Clear dark ruby with minuscule pink edges. Fruit fills the room upon opening, dank jasmine and rich cherry even before pouring. Thick, dense vanilla oak, chocolate, sandalwood and musky incense round out the heady nose, packed almost cab-like with mint, cedar, and cassis. With a little air the rotund brashness that is classic Zinfandel peeks through, but so grounded in the thick layered nuances of Bordeaux varieties, I am quite sure this would be a perplexing blind for many. Late breathing brings even more damp earth, coal smoke on marsh.
While good Zinfandel can feasibly come from any region, each brings its own style and most insist theirs is perfectly suited for expressing the grape. From Amador to Mendocino to Paso, all inflict a slightly different twist on this seemingly all-American variety–often at the expense of brilliance in a quest to accentuate the fruit’s plump plum–which can often translate dangerously close to prune. Additionally, several areas feeling particularly *Zinfandel-expressive* also are areas which have classically capitalized on their warmer weather to promote later, riper, harvests and subsequently: rotund wines. This meeting of events can prove fatal when combined with Zin’s already-pre-disposed plumpness. I am happy to announce Zinfandel appears to be coming full-circle, with many producers dialing things back a bit and focusing on things OTHER than hi-alcohol and extraction, with SO MANY fabulous sub-15 or even sub-14 offerings blasting out, rife with acid and balance.
I prefer my Zinfandels spicy, lower-alcohol, and with earthy-bright fruit headed in an almost-Cab direction. My favorite Zins have classically come from one of three areas in California: Dry Creek Valley, Contra Costa County, and St. Helena/Howell Mt. I’m old-fashioned, and don’t like my Zin big and flabby–I tell you this straight up, as it is vital to KNOW YOUR REVIEWER. Even though Mill Creek is one of the younger entries into Dry Creek Valley wine-production, they certainly have my old-school ideals at heart–as is COMPLETELY visible in this bottle. See, I grew up in Sonoma County during the reign of the THREE R’s of ZINFANDEL. Ridge, Ravenswood, and Rosenblum. These were the benchmarks by which all Zinfandel was measured. I know it seems hard to believe now–tasting their current wines, but at one time, they ruled the scene! I am not going to disparage individual brands for the sake of comparison with this excellent Mill Creek, but suffice it to say the torch has been passed and in a couple of those cases, the torch burned out and died completely.
In the mouth, Dutch licorice and sarsaparilla, fruit taut edge-to-edge, cheek-to-cheek across the tongue, a trampoline–a DRUM-TOP–of perfectly integrated tart berry. All the smoky sultriness of the bouquet re-visits mid-palate, accentuating the backbone of acid with a sullen note, turning fruit to rich dessert. Tannins of a kind I have not seen in 30 years come climbing out of the finish, never obtrusive, never harsh, but ridiculously visible in their green-ness and delightfully molded against rich fruit that goes on and on.
This is just stupid-good Zinfandel. Remarkably easy-to-drink even at this young age while classically structured A-to-Z, its gotta rank right up there in the upper echelons of modern Zinfandel production. Never once does alcohol enter the discussion during tasting, and I guessed it at 14-6. And was wrong. Well, it certainly carries itself amazingly. A near-perfect Zinfandel.
2013 MILL CREEK VINEYARDS Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County 15.0