|Michael Dashe (left, with Ravenswood winemaker Joel Petersen)|
at the 2010 Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries event; the
Oakland winemaker was one of the top 100 wineries)
The answer: when you buy some of Dashe Cellars' 2009 or 2010 Les Enfant Terribles McFadden Farm Zin.
Served at such prestigious restaurants at Thomas Keller's Per Se and Rouge Tomate in NY (and Brussels) and at Bar Agricole in SF, this wine is clearly a winner in a category all its own - cool climate raised, food friendly Zin.
Dashe's European style wines, branded under its sub-brand of Les Enfants Terrible (that's French for "wild child"), are not as "big" as the typical American wines, according to winemaker Michael Dashe, whose Dashe Cellars is located in Oakland and Dry Creek.
"We decided these red grapes from McFadden's vineyard, which is otherwise all white wines, was the black sheep of the vineyard," said Dashe. "It's so different that we actually bottled this wine, and this alone, in a Burgundy style bottle (versus all our other wines in Bordeaux style bottles) because we wanted people to understand how unusual and different it is compared to our other zins, which are bigger."
One of those other Zins, the Heart Arrow Ranch Zinfandel, was one of Asimov's coveted 2010 picks for what to serve with Thanksgiving dinner.
Dashe describes the much lighter, barely for sale (since most of it goes to restaurants) McFadden Zin as a "grand cru Beaujolais." "It's my go to wine when I get home from work," he says. "I just had some of the 2007 recently and I think it's also aging very well."
Both the uniqueness of the grapes and the choices in the winemaking figure prominently in this wine.
McFadden's vineyard, located in Potter Valley, is in a cooler region focused on pinot, chardonnay and other cool climate grapes; it's really the outer limits for Zin. The grape ripens more slower and with less vigor than in neighboring Redwood Valley, for instance, where it's been a favorite varietal since the southern Italian peasant families began planting it in the 19th century.
Mendocino's hotter Ukiah/Hopland corridor is so well known for Zin that it has a unique regional Zin program called Coro Mendocino, in which all of the area wineries (including McFadden) make a jointly juried series of wines, each with a unique style. Big tasty Zins are a hallmark.
In contrast to the many Zins from Mendocino's "indigenous" winemakers, Oakland-based Dashe Cellars' style of winemaking is to make less acidic, more food friendly wines using indigenous yeasts, stainless steel fermention and large oak tank aging.
"The soil at McFadden's hillside Zin vineyard is chalky, rocky soil," Dashe says. "I love how it gives us great flavor and low sugars." The McFadden zin weighs in at around 13.6% alchohol, which is considered low compared to the average Zin.
The result of cooler climate grapes and the light handed winemaking (native yeasts, low sulfur, no filtration and other factors) is a Zin style that is light on its feet - and so food friendly you would not be surprised it was custom-created for a restauranteur.
If you're scratching your head about now, don't. Just drive over to Dashe Cellars (in Dry Creek or near Jack London square in Oakland) or get online and buy some. It's only available through the winery ($24 a bottle) and the remaining bottles in both vintages will probably be gone within the month.
Michael Dashe has an intimate relationship with Zin, and perhaps it's this deep knowledge of Zin that allowed him to make such a daringly light Zin. That and his relationship with then Slanted Door wine director Mark Ellenbogen (who has since moved on to being the wine director at Bar Agricole).
The creation story of this wine is this: Dashe visited McFadden's vineyard to have a look at the riesling he makes from its grapes (this is another wine very worthy of attention) when he noticed a small hillside vineyard of Zinfandel. The next day Ellenbogen, whose wine list at Slanted Door was then (and still is, despite his having moved on to Bar Agricole) notable for its preponderance of European wines, said he'd like to offer some California wines that were organic or biodynamically grown and food friendly. This led to Dashe purchasing the 8 tons of Zin and making a small lot of the wine. Most has been sold to restaurants in San Francisco and New York.
Myself - I bought two cases and am probably going back for more. The 2010, recently released, is going fast as well; I'm hoping to run back soon and snag a few more cases before the supply vanishes.
(For those of you who lust after a beefier Zin, you'll find more of those at Dashe - including the Heart Arrow Ranch Zin which is the only other organically grown Zin from Dashe, which also makes an organically grown - and highly recommended - Riesling).
If any of you are interested, it could also be fun to do a side by side tasting of Dashe Cellars' Zin with McFadden's. McFadden's is offering its own 2008 Zin online. Dashe says the two wineries typically split the McFadden crop.
2010 had yields that were 35% lower than average, but the wine is still as unique as the 2009 vintage, in different ways. I'll tell you more after I taste the 2010. Or go see for yourself at Dashe Cellars two tasting rooms.