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Dashe Cellars changes minds about California zinfandel

Dashe Cellars

If you have given up sipping reds made from the zinfandel grape, Michael and Anne Dashe hope to win you back.

The husband and wife team, whose winery is in Oakland, produces lovely, balanced versions of California “zin,” utilizing fruit from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. Their bottles are a far cry from late-harvest pours full of berry jam flavors and alcohol levels exceeding 16 percent.

Zinfandel, which has a history deeply rooted in the Golden State and traces its genetic provenance back to Croatia, is famous for being made in a highly extracted style. But a more genteel, structured profile is also possible, especially in Dry Creek Valley, where late-morning fog encourages slow, gentle ripening. Naturally, coaxing the best from grapes is more than just a matter of location.

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A recent phone call to Northern California finds Michael Dashe preparing for the bottling of last fall’s vintage. He talks animatedly about how he and his vineyard partners deal with the zinfandel varietal, with berries that tend to ripen unevenly, often in the same cluster. After most grapes progress from green to red, he explains, his team will snip off bunches that are still not ripe enough. At harvest time, some berries will be tossed or trimmed so that only fruit of a desired ripeness will continue on to fermentation. Those practices have evolved from hard-won experience. “I’ve had 30 years of working with zinfandel,” Dashe says.

Michael Dashe pursued enology studies at University of California at Davis then worked alongside winemakers in Bordeaux, France, before returning to California to work at the famed Ridge Vineyards. Anne Dashe, raised in Brittany, did her enology studies at University of Bordeaux and put that education to good use at cellars in Napa Valley. They married in 1996 and launched Dashe Cellars the same year. Today, the duo continues a tradition of small-batch fermentation utilizing indigenous yeasts and minimal fining and filtration.

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Boston-area wine enthusiasts can find both the 2012 and 2013 vintages of Dashe Cellars Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel on shop shelves. Both are crafted with an added splash of petite sirah and have much in common: high-toned aromas, lively acidity balancing tannins, plus red fruit, brambly berry, subtle oak notes, and a bit of sediment. Dashe describes the one-year-older bottle, 14.5 percent alcohol by volume, as “a little more structured,” the result of a “classic year” that saw moderate summer heat and virtually no rain during harvest. The most recent release, at 14.1 percent, is currently more tightly wound, but is already developing into a pour he describes as “voluptuous and fruit-forward.”

The winemaker often meets people who insist they don’t like zinfandel. He offers them a taste of his version and sees eyes light up. “I convert so many people,” he says.

Dashe Cellars Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2012 (around $30) is available at Joppa Fine Foods, Newburyport, 978-462-4662; The Spirited Gourmet, Belmont, 617-489-9463. The 2013 is at Needham Center Fine Wines, Needham, 781-400-1769; Dave’s Fresh Pasta, Somerville, 617-623-0867.


Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com.

Correction: A previous version of this story implied that the winery is based in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. It is based in Oakland.