Claret from Zin - Dan Berger's Vintage Experiences, June, 2005

Dan Berger's Vintage Experiences
Claret from Zin

More than a decade ago, a friend poured a red wine at dinner and asked me to identify it.

After much noodling (not to mention sipping and sniffing), I said the wine was an early '70's Bordeaux.

It was in fact, a 1970 Souverain Zinfandel that had aged quite well and had become like fine old Claret.

The story came back to me the other day when I tasted a range of Zinfandels from Doug Nalle, one of California's unheralded wine makers, a quiet man whose specialty Zins have long been a favorite of mine.

Nalle poured 10 older wines at a luncheon two days ago, and almost all were startling examples of how a balanced red wine can age nicely. And over time, emulate fine Claret.

Doug makes his Zinfandels in the style of Claret. You remember Claret, don't you? That was what we would often call Bordeaux that was made to smell and taste like, well, Bordeaux. No powerhouses allowed.

The idea is that hard tannins and acids can be tamed a bit to balance a wine. It's what allows many Rioja and Rhone wines to age handsomely.

Zinfandel has always been tarred with the rap that it doesn't age well. But wines with the proper structure do age, and when they do they can be overwhelmingly rewarding.

The secret to Nalle wines is their perfect balance, which features low pH levels. In the 10 year-look-back, not one wine had a pH as high as 3.6; most were nearer to 3.4!

Doug is as passionate a wine maker as I know, and his wines display the sort of style I love: food friendly, and still as full of vibrant varietal character as any you'll find. His wines are a treat for those who love structure.

Dan Berger