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Weekend wines: Enjoy an elegant California zinfandel

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It’s too soon to call it a tidal shift, but there is a welcome current in California winemaking these days. Some wineries and winemakers are moving away from the big, high-alcohol style that has largely dominated California for a generation. This is good news for those who prefer wines with elegance and restraint to wines that wallop.

I’ve been surprised to find several notable wines in this more modest style in recent weeks, especially a first-rate zinfandel, a variety hardly known for subtlety or for alcohol levels much below 15 percent.

This is the point where some defenders of these wine behemoths will argue that alcohol levels alone should not be a reason to dismissing them – that plenty of them are well-balanced and enjoyable. Yes, but many others are not and can turn the highly enjoyable experience of wine drinking into a power struggle.

Fortunately, that is not the case with Dashe Cellars’ 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel from Sonoma County. This is a graceful zin marked by concentrated fruit on one hand and excellent balancing acidity on the other, along with an alcohol level of just 13.7 percent.

The wine is 87 percent zinfandel, along with 16 percent petite sirah and one percent carignane. Tastes of raspberry and blueberry are punctuated by cinnamon and cocoa notes. There is a slightly powdery texture on the long finish. The oak influence is inconspicuous, achieved by aging in large, used French oak casks (new oak imparts a stronger taste). The wine was a hit when I served it to friends with a hearty beef stew.

The suggested price is $24 but it’s listed for as low as $19 on Wine Searcher. The wine is an excellent value with lots of layers and shows how, in the right hands, zinfandel can become a wine of elegance and subtlety. Notably, Michael Dashe, the co-founder and winemaker, spent most of the 1990s at Ridge Vineyards, one of California’s pre-eminent zinfandel producers.

 Want more suggestions? On Vint-ed, I review another California wine in this leaner style, Donelan’s excellent 2010 Kobler Vineyard Syrah from the Russian River Valley.

Edward Deitch is a James Beard Award-winning wine critic. Find many more of his wine reviews and commentary on his blog, Vint-ed.com, and follow him on Twitter