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A Master of Zinfandel
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 20, 2011
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Ravenswood Napa Valley Zinfandel, Dickerson Vineyard, 2008 ($35):  I have said that I do not enjoy Zinfandel as much as I used to, but that general statement emphatically does not apply to the single-vineyard, old-vines Zinfandels that Joel Peterson produces at Ravenswood.  Joel is a gifted winemaker who for decades has sourced much of California’s finest old-vine Zinfandel fruit and produced wines that reflect their vineyard rather than their winemaker.  Because each Ravenswood single-vineyard Zinfandel is individual and also so well-made, choosing a favorite is challenging.  Even the biggest, richest Ravenswood Zins are wonderful (even though I don’t favor rich, ripe Zins) and even the huge Zins are not sweet.

I have tasted through the 2008 Ravenswood single-vineyard Zinfandels twice and love every one of them.  Old Hill Vineyard, Sonoma Valley ($60) is the biggest and richest, sporting dark berry fruit and coffee notes but also spicy tannin and minty tones keep the ripeness in check and prevent the wine from being simple and overbearing.  Belloni Vineyard from Russian River Valley ($35), another 15 percent alcohol Zin, has amazing purity of red and black berry flavors.  Big River from Alexander Valley ($35) is a glorious, round, seamless beauty, simply delicious.  Barricia Vineyard from Sonoma Valley ($35) is very ripe and yet has nuanced berry and spice flavors, with definition on the palate that seems improbable for such a big wine.  Teldeschi Vineyard from Dry Creek Valley ($35) is soft, supple and plush, while showing admirable restraint for its size.

All of these Zinfandels hail from Sonoma County and, except for the Big River Zin, they contain other grapes -- Petite Sirah or Carignan, for example -- in addition to Zinfandel, as is common in vineyards dating back 100 years and more.  The wine I have chosen to feature is an exception.  Ravenswood Dickerson Vineyard Zinfandel is from a Napa Valley, from Zinfandel Lane specifically, and it is entirely Zinfandel.  The vineyard was planted from 1885 to 1920 and is dry-farmed.

The Dickerson Vineyard Zin has always been one of my very favorite Ravenswood Zinfandels because it is lean and sleek, a style that I favor.  On the nose the 2008 has delicate notes of raspberry and pure, concentrated blackberry fruit with accents of mint.  In your mouth, the wine is dry and fairly full-bodied (but moderate for Zinfandel) with depth of acidity and vivid flavors of mainly red fruits and fresh herbs. Its tannin is dry and firm but not aggressive and it does not overwhelm the wine’s fresh fruitiness. Concentrated fruity flavors endure in the finish, so fresh and vibrant.

In presenting this wine recently, Joel Peterson commented that although it is entirely Zinfandel, Dickerson is an anomaly because the vineyard is infected with leafroll virus, which causes less photosynthesis and results in higher acid and leaner tannins (technically, less complex anthocyanins) in the wine.  The grapes are ripe enough to produce 14.8 percent alcohol in the finished wine, but the ripeness tastes different than it does in Zinfandels from elsewhere.  The wine has edges and angles -- facets, like a diamond -- and this structure highlights the fresh fruit flavors.

If you are a Zinfanatic, then you will most likely prefer the 2008 Old Hill, or Big River, or Teldeschi.  But if, like me, your taste in red wines runs to trim and delineated styles, then by all means try the Dickerson.  Maybe, like me, you don’t tend to reach for a Zin, and then maybe, like me, you’ll be very glad that you did.

92 Points