Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mariah Zinfandel Mendocino Ridge 1997: Shame Zin doesn't age, huh?

I was looking for something on a cool, rainy Oregon afternoon to have with a dinner of andouille sausage, baked sweet potato, and fresh local corn on the cob slathered in butter, with a side salad of chopped romaine with sweet yellow cherry tomatoes and balsamic dressing.

Had to be red, but there were still plenty of options because that's mainly what my "cellar" consists of, since I gobble down the whites about as fast as they arrive, and tend to hang on to the reds, usually long past their due dates, "just to see what will happen."

Sometimes, bad things happen and another beyond-its-time goes down the drain.  Sometimes good things happen, and we get our reward here on earth.

Whimsy said, "Try the Mariah....Try the Mariah..." could be tired and dull.

"What the hell?  At least, then you'll know.  And if it is, you'll just be getting rid of another zinfandel that you held on to waaaay too long."

Well, I don't know.  There are others that could be better.

"Ah, could/would/ got nothing to lose and everything to gain:  you have two bottles, so if this one is good, you're a hero.  If not, get it over with now, dude!  And remember, 1) how good 1997 was in general, and 2) How much you've always been impressed with Mariah and how well it tends to hold together.  So gwahn.  You know you want it."

The results:  I'm particularly brilliant at choosing Zinfandels that age well.

Gorgeous wine, and holding very, very well.  Being clinical, I'd say it lost a bit of its youthful vivacity of fruit up front, but traded that in for a deeper, more rounded, more mature and complex berry-ness, dark and rich, with undertones of dark bitter chocolate.

The wood has softened and toned down as well, almost disappearing from threshold consciousness (which, sez I, is as it should be) so the remaining combination is full and rich, almost viscous, on the palate, with an intensely long finish that hangs in there with the loveliest mixture of delicacy and persistence.

Mendocino Ridge---Islands in the Sky, and still the only non-contiguous high altitude AVA in the US---has always posed that particular climatic/variety challenge that attracts the stubborn and determined, and results in a more-or-less European inconsistency of vintages unlike most of the rest of California.

Those grapes, especially in the Mariah Vineyard, are on the top of frickin' mountains, after all, within sight of the Pacific Ocean, and unprotected from those cold and biting ocean winds.  But Mariah is above the fog line---hell, it's mostly above the cloud line too---so it gets the sunlight constantly.  Only it's more luminosity than heat up there, so the grapes grow with lots of light but lots of intense cold too.  The surviving vines---and many of them don't survive---are hardy little critters, and they tend to produce extremely intense and concentrated fruit, but without a lot of overwhelming sugars that the flatland grapes generate.

All Dan Dooley grows at Mariah is Zinfandel, with a little patch of Syrah, and in 1997 his grapes went to the winemakers down at Fetzer; it was a good partnership of an intense grower providing excellent grapes for a single-vintage Zin, with the advantages of the better distribution system that a large company has.

The Mariah 1997 was also excellent with the spicy andouille---even well-aged, there's something lovely in the berry fruit of a big, structured Zin with spicy-hot sausage---and the Dijon mustard that was beside it.  Pretty damned good with the sweet potato too.

I'll be holding on to that last remaining bottle I have.  This one was just fine, and I think the vintage has a little bit more revelation to give.  But not too long.  This was good enough I don't want to take a chance of wasting the final bottle.

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