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What To Drink Now: Zinfandel

Not the white stuff….though I did see White Zinfandel used in a recipe on a cooking show recently, but the hearty, spicy, often robust red wine that pairs so beautifully with so many of our Texas food traditions, like barbecue ribs, smoked sausage and brisket, juicy hamburgers, spicy chili and delicious carne asada.  Though not the typical go to red for me, I have a friend who loves a good Zin, so I often find myself enjoying a bottle or two when dining with him, which has really opened my eyes to how great and refined some Zinfandel can be.  Here are a few favorites I have tried recently.  Some selections were sent for editorial consideration.

Sbragia 2008 La Promesa Zinfandel, “the Promise” in Italian, named for the promise Ed Sbragia made to his father to continue the family’s winemaking traditions, eventually under the family name. Made from grapes grown in the La Promesa vineyard adjacent to the winery and planted just a handful of years ago, creating subtle flavors of blackberry, boysenberry, peppercorns, baking spice and cedar notes from 18 months of new French oak aging.  

Chateau Montelena has been making Zinfandel for 40 years, since the Calistoga winery started back in the 1970’s, though some wouldn’t realize it since the winery is better known for their award winning, Paris Tasting Chardonnay and classic, rich and robust Cabernet Sauvignon.  Their Zin does not play second fiddle to these two classics though as its spicy, intense, full-bodied flavor leaps from the glass with enthusiasm, while maintaining balance. A great food wine filled with dried berries and plums with hints of wild flowers and spice, finishing with toasted cedar and herbal notes on the finish.

Easton Amador County Zinfandel balances bright fruit with subtle spice, bringing ripe cherry and blackberry jam together with pink pepper and baking spices for a luscious, juicy wine with a lingering finish, perfect for sipping on its own or with a rack of succulent ribs or a medium rare steak.

I had lunch recently with the relatively new winemaker for Ravenswood, Stuart Henry, to taste through their latest single vineyard Zinfandels.  Ravenswood was really one of the first wineries to build their portfolio around Zinfandel, with founder and winemaker Joel Peterson dabbling in traditional Old World techniques with old vine Zinfandel grapes.  Today Ravenswood continues to be one of the largest producers of Zinfandel in the country, with their single vineyard wines being some of the best.  The Teledeschi Zin from Dry Creek Valley is one of the best, blending old vine Zinfandel with Petite Sirah, Carignane and Alicante Bouschet to create a wine that is both luscious and powerful.  Aged 20 months in French oak the flavors of black cherry, black plum and blackberry marry with toasted caramel, vanilla and dark chocolate with subtle hints of smoke and spice on the finish.

Frank Family 2009 Napa Valley Zinfandel with just a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Sirah, this medium bodied Zin is filled with ripe raspberry, black plum, violets with sugar and spice notes.  Medium bodied with caramel and toasted vanilla notes from the 18 months of aging with pepper, leather and a hint of earthiness on the velvety finish.

Duckhorn’s Paraduxx blends predominantly Zinfandel (68%) with Cabernet Sauvignon (24%) and a touch of Merlot and Cabernet Franc creating a lush and abundant wine with blackberry, black cherry and strawberry jam followed by cocoa, molasses and cherry pie on the palate with a smooth, lingering finish.

Messina Hof Tex-Zin Private Reserve Double Barrel ages their predominantly Zinfandel/Merlot blend wine for one year in French oak and then a year in American oak creating a spicy wine with cedar, vanilla and chocolate notes wrapped around layers of ripe cherry pie, juicy blackberry and a touch of white pepper.