The Deliciously Wayward Zinfandel

Photograph by Michael Pirrocco

On pouring the 2011 Dashe Cellars McFadden Farm “Les Enfants Terribles” Zinfandel, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that it doesn’t look like a Zinfandel. Most Zins are dark to the point of inky; this one is pale in color and translucent. It also smells different, with a subtle nose that is a far cry from the heady, aggressive aroma typical of Zinfandels. Nor does it taste like a standard-issue Napa, Sonoma, or Paso Robles Zinfandel: It’s a lithe, pretty wine that has more in common with a cru Beaujolais than with the Monster Truck Zins that dominate the market. With an alcohol count of just 13.6 percent – low for the way the style has been going – “Les Enfants Terribles” is a Zinfandel from another universe. It is also a fantastically quaffable wine.

Dashe Cellars, which is based in Oakland and gets its grapes from Sonoma and Mendocino, is known for turning out low-decibel Zinfandels – wines that trade on finesse rather than power. Mike Dashe, who owns the winery with his French-born wife Anne, trained under the legendary Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards, who is widely acknowledged to be California’s Zinfandel master. Dashe learned well: His Zinfandels show the same elegance and earthiness that you find in the various Ridge bottlings. But the Enfants Terribles is truly sui generis. McFadden Farm is a cool-climate, organically cultivated, and high-altitude site in Mendocino that yields fruit that is plenty ripe, but also fresh and brimming with acidity (too many California Zinfandels show stewed fruit flavors and are noticeably short on acidity). Dashe uses native yeasts, minimal sulfur, and a traditional Beaujolais method known as semi-carbonic maceration to produce a zippy, filigreed wine that is unlike any Zinfandel you’ve ever tried – a deliciously wayward child. [$24;]

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