Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Original Zin

In the wine world, January is a time for pruning the vines or simply sitting back and relaxing with a nice port or some other zesty red. But I was delighted to read there are those who prefer not to let January get the best of them. In fact, they have turned January into red zinfandel month.

I admire their pluckiness in the midst of the winemaking doldrums. I also love the sound of this festival because it celebrates an often underappreciated wine grape.

Zin is a grape of mysterious origins that has sometimes been call "America's grape" or "California's original red" -- irony already noted. But what's important to remember is that it does so damn well in California and it does virtually nothing anywhere else, despite its ancient European roots. So when I heard a loopy group of Californians was turning January into a tribute month, I had to raid the cellar to get an early start and join in.

I opened a Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel'01 and got lost in the rich blackberry aromas with their enticing peppery notes. This winery churns out terrific zins year after year for just under $30. At 14.9 percent, the 2001 is a bit high in alcohol, but there's plenty of fruit here to keep the wine from turning hot on the tongue. It's also not too briary, just delicious.

Of course, Ravenswood remains among the nobility of California zinfandels. You can't go wrong trying virtually any of Ravenswood's vineyard-designated wines. In 1999, we were lucky enough to get a private tour of Ravenswood while on a Napa and Sonoma tour. From the barrel samples and special bottles we tried I was astounded by the consistency and quality. Wish I had some now, as most are available around here, but I'm fresh out.

For a fine low-cost alternative, I've still got a bottle or two left of a case of Renwood Sierra Series Zinfandel '02. This wine is really smooth and fruit forward. It is so versatile, I've had it with nearly everything and loved it, from pizza to quesadillas to barbecue. For $12, it has become one of my favorite mid-week wines.

There are many terrific zins out there to try. Don't overlook them. Watch out for those that are too high in alcohol, a notorious trait of zins in general. They can be too hot and one-dimensional. For this reason and a lack of overall elegance and complexity, zinfandels can get knocked around a bit by some wine writers. Not as bad a beating as merlot took in Sideways, but bad enough.

Don't be talked out of the fun. Zinfandel, usually, is simply a concentrated, fruity and spicy red that makes food pairing so much less stressful. Missing out on great zin is simply a sin.


Blogger The MacBean Gene said...

Thank Tom at "The Daily Wine Blog for gettin me here. I've enjoyed Zins ever since they figured out how to make them "travel". It's still my wine of choice and, your right, Ravenswood is hard to beat especially their old vine vintages.

11:38 AM  

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