At a tasting of the Cellarmistress of the Professors' dining club at UCL last Tuesday, we tasted some Californian wines. 'Cellarmistress' is quite the title but our
hostess and manager of the club's cellar is called Kathy in real life, and she is far from being as scary as her title may suggest. Kathy had selected 11 wines from local merchants, of which Majestic and Imbibros played a big role.
My favourites were the two Cabernets Sauvignons. the Newton Red Wine 1997, Sonoma, still had plenty of youthfull fruit, it was fresh and was drinking rather nicely. The Laurel Glen Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 was even more fresh, although not devoid of Cabernet Sauvignon's typical structural attributes, but balanced by lovely floral and mineral notes. A finer example than the Newton, and one of the least alcoholic wines of the evening at 13.5%, it was also sensibly priced for a Cabernet from California at £14.70.
We finished the tasting with 4 Zinfandels, a struggling variety for me. I have to admit that they were good, well-made wines. Even if the Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2005 was all sweetness and alcohol on the attack, the finish was not too big and bruising, and for lovers of beefy, fruity wines, it is excellent value at £6.79. We can not say the same of the more expensive bottles of Zin tasted that evening. The Seghesia Sonoma County Zinfandel 2005 (£16.95) was certainly more together than the Ravenswood but at almost three times the price, it was a little warm and jammy and fell flat rapidly. Cult Ridge Lytton Springs 2000 (£26.85), was super rich and sweet, but did not display much finesse, which you would expect if paying over £20.00. If Ridge can not do it, than Zinfandel is simply not a variety to use for making fine wines. It seems Zinfandel's attributes of great sweetness and high alcohol are better used in blends and in bottles with less aspiration. This is precisely what my favourite Zin of the evening had to propose. The Walker's Pass Private Reserve Zinfandel 2002 (£8.95), is a blend of 77% Zinfandel, 18% Petite Syrah and 5% Carignane (takes an 'e' in the US). It had the most exciting nose of the Zins and had plenty of juicy dark berries with Zin's over-the-top sweetness being the most intergrated. This wine is bound to be a crowd pleaser: bold enough for lovers of big wines but balanced and not too alcoholic (13.5%) for the more delicate palates. Well done!