This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20131011.php.
Can I learn to love Zin again?
Bring out your Zins! This month we're aiming our WineLovers Discussion Group's Wine Focus at Zinfandel, America's grape with its roots in Italy, or so we thought, until Carole Meredith & Co. traced its roots to Croatia. Accordingly, we'll open the topic to a world range of Zinfandel and its cousins, not only in California but in the other places around the world - particularly Western Australia - where it is grown; we'll check out Puglia's Primitivo (which, oddly, also is planted here and there in the New World); and, if you can find any, wines from Zin's progenitor grape, Croatian Crljenik Kasteljanski ("Kurl-YEN-ik Kahs-tel-YAN-ski").
I have to confess that I've been on a Zin diet for years, rarely tasting the stuff in the past decade, when - with Turley's 17-percent monsters as the poster children, but what I saw as a general rush toward massive fruit and high alcohol - I felt that Zin was leaving me. I'm willing to take this month, though, in an effort to rehab Zin in my mind's palate. Will I be happy?
My initial trip to the wine shop wasn't reassuring. A neighborhood shop with maybe a dozen Zins ranging from mass-market stuff up to Ridge Paso Robles (at $30) showed me mostly alcohol levels in the range from 15.5% upward, with mostly only low-end "pop" labels coming in for less.
The best option I could find was an organic favorite, Mendocino's Bonterra, which was still on the hefty side at 14.5%, placing it among the more "moderate" Zin options in the shop. I'm not sure what I think of that, but I did like the wine. This is a Zin I can drink with pleasure, although it still shows Zin's tendency toward big fruit and high alcohol. I'm sorry, but when I learned wine a generation ago, I was taught that subtlety and finesse are good things, and I still feel bad about the way that the big-name critics have led a charge away from this simple truth.
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Today's Tasting Report
Bonterra 2010 Mendocino County Zinfandel ($12.99)
Made with organic grapes from a winery and grapes certified by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), this is a very dark purple wine shading to a clear garnet edge. Classic Zin "bramble fruit" scents of raspberries and blackberries, good fruit but stops well short of "jammy" fruit, which to my mind is a good thing, as subtlety remains a plus in wine ... even Zinfandel. Juicy and bright on the palate, ripe and fresh mixed-berry fruit. Frankly, alcoholic warmth is present at its listed 14.5%, but this was one of the lower-alcohol wines on my local wine shop's shelf, with many bottles, even rather modest examples, coming in at 15.5%. (Oct. 10, 2013)
FOOD MATCH: Zins go well with simple, spicy fare, from chile con carne to a grilled burger or steak. This one went nicely with an aromatic mjadra, Palestinian lentils and basmati rice pilaf, a recipe from Louisville's Ramsi's Cafe on the World.
WHEN TO DRINK: I'd enjoy this one over the next year or so; there's debate over the ageworthiness of Zin, but this one is doing well now and will likely continue shedding its Zin fruit with time. Drink up.
VALUE: I'm 100 percent satisfied with this wine at this low-teens price. Wine-Searcher.com reports a $14 average U.S. retail.
Here's a fact sheet on Bonterra 2010 Zinfandel and an order form to buy it from the winery where the law permits.
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