One description of a Zinfandel is, “A powerful wine known for its pepper, spice and tannins …”. Forget about the pepper, spice and other flavors attributed to any type of wine. I’ve never been able to taste them. TJ’s Coastal Zinfandel is powerful with heavy tannins.
On first opening the bottle there was a strong smell of something resembling wine vinegar. This, of course, raised some immediate concerns. The concerns were unjustified, as once poured and tasted, there was no hint of vinegar. As noted above Zinfandels, are what many of us would consider heavy wines. These are wines that have a strong earthy taste to them. Something that probably goes better with a meal than at your local happy hour. Naturally that shouldn’t stop you from ordering a Zinfandel if your local watering spot happens to have a good price on that day.
Although not totally related, per a little web research, the earthy flavor seems to go along with the tannin level of the wine. If we follow this premise, we have a more objective way to measure the taste of the wine. For my taste TJ’s Zinfandel falls somewhere between a Chianti (stronger) and TJ’s own Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon (weaker). All of these by most definitions fall on the heavy side of the wine tasting continuum. At around 14% alcohol by volume, this wine follows the rule that Zinfandels are able to produce more alcohol by virtue of the grape having a higher sugar content. Most wines will come in around 12% alcohol. Not that any of this makes the wine better or worse, it just tends to verify what’s in the bottle.
Wines with a high tannin content tend to get better with age. The tannin tends to mellow out with age. There’s probably a real chemical reaction behind this mellowing. So when picking a Zinfandel, fresh is not better. Pick the older ones. I don’t know if the mellowing stops when placed in the bottle, but if you can muster up enough self-control to let these sit in your basement for another couple of years, who knows?
In a nut shell, this is a good wine at a good price. It’s also a testament to how far American wine has come in the last twenty years. We can now produce very good wines at a very good price that compare well with European wines.