I was having lunch the other day with Jay Turnipseed, a winemaker I first met when he was at Mount Veeder and Franciscan wineries. Today, Jay is making wine for the Rutherford Wine Company, which has an extensive portfolio of wines, including Round Hill, Rutherford Ranch and Scott Family wines. I always enjoy talking to Jay because he is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to growing grapes and making wine.
The preponderance of fruit-ladened, bold and alcoholic red wines on the market has been bugging me of late, so I was eager to hear Jay's thoughts. His bourbon-barrel-aged zinfandel falls into that category, so Jay wasn't against this style because, as he said, it's a business decision. Sell whatever sells.
However, Jay said that you lose a lot of varietal flavor when you over-extract a wine -- and that alone helped me to understand why I don't like these fruit bombs. He said that especially with cabernet sauvignon you can lose the currant flavor and instead pick up more dark cherry and plum character. Aha, I thought. I don't like plums in my wine and prefer fresh blackberry or black cherry flavors.
This riper style began more than a decade ago when wine critics like Robert Parker Jr. gave ripe wines with high alcohol levels a 90-plus ranking. In order to earn a higher score, winemakers changed their style of winemaking. Pretty soon the old style of wines with tannins and varietal character became rare.
Whether you like the Old World style of wines -- as do I -- is personal. But if you like ripe fruit, today's wines are made for you.