Friday, June 14, 2013

Pink Zinfandels From Dry Creek Valley: Just Don't Call Them White

Let me be clear.  I don’t have anything against White Zinfandel.  I don’t drink it much, but for those who like it, cheers!  I pitched a wine story to a magazine editor once who promised to “cut off all communication” with me if I ever brought up White Zinfandel again.  I didn’t, but he hasn’t called lately anyway.

A lot of folks do like White Zin - that wine type accounts for one out of ten bottles taken out of U.S. supermarkets.  If you sat in the back of the math class in high school, that works out to ten percent, and that’s a lot for one variety.

I do like old vine Zin, though.  White Zinfandel’s incredible popularity since its accidental invention in the early 1970s probably spared many an old Zinfandel vine which may have otherwise been pulled out of the ground to make way for more Cab, or Chardonnay, or Moscato, or insert trendy grape here.  But when ten percent of grocery store sales are White Zin, you keep that old Zinfandel growing, and for that I am grateful.

A publicist reached out to me and asked if I wanted to try three Zinfandel rosés from Dry Creek Valley - not White Zin, mind you, but true, dry, Provence-style rosé made from the Zinfandel grape.  I said, “Sure, I would.”

Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County is known for its Zinfandel wines, so it stands to reason they should be known for those of a lighter hue, too.  These true rosé wines offer the acidity and refreshing nature of a white wine, while maintaining the heft and flavor of red wines.

Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2012

The Pedroncelli family has been producing a rosé since 1951.  The word “dry” was added to its name in 2007, in order to draw a distinction between it and White Zin.

The grapes for their Signature Selection Dry Rose come from the Pedroncelli vineyard as well as another vineyard, unnamed in the media material I saw.  These grapes are picked in mid-September - a little early for Zinfandel, but just right for keeping the sugar down and retaining acidity.  Free-run juice joins 30% saignée in stainless steel fermentation.

This magenta marvel's color sits between pink and rosado - it's so brilliant it looks more like Kool-Aid than wine.  That's where the similarity ends, though.  This dry rosé smells like strawberries right off the vine, with an herbal note layered onto it.  In the mouth, the focus on acidity is readily apparent.  The fruit flavors are true to the varietal, with red berries aplenty and a nice weight in the mouth.  It’s lively, but carries a reasonable alcohol number of 13.9% abv.  I might have guessed it to be from the Rhône Valley - it has a sense of Cinsault about it, I think.

Dry Creek Vineyard Petite Zin Rosé 2012

The blend is 80% Zinfandel and 20% Petite Sirah, with alcohol at 13.5% abv.  Juice is drained from the skins after about four hours of contact time, and that s plenty to give this blush the bold look of a rosado.  Grapes from vines averaging 16 years of age are harvested from flat benchland vineyards with some hillside influence.  2012 is the fifth vintage for this pink Zin, which retails for $18.

The wine shows impressively as a deep, rosy red in the bottle and the glass.  Fresh strawberries, cherries and raspberries burst from the nose and palate, but don't let the fruity come-on fool you.  A White Zin fan would have a siezure upon sipping it.  The ripping acidity and strong tannic structure make it clear that this wine intends to go to dinner, and it intends to have a New York strip.  Well, at least a pork chop.

Mill Creek Santa Rosa Rosé 2012

Zin plays only a supporting role here, with 92% Merlot against 6% Zinfandel and 2% Cabernet Franc, all from the Mill Creek estate vineyards.  Alcohol gets up in the 14.5% range, while retailing for $19.
Winemaker Jeremy Kreck uses stainless steel fermentation - there's no mention of oak.

The wine, like the Pedroncelli, is so pink it's red.  Brilliantly colored, the Santa Rosa Rosé smells great, too.  Cherries, watermelons and strawberries all leap to mind without much of a struggle.  The palate shows similar fruit choices and slips a little spicy note in for good measure.  Acidity is not a problem, so it can go with most all kinds of food.

I still think the grapes of the Rhône Valley make the best rosé, but the Zinfandel grape can certainly hold its own without some of its color.  These three dry rosés made from Zinfandel show that it's possible to make Pink Zin without making it White Zin.

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