By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week Archive
Zinfandel – A Wine for Late Summer Fun
In my annual quest to find a culinary home for Zinfandel, we have prepared interesting and fun summer foods – everything from hot dogs to delicious ethnic fare. If you’re going to enjoy your Zin with a hot dog, you deserve to have the best. We did all the tasting for you, and we can absolutely report that Nathan’s (#1) and Hebrew National All Beef (#2) are the best. Spend the extra dollar or two and get the best; it makes a difference.
Zinfandels also go well with many other dishes. Chef Ted prepared pork tenderloin with adobo sauce from his Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican cookbook. Smoky and spicy with meaty goodness, the dish (Lomo de Puerco en Adobo) was delicious with Zins.
About the wine, so much has been said and researched that we now consider Zinfandel and Primitivo to be the same grape – perhaps just clonally different. To provide balance, I collected enough Primitivo examples that they have a part of the stage next week. Next week will also be exploring “mixed blacks,” grape varieties that were early arrivals to the American wine scene with Italian immigrants and others.
To increase the likelihood of availability, we have included a larger percentage of California Zinfandels in these reviews than the less available Northwest Zins.
Les Collines (the foothills) is located on the border between Washington and Oregon in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. With an upper elevation of 1,380 feet, it is one of the higher vineyards in the Walla Walla Valley AVA. Winemaker Ed Fus consistently makes his most-awarded Zin from fruit grown at Les Collines. This vintage ranked number one in this year's zinfandel tasting. Look for aromas and flavors of black pepper, boysenberry, black cherry, vanilla, leather and toasty cedar. Great with hot dogs and even better with classier fare.
Black Sheep Winery
To get primed for this Calaveras County Zin, I reread Mark Twain’s amusing little short story about compulsive gambling and long-winded tales told by bored acquaintances. This wine is much better than the story. Black Sheep Winery is almost 20 years old, being founded in the California gold country by David and Janis Olson in 1984. The winery was turned over to friends Steve and Liz Millier in 2007. Several Zinfandels are produced, each showing the unique character that comes from its selected vineyard site. This bottling leads with plum and blackberry aromas with notes of dried herbs, anise and vanilla. The palate is soft and juicy with berry and plum flavors corralled by notes of toasty oak.
Different areas of Northern California lay claim to being the best place to grow Zinfandel: Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, the Sierra Foothills, Lodi in the San Joaquin Valley and - north of the Napa Valley - Lake County. Among the best from Lake County is this complex and age-worthy Zin from Napa’s Cakebread Cellars. Look for aromas and flavors of blueberry and black pepper with notes of vanilla and dried herbs, finishing with flavors of dark chocolate and caramel.
This exceptional Zin is crafted from grapes grown at the Cline vineyard near Live Oak Road in Oakley, CA. This vineyard is dry farmed and head-pruned in the tradition of the Italian immigrants who planted the vineyard before 1900. The wine is bursting with complex aromas and flavors of blackberry and plum with notes of spice, licorice, coffee and tobacco.
Michael and Anne Dashe are co-winemakers at their small Oakland winery, crafting intense and artful wines from Zinfandel and other selected varietals. They make superb single-vineyard wines that express terroir and varietal truth. This Zinfandel comes from 70-year-old vines in a stony vineyard on the old Dry Creek riverbed. Aromas and flavors of black raspberry, cherry, lavender, spice and herbs make a great Dry Creek statement. On their label, Michael Dashe describes, “a playful image featuring a monkey riding on the back of a fish, a metaphor for two unique creatures traveling together on a journey.”
Grgich Hills Estate
This is a lighter style Zin from Grgich in the 2009 vintage. The wine was co-fermented with 2% Petite Sirah, pressed off early to retain fruitiness and aged in large oak casks. Aromas and flavors of strawberry, anise and light cherry mingle with notes of spice and vanilla on the finish.
Joel Peterson began his winemaking career making Zinfandel in 1976 and has become the world’s leader in production of this unique varietal. The winery makes a wide selection of blended Zinfandels (Vintners Blend), the County Series – Mendocino, Lodi, Napa and Sonoma, and several Single Vineyard wines of which this is one. The Belloni Vineyard is planted to Zinfandel and “mixed blacks” of Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet and Carignane. This wine is a field blend of these. Aromas of earthy spice, plum and boysenberry lead to a jammy palate that offers ripe fruits and notes of anise, tobacco, toasty oak and licorice.
With their “Declaration of Zin-Dependence,” The Federalist winery pairs the evolution of the Zinfandel grape in California with the growth of America and The Federalists’ party establishing the independence of America. This Dry Creek Zin is blended with 12% mixed blacks (see above) and aged in French and American oak barrels – 20% new. The nose is ripe and forward with notes of vanilla, cherry and plum. The palate is rich with round berry flavors and finishes with smoky cedar notes and hints of vanilla and caramel. Great with both hot dogs and pork tenderloin.
Steve Millier runs Milliaire Winery in addition to the Black Sheep Winery, both in the Sierra Foothills town of Murphys, California. He has had a long relationship with Clockspring Vineyard and its owner Frank Alviso. Look for aromas of ripe plum and dark fruits with notes of barrel spice and black pepper. The flavors of plum and blackberry marry with notes of earthy herbs and pepper. This fruit forward wine is just the thing for meats from the grill or richly flavored pastas.
Have you planned your harvest visit to the Columbia Gorge yet? It’s a beautiful time of year to see the Gorge and all the local wineries will soon be harvesting and crushing grapes. Maryhill Winery is one of just a few Washington wineries producing Zinfandel and their Proprietor’s Reserve bottling features ripe and toasty character that pairs well with foods from the grill. Look for aromas and flavors of blackberry, vanilla, smoky cedar, caramel, tobacco and mocha.
Trentadue Winery La Storia
The Trentadue family purchased their Sonoma County ranch in 1959, relocating from Santa Clara County in the area now better known as Silicon Valley. Leo Trentadue established his estate winery with the encouragement of Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards. This association has been a long-term success with Victor Trentadue managing vineyards contracted to Ridge. La Storia Reserve wines honor the history of the generations of the family winery. This Zinfandel is rich with aromas and flavors of boysenberry and vanilla, showing complex notes of tobacco, dried herbs and smoky cedar – good with meats from the grill or rich chocolate desserts.
This wine is the lighter brother to the Angel Vines Les Collines bottling described above. Aromas and flavors of blackberry, floral perfume, dried herbs tingle the senses with a light-bodied palate and food affinity for a wide range of savory fare.
Hartford Family Winery
Hartford Zinfandels have been lauded as among California’s best for over 15 years. They are crafted from grapes grown at century-old vineyards in the Russian River Valley and other nearby AVAs. This wine is crafted to balance the ripe fruit character with the oak aging, utilizing 35% or more new oak barrels. Aromas of rich blueberry and blackberry mingle with tobacco, bramble and vanilla notes. The palate adds flavors of barrel spice and toasty cedar to the ripe berry flavors.
Cathedral Ridge Winery
If you’re heading to the Columbia Gorge for a late summer visit, be sure to stop by Cathedral Ridge Winery in Hood River. This reserve-style Zinfandel was crafted from grapes grown at Scorched Earth Vineyard near Dallesport, Oregon and received an additional 12 months barrel age yielding a soft wine with berry and cherry aromas and flavors with notes of earthy herbs and toasty oak.
This fruit forward and “zinny” Zinfandel comes from sustainably farmed, family owned vineyard in the Ukiah Valley of Mendocino County where warm days and cool nights extend the growing season helping the wine retain balancing acidity. The wine was aged in one and two-year-old barrels so the Zinfandel character shows through offering aromas of raspberry, red currant and black pepper with jammy flavors of boysenberry and baking spice. It is a nice sipper for red wine lovers and a classic accompaniment to Italian fare and the noble hot dog.
You may think that the wild boar on the Quivira label means that you should drink their Zinfandel with pork ribs, or perhaps a bacon cheeseburger. In fact it is a tribute to local wild hogs that evolved from animals brought to the Dry Creek area by early Russian and Italian immigrants. This Zin offers much of the Dry Creek character, showing aromas of earthy dried herbs, raspberry, plum and toasty oak. The palate offers raspberry flavors with notes of vanilla and cedar. Coincidentally, it is a tasty wine with pork!
Pedroncelli’s historic Zinfandel vineyards are located on the hillsides surrounding the winery on the ranch originally purchased by John Pedroncelli, Sr. in 1927 and planted to Zinfandel since 1904. A quarter acre of the original “Mother Clone” vines still bear fruit and the rest of the vineyard was cloned from these vines. Aromas of Dry Creek “bramble,” blackberry and toasty vanilla lead to a lean palate of chewy cran–cherry, barrel spice and field herb.
For those who need Zinfandel for a group, Bota Box offers this juicy companion to meats from the grill, savory appetizers or friendly conversation. Aromas of blackberry and spicy red currant lead to a palate offering black cherry, pepper and toasted oak flavors.
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