Freshness, Energy, and Balance: In Pursuit of Zinfandel

I lived in New York once, and then left, and then moved back and lived there again. That should tell you something about my feelings for New York.

That said, I lived in Northern California once, and then left, and then moved back, and I am now here to stay. That should also tell you something about my feelings for New York.

That said, my missus and I have maintained our subscriptions to The New York Times and The New Yorker.

Meaning, I read Eric Asimov.

Because, as the great and wise Tom Hill says, he has original thoughts. And because, as I say, his heart and his palate are in the right place.

So when Eric wants to talk Zinfandel, I want to listen.

Particularly because Eric doesn’t normally much like Zinfandel.

Fortunately, it turns out he likes ours.

It was an odd quest Mr. Asimov recently set out on; a search for Zinfandels evidencing restraint.

Zinfandels that exhibited freshness, energy, and balance.

Fish in a barrel, or Nessie in the Loch?

They searched, they selected, they tasted. The results?

You could say we were mildly disappointed by our tasting. Certainly, lower alcohol levels by themselves are no guarantee that a wine will be lively and energetic. Yet we hope that more zinfandel producers will embrace the notion that wines can be both agile and intense rather than aiming simply for blockbuster power.

Ok, sounds like it didn’t go very well, right?

Not so!

They did indeed find the wines they were hoping for, just not a great many of them. But the ones they did love, they really loved. And they weren’t even surprised to be loving them. Dig this:

Our No. 1 wine was no surprise. For decades, Ridge has been making great zinfandels from its old-vine vineyards in Sonoma County, and the 2010 from Lytton Springs in Dry Creek Valley was yet another. It was hefty enough at 14.4 percent but beautifully structured, nuanced and refreshing.

I knew I admired Eric for a reason!

In all seriousness, I do indeed admire what he’s done here, because he is raising vital questions relevant not just to the world of wine, but to the world in general. Inadvertently perhaps, but he is  raising them just the same.

What he is really doing, is asking us to face our definition of power.

What is power?


As a species, we’re pretty feeble in many ways. We cannot fly like birds fly. We cannot “breathe” under water as fish can. Our eyes are weak, and we cannot see in the dark. Our ears are weak, and we cannot hear long distances or wide pitches. We cannot hibernate like bears, nor run as fast as cheetahs. Our skin is fragile; it protects us from neither heat nor sun. We do not live as long as turtles.

What we can do, or should I say, what we do have, is brains. Big brains, with big thoughts in them. And by virtue of our brains, we have achieved a unique sort of power in the world.

But what is important, what is so very important to remember, is the origin of this singular power. It is not a power rooted in physical strength. It is not a power rooted in size, or velocity, or scale. It is not a power of oppression, or violence. It is a power of nuance, and complexity. It is a power of responsivity; compensational in nature, conciliatory in spirit. It is a power of compromise, humility, and respect.

It is a power of observation, a power born from the act of seeing the world, and striving to find a place in it. It is an integrative power.

Misused, it becomes all the things it is, in fact, not. It becomes violent. It becomes oppressive. It becomes ugly. It becomes destructive. Eventually, it ceases even to be power. It becomes merely a weapon.

There is power in a haiku. There is violence in a gun.

Drink freshness, energy, and balance.

Drink haiku.

Before the white chrysanthemum
the scissors hesitate
a moment.

(Yosa Buson, translated by Robert Hass)

To read Eric’s full article, please click here:

Categories: Lytton Springs, Press Reviews, Tasting Notes, Varietals & Blends, Wine & Literature, Wine & Philosophy, Wine & Poetry, Wine Quotes, Wine Tales, Zinfandel

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

4 replies

  1. We just enjoyed the 2010 Dusi Ranch Zinfandel last night. I would imagine that the Dusi would have ranked quite high in the tasting, as it has all of the attributes the tasters were seeking!

  2. This discussion leads me to repost something I posted on this blog a few years ago about this very issue about zinfandels. It IS possible to make a beautiful, fruity, higher acid, low alcohol zin with the intensity of fruit and character of an old style claret, without the high alcohol. There is something wonderfully tasty and refreshing about zins like this. Nobody makes them any more though. I’d sure love it if you made some more like that beautiful 1982 Jimsomare.
    Here is the old post:

    I love some of the old Jimsomare Zinfandels I’ve had. One of my favorites is the 1982 Jimsomare Zinfandel. This was a great wine similar in build to an old fashioned bordeaux (and not one from a big, ripe year – just an average bordeaux year , like 1981). It was only 11.2 alcohol. It did not bowl you over with body on the first taste. However, it was pleasantly tart and FULL of wonderful pine and raspberry fruit and other unspeakable character and it went WONDERFULLY with dinner. I drank about 30 bottles of this wine over 20 years (sharing with friends, of course). No, this wine would not win the competitive tasting, but it was a great wine. I have not been able to find a zinfandel anything like this these days. The high alcohol luscious-on-the-first-sip wines Zins saturate the market today. I pine for the wonderful, packed with character, tart, beautiful wines that are harmonious with an interesting dinner and not the focus of a competitive tasting. What happened to these wines? Where have they gone. I want some more of them. Tell me where I can get them. I bought a case of the last release of Jimsomare Zin. I’m sure it will be good, but it is pretty clear that winemakers don’t set out to make wines like the 82 Jimsomare. It was a truly wonderful wine that drank beautifully over 20 years and was still going strong. Can’t we get some more of these?

    -Mark Walberg

    • Thanks for your (re)-comment Mark! And definitely glad that you so enjoyed this wine. In defense of Ridge, it would be a great pleasure to continue making this wine in this style, but the combination of micro-climate and vine age really drives the style, and courtesy of our non-interventionist ethos, there is really only so much we can do to achieve any sort of a specific flavor profile. What we’ve found in general, as the vines have aged and the climate has grown more … shall we say … eccentric, is that the zins from Jimsomare have become somewhat darker and funkier, with firmer tannins and a more muscular architecture. We have also found that a slightly longer hang time, while admittedly making for somewhat higher sugar levels, has also served to draw out a more serious, more complext array of flavors. So while the zin Jims are now in the low 14% ABV range (as opposed to the father notably anamalous 11.6% of the ’82!), we find them to be more weighty, complex, durable, and rewarding. And the acidity that you fondly note is definitely still present!


  3. Christopher, I lived in NYC for 15 years and loved it. I, too, kept my NY Times and New Yorker subscriptions when I left New York. I also live in California now – and I’m not leaving!
    It’s an honor to be honored by Eric Asimov – congratulations to Ridge! Let’s drink to that, and to power triumphing over violence.
    And to peace, at Christmastime …

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