Dancing Bull California Wines
wine pixies

Dancing Bull California Wines Tasting Notes

Dancing Bull wines has a cute series of video animations on their website, produced under the title “Don't Be This Guy.” The viewer has four choices: the Wine Snob, The Wine Jerk, The Wine Victim and the Wine-Osaur, all of whom express sentiments that seem inconsistent with the plain enjoyment of well-made wine. In each case, a sensible spokesman for Dancing Bull pops up to interrupt the nonsense—you need to analyze a wine, you need the right glass, wine is too complicated to understand, or, in the case of the Wine-Osaur, it is a source of quick alcohol—just to set us right: enjoy it without fussing. While I do fuss about some wines when they require it, I usually do this alone with my tasting notebook. Out with people I care for, my goal is to enjoy the taste and feel of a satisfying wine just like everyone else. In company, I only talk wine when I am expected to, and even then I cut the exposition short before I overstay my welcome. I'd rather get hot under the collar arguing about politics or movies.

Dancing Bull started when chief winemaker Eric Cinnamon of Rancho Zabaco in Sonoma began experimenting with Zinfandel grapes shipped in from other parts of California with the aim of making good Zin available at lower prices. The 2000 Zin got raves from Robert Parker, Jr., leading to the addition of Sauvignon Blanc to the line as of the 2002 vintage. Dancing Bull later added Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to the mix. The current crop I've recently received are all $12 suggested retail and come under the general California appellation. The labels (red for red and white for white) feature a silhouette of a Dancing Bull (I like this since I am a Taurus) under which sits the rubric “Winemaker's Reserve.”

It is ironic that though these wines are absolutely designed to be enjoyed without fancy analysis, I am here to put them through the usual paces. This is no chore, I assure you, since these wines can pass muster over a wide range of approaches. (If you have one of these wines in front of you, don't read the rest of this; just open the bottle.)

The 2007 Dancing Bull Chardonnay is a clear, medium density, greenish gold. On first nose contact, fresh aromatic elements come through with a noticeable absence of oak. Peach predominates, with a good deal of pineapple and some mango, and some white flowers behind. Elements aside, the nose shows ripeness. On the palate the wine is off-dry, fruity like the nose but with a definite element of white pear in place of the peach. I tasted vanilla and pastry crust with some butter. The wine is medium-bodied with a gentle mouthfeel. There is good acid behind the fruit, probably because about 10% of this wine is Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc (with 81% Chardonnay). Both acid and fruit carry through to a warm finish, the final statement being some fruity tang. Wood would have ruined this and made it less food-friendly, and I am glad it is absent.

The 2007 Dancing Bull Sauvignon Blanc is nearly all that varietal, with a just dollop of Sauvignon Blanc's ideal partner (among the Bordelais at least) Sémillon. This wine is produced from cold-pressed grapes, made in stainless steel, and presented with a screw-cap closure that is ideal for a ready-to-drink wine of this sort. The wine is a clear, pale straw with citrus, a touch of banana, and some grassiness on the nose. Nicely dry on the palate, there is fresh pineapple, mango, and some ripe citrus all well held together by slightly sassy acidity. (This is my wine talk for “yum”.) The fruit is there on the finish with good intensity, good length, and some warmth. Once the wine has made its statement it also puts some grassy and floral notes on the palate. I need to repeat my previous “yum” and take it out of parentheses. While some aspects of this wine show tribute to the prevailing New Zealand style of Sauvignon Blanc, I recognize a clear California style, and I like it. Most Sauvignon Blanc is friendly to a wide range of foods, and this wine should perform well in that regard.

The 2006 Dancing Bull Cabernet Sauvignon is 78% Cabernet (about evenly from Sonoma and the Central Coast) filled in with Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel and some other reds. This wine is a dark ruby, nearly opaque. My first impression on the nose was baking spice, then cassis and blackberry, with some oaky vanilla. The wine is dry (not overly so), fairly full-bodied, bringing energetic fruit to the mouth with appropriate acidity. The tannins are restrained. The main show is good solid tangy and jammy black fruit with some vanilla and chocolate, and without the baking spice from the nose. On the finish I also noted a nicely baked pie crust, though perhaps this is a mirage brought on by the fruit filling. The wine finishes with the tang of the fruit and some alcoholic warmth, with remainders of the well-behaved tannins. This is a well-made, well-balanced wine for those who enjoy the fruit forward style without a lot of tannins. Drink it now.

The 2006 Dancing Bull Zinfandel is the mark's flagship wine, mostly Zin with additions of Petite Syrah, Tempranillo and Syrah. The Zin constituent is mostly from Sonoma and the always interesting Lodi (while Lodi is deep inland, it benefits from breezes that funnel in from San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River Delta). The wine is a deep ruby with good clarity. The nose brings a well-balanced array of sensation all at once, jammy berries, both black and red, with some vanilla and clove, orange peel, and black pepper. On first taste the wine is decidedly dry with a little zippy acidity, a nice mélange of black and red fruit, with a slightly bitter (call it chocolate) edge at the back. Nutmeg, clove, pepper and good vanilla provide the spice. The finish is very well-balanced and well-supported by the acidity and the fruit. The wine starts, continues and ends dry, but with all this ripe fruit and that chocolate extra, who needs sweet?

Verdict: Just drink these and quit fussing
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Some excellent wines come under the general California appellation. They grow some pretty good grapes in that state.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award


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