The rock ‘n’ roll stylings of Lowe
Zinfandel has often seemed to me like the AC/DC of wine. If you’re into it, you love it with all your heart and you’ll hear no evil spoken of it. You wear the T-shirts and own all the records. If you don’t, you probably find ‘zin’ as offensive to your delicate sensibility as the most famous Aussie rock band of all time is to your ears.
The alcoholic strength of zin can quickly put you on the highway to hell, a highway where you can find yourself stranded between Mad Max and the Toecutter. The soundtrack being High Voltage Rock & Roll.
David Lowe could pass for a former member of AC/DC. He’d look good with a Strat strapped to his back, but maybe sans shorts and long sox. Maybe R.M. Williams boots, check shirt and moleskins, an Akubra atop the stylishly shaven head.
‘Lowie’ recently opened a line-up of his Lowe Zinfandel, the flagship wine of the company and one of the very few in this country, at a favourite Sydney restaurant, Mike McEnearney’s No.1 Bent Street. We tasted five vintages from the current release 2013 (AUD $75) back to 2003, including 2011, 2009 and 2005. (There are also reviews on the huonhooke.com app for the 2004 and 2012 vintages.) These are rich, decadent wines, loaded with raisin, spice, cooked raspberry flavours. They’re big wines, sometimes over 15% alcohol, but seldom show overripe, desiccated or ‘dead fruit’ shortcomings.
Served alongside were two Ridge Geyservilles, for comparison. Lowe has a longstanding friendship with Ridge’s David Gates and great respect for their wines. California, of course, is the Mecca for zinfandel wines: no other country comes close, even Italy, where the grape is known as primitivo and can make some splendid wines down south in Puglia.
The Lowe zin comes from a patch of unirrigated bush vines near the winery outside Mudgee. It’s certified organic and biodynamic. The altitude is 500 metres.
David reckons that like grenache, zinfandel does its best work when grown on bush vines – ie. untrellised. This is also traditional in California’s Sonoma Valley, Paso Robles and Temecula regions.
“The reason we operate this system is that it delivers smaller bunches and smaller berries, thus avoiding the super high alcohols that typify this variety. Without this system, the vines are left to ripen to such a high sugar level that the bunches and berries partially raisin, delivering excessive alcohol levels.”
“Our zinfandel is deliberately understated and finer, with maturation in the bottle the objective.”
He says the bush vine also limits production and ensures concentration. If you think AUD $75 is a lot, consider the ridiculously low yield of 1 tonne/hectare.
David Lowe has a proud history with zin, having won the trophy for the best zinfandel at the International Wine Challenge in 2003.
I had a food epiphany here: we were served Balmain bugs, which I thought would be totally swamped by the zins. But the match was amazing, thanks to a very powerful black-bean sauce. Chef Mike knew exactly what he was doing.
Echoing the link with Ridge in California, David Lowe also has a close relationship with Dr Bürklin-Wolf (tastings) in Germany’s Pfalz region. The two wineries exchange winemakers every year during the harvest.
At the recent Kitchen By Mike tasting, Lowe also poured his flagship white wine, the Lowe Nullo Mountain Riesling. This could not be a bigger contrast to the zin. At the very delicate end of riesling style, it comes from the highest locality in the Mudgee region, at Rylstone, where the vines perch at a chilly 1,100 metres.
Cold, exposed places like this are notoriously fickle, and variable in their seasonal conditions. Hence, the style of this wine has varied, from dry and tart — requiring age to soften — to fruity and off-dry, like a German halbtrocken.
In my view, these wines are best when there’s a touch of sweetness to balance the bracing acidity and make them more accessible young. The occasional late harvest style bears out the Germanic kinship.
The 2005 is fully mature now and still drinking beautifully (if well cellared), while the current release 2016 is a superb young wine and right on the button with its 4.5 grams/litre of sweetness. Delicious.
The 2010 is a bit too dry and tart, the 2011 is botrytic and tart thanks to the wet year, while 2012 is also quite tangy despite relatively high 6.2 grams/litre sweetness. It’s taken all this time to emerge into the lovely drink it is today.
The 2013 nails the balance, as does the ’16. Not so much Acca Dacca as Go-Betweens.