To Zin or not to Zin?
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Zinfandel has been called many things, including "America's Heritage Grape.” While in truth Zinfandel has roots that go back to Croatia, and it's also the sibling of Italy's Primitivo, the U.S. has as much claim to Zinfandel as any country -- maybe more. While other wine regions have started growing Zinfandel, and Italy and Croatia are home to its ancestors, no region has embraced Zinfandel the way California has. Maybe it's because the wines it produces are often brash, bold and scream "look at me!” Things people blame us as a country of doing. Perhaps it's because they are often easy to drink and appeal to people who might not have been red wine drinkers before their first experience with Zin. I know that I've personally convinced some white-wine-only drinkers to go both ways, by introducing them to some of my favorite Zinfandels. Whatever the reason, Zinfandel is associated with California and America in many minds. Today I'll look at three well-priced examples that provide diversity in style, wide availability and are also pretty tasty.
The first is the 2007 Deep Purple Zinfandel. This wine is made from fruit sourced in Lodi, Calif. It was barrel-aged for 8 months and has a modest 13.6 percent alcohol. This wine sells at most retailers for about $12.
While packaging certainly isn't something I pay a ton of attention to, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the great label on this bottle. It's was designed as an ode to the style of posters made for shows at the Fillmore in the ‘60s. It's certainly cool looking.
Deep Purple has a pretty bright nose filled with exuberant plum, blueberry and vanilla that waft out immediately as you pour it. Starting with the very first sip and all the way through the palate, blueberry jam is prominently on display here. The finish brings out a touch of earth and espresso, along with some baker's chocolate and white pepper, which lingers for a bit. Pair this with burgers, ribs or hot dogs for a fun summer match.
What struck me most about this wine is that it's a good example of the style of Zinfandel most often associated with the Lodi area. This wine is young, hurried and exuberant. It's a straightforward Zin that offers more than sufficient complexity for its price point. For $12 you won't mind opening this at a party. The label is a clear conversation starter, which doesn't hurt either. Not meant to age, this wine should be consumed while all its flavors are vibrant.
The second Zinfandel I'm recommending is from Ravenswood. Joel Peterson, who founded the winery, is one of the most highly regarded masters of this grape. He makes a huge array of Zinfandels. Some of them are made from specific vineyard sites and others from all over the state. Today's selection is from his County series.
The Ravenswood 2006 Sonoma County Zinfandel is a blend of Zinfandel (79 percent), Carignane (12 percent), Petite Sirah (5 percent) and Mixed Blacks (4 percent). This wine was aged in new and old French oak barrels for 18 months. Suggested retail price is $15, and 51,000 cases of this Zinfandel were produced.
Dark fruit, particularly blueberry and plum, with some raspberry mixed in, fill the nose of this Sonoma County wine. Blackberry pie characteristics are prominent from the first sip all the way through the palate. Black pepper and vanilla emerge in the finish, along with some dusty notes. This wine has good structure and excellent acidity. It's a fine bet to match with a pretty wide array of foods. Grilled meats and Pasta Puttenesca are a couple that come to mind.
What impresses me about this selection from Ravenswood is the length of the finish for a $15 wine. In that area, as well as the fact that it has the structure to age for at least five to seven years, it over-delivers for its price category. This would be an interesting and inexpensive wine to lay down a case of, and then open a bottle or two each year to see how it's morphing.
The final selection is also from Sonoma County. Rodney Strong Vineyards makes an large array of wines. I've often been impressed with their ability to make excellent wine in a variety of price categories and with differing intent.
The 2007 Rodney Strong Knotty Vines Zinfandel has 3 percent Syrah and 3 percent Cabernet blended in. The fruit was sourced from Russian River Valley (17 percent) and Alexander Valley (83 percent). This wine spent 10 months in oak. Approximately 17,000 cases of this Zinfandel were produced, and the suggested retail price for this wine is $20.
Fresh berry fruit characteristics fill the nose of this Zinfandel. Raspberry is the dominant note throughout the palate, which is balanced and persistent. Black and white peppers intermingle in the finish along with subtle but emerging earth notes. A final wallop comes in the form of chocolate dipped raspberries to close things out. This wine has soft tannins and excellent acidity. This is also a wine that will pair with varied foods. Lamb Biryani comes to mind as an excellent option.
I've had this release from Rodney Strong over several vintages. It's been very consistent from year to year. This Zinfandel is not going to age for a long time, but it'll drink well over the next three years or so.
The three Zins above provide a diverse array of styles, price points and intents. For me, each of these has varying purposes on my table, or out on my deck, as the case may be. As Zinfandels are of particular interest to me you'll find plenty of coverage of them at both Gabe's View and Drink Dry Creek.