol, red wine.

And there’s the rub — the “big, juicy, high-alcohol” part. Zinfandel producers have been accused of letting the grape lead them where  no man/woman should go. The criticism is that grapes are  left on the vine until they’re too ripe and too high in sugar, producing a Port-like wine with more raisin than berry flavors and alcohol above 15%. On top of that, many producers overdo the oak barrel aging to add texture, and they end up with waaaaay too much vanilla and toast. As well as everything else.

Some say, “Bring it on!” Others say (yours truly included), “Tone it down!”

It’s important to point out that all Zin producers aren’t on the same side of this fence. Bonne quotes two winemakers: Ehren Jordan, who makes wine for Turley Wine Cellars, said “I actually have a major issue with a lot of Zinfandel that is produced in California.” Mike Dashe, owner/winemaker of Dashe Cellars, a vey respected Zin producer, said, “I think some of the exuberance for that super-ripe, almost overripe, fruit is not there anymore…I really think that people are tired of that.”

I sure am. My palate gets tired of those Port-like Zins after about one sip, and the over-ripe fruit starts to comes across muddy and flabby. There’s no balance in these wines, and balance is what good wine is all about.

At about this point in Bonne’s article, I started going, “Hmmmm: overdone, too heavy, too much oak.  This sounds like the Chardonnay debate!”

The same arguments made about Zin could be made about a lot of California Chardonnay. I happen to be one of those wine drinkers who object to chewing on a 2×4 when I drink a glass of Chardonnay, and there used to be way too many of those on the market. Recently, though, I’ve seen a trend away from the Super Woody Chards towards a more balanced style where fruit, acid and oak all happily co-habitate.

I have an idea. I say we get the High Alcohol Raisin’y Zin people together with the Over-Oaked, Too Buttery Chardonnay folks. We make them try each others wines, and maybe they’ll see the faults that the rest of us have been grousing about. Then the wine industry can set about making nothing but wines that the discerning public (i.e. “me”) can enjoy.

What a concept! Do you think it’ll work? Cheers…

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