Two recent zinfandel release from Ridge Vineyards demonstrated for me that a big varietal like zinfandel, which can produce high-blown, fruity wines, can also produce elegant wines that conceal their considerable alcohol. The first was the 2008 Jimsomare ** from the middle of Monte Bello in the Santa Cruz Mountains, pictured below, that weighed in at 14.7%. Without being coy or sweet, the wine was soft, with some fine gritty tannins, notes of lavender and other dried flowers, predominantly tart red berry fruit, without heat or astringency on the finish.
The second recent release of note was the 2009 East Bench **/*** from Dry Creek Valley. Previous editions of this wine tended to come across as robust, stylized, and perhaps a bit oaky. I found less elegance in the DCV selections than the equivalent Paso Robles wines from 2007 and 2008. This year that all changed. The East Bench is a dark garnet color, with focused aromas of worn wood and dry spices. It shows predominantly black fruits in the front and middle of the mouth, reminding me of some flavorful Barbaresco I recently tasted. I would have thought the fruit here was less ripe, but the wine weighed in at 15.2% alcohol, and for me it proved that at the end of the day whether a wine tastes "big" or "hot" is foremost a question of balance.