Zinfandel has always been considered a uniquely American grape, despite the fact that it originally descended from an ancient Croatian variety, Crlhenak Kastelanski. After all, if you go back far enough, aren't we all immigrants? Another American fixture is the Memorial Day weekend that kicks off of barbecue season, and no red goes better with that backyard tradition than Zinfandel. But the current trend for this variety seems to favor blockbuster wines, high in alcohol and colored by jammy, overripe fruit, tasting more like port than table wine. The lineup we tasted included a number of those monster Zins, and while they have a following, the panel's preference was for a more balanced, food-friendly style. Here are the top picks:
2003 Hanna Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley, $21
Bright blueberry and cherry cola aromas are punctuated by touches of rhubarb and white pepper. There's a bit of heat up front, but it gives way to spicy blackberry jam flavors that are smooth and creamy. Tart cherry on the finish helps to even things out. While this weighs in on the bigger side of the Zinfandel scale, with a couple of years of bottle age and excellent structure to carry the richness, it is drinking absolutely beautifully now.
2005 Paul Dolan Zinfandel, $16.99
This wine charms you with floral berry aromas that are surprisingly elegant and offer light touches of nutmeg, grilled meat and pepper. Lithe and silky textures caress the palate in this spicy wine that has a rich core of bramble berry fruit flavors. A very persistent finish offers ample fruit, perfect acidity and hints of anise, vanilla and cinnamon. That this remarkably delicious Zinfandel is made with organic grapes is a nice plus.
2005 Pietra Santa Zinfandel, Cienga Valley, $15.99
Beautifully rich aromas of dark berry fruit are laced with black currant, herb and smoke along with a lightly sweet caramel note. Bold cherry fruit flavors that are big but balanced by tangy acidity fill the mouth. This is a classically styled Zin with soft oak, anise, black pepper and sage. The finish is fresh and lively in this wine rounding out a trio of Zinfandels that are among the best I have tasted in recent years. America's wine is back.
This week's panel: David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Leslie Young