I stopped drinking Zins several years back, and only occasionally would pop one open for my friends who enjoy jammy California wines. That's why when I saw Gary Vaynerchuk rave about the 2005 Shifrin Howell Mountain Zinfandel on his show, I was intrigued, because I generally tend to agree with his "old world" palate. And given that he was running a "free shipping" promotion, I took a chance and ordered a bottle.
Gary Vaynerchuk on Wine Library TV - Episode 586
The grilled lamb chops marinated in a variety of Pakistani spices finally gave me the excuse to try it. Right from the first sniff, this Zinfandel was different. The nose was almost Bordeaux-like - dry, a little funky, earthy, and peppery. A typical California Zin smells like an alcoholic jam. Not this one.
The taste was full-bodied, dark fruit, peppery (almost syrah-like), dry, tannic but not gripping, nice acid, great balance -- completely unseen from any California reds I've tried (including from Howell Mountain), let alone a Zin! While we had other wines in the line-up (supplied by various neighbors) that paired decently with the grilled meat, including a Chianti, a Rioja, a Beringer Cab, and a full-bodied Steven Vincent Pinot Noir from Sonoma county, to me clearly this Shifrin Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2005 was a hands-down winner, and an eye-opener to what a good-old California Zin could be when certain restraint is maintained by the wine-maker. When I asked some of the guests to try it, one commented that it tasted aged (a complement in my book!) On his show, one of the key points that Gary Vaynerchuk made about this Zin is that it had the purity and "truthness" of fruit from the great Howell Mountain terroir. Personally, I am not sure that the wine was better because of that. I find lots of other terroirs in Napa and Sonoma counties that have great fruit. For me, what made this wine was: not over-oaking and not over-ripening that allowed the terroir of the Howell Mountain to come through. That's what I see lacking in vast majority of new-world wines (that makes them taste more like juice than serious wine).
I want to order a couple of bottles of this stuff and add it to a blind-tasting line-up for my wine expert friends, and see if they get stomped! Congrats, Bobby Shifrin - you have brought Zinfandel back from the dead for me.