Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Artezin Zinfandels: Getting back to what Zin is supposed to be.

If more Zinfandel tasted like this, I'd be drinking more Zinfandel.

Had an opportunity to taste the two basic Artezin offerings this week in the company of winemaker Randle Johnson.  I came away thinking I needed to have more Artezin Zin in my drinking lineup.

Randle is an affable, comfortable guy who's literally experiencing the wide variety of wine regions all over the world as the key winemaker for Donald Hess and his collection of wineries.  But it's apparent from the get-go that Randle is a zinfandel lover...and not just zinfandel, but the kind of zinfandel that used to be the standard, before it got replaced with mucky, gobby stewed globs of over-ripe fruit and screeching alcohols.

With Artezin, Randle explained, the intent was to make zins the way California used to make them:  solid, easy drinking, brambleriar and fresh berry fruit and pepper spice wines that were made to drink and enjoy.

I'd say that's an exact description of the two wines put in front of me to taste.

The first was the 2009 Artezin Mendocino Zinfandel, with zippy, bright boysenberry and blackberry fruit...okay, maybe a touch of pom-wonderful puckerishness in there to liven it up...followed by a blast of black pepper and clove and spicy cinnamon to tingle the palate, then finishing with a slightly sweet/slightly peppery slide of bakery spices.  No raisins, no prunes, no over-sweetened jam, no drench of alcohol, and no scratchy tannins to get in the way but just enough to keep it all interesting.  You know, the kind of zin that when you finish your first glass, you  look around for the bottle for your second glass?  I think they used to call it "rustic".  Yeah, that kind of zin.

The second bottle followed through with that same streak of red fruit, black fruit, spice---but it was noticeably different from the Mendocino.  It was the 2007 Artezin Dry Creek Zinfandel.  The additional two years had softened it up and rounded it out a bit, and the provenance of Dry Creek had added more black fruit and a notch more body and grippy mouthfeel, and along with that a touch more natural tannin.  Had more grip to it, and more bite of spice and cracked black pepper in its nature, but toned down with a little age.  Altogether, a very nice Sonoma Dry Creek zin.

With the two, we had the bookends of the perfect range of zinfandel---light, bright and zingy from Mendocino, and full-bodied, meaty and structured from Dry Creek.  Nothing excess.  Nothing overstated.  Nothing obtrusively manipulated.  Just....good, honest zinfandel.

And nowadays, that's a lot.