This is how ardent are the fans of zinfandel: Did you know, Ravenswood winemaker Joel Petersontold me one night over a duck and zin dinner, that the Ravenswood logo is the mosttattooed logo in the wine industry? Yes, he said tattooed.
"You don't know how many times I go out to dinner and the chef comes out and rolls up his sleeve or his pants to show me our logo," Peterson says. If you are familiar only with Ravenswood's Vintners Blend, an easygoing pair-with-ribs kind of zin that goes for less than 10 bucks, this degree of fanaticism may surprise you. Butit's not a surprise if you've had the chance to try their single-vineyarddesignates.
These are serious pours sure to tempt even red wine drinkers who usually will only take a cab. And these zins have the potential to age to even greater heights say in the neighborhood of seven years, maybe 10. But zinfandel comes in many styles, from all fruity-jammy to deep dark and sensuous. The range in price follows that arc.
Castle Rock is another egalitarian zin, inexpensive to the point you might serve it as a party wine. Mid-range, Sausal, Buehler and Quiviraare favorites. Sadly, several of the cult zins at the high end of the spectrum are more force than finesse, with high alcohol to match their high prices.
Seghesio and Cline (love the latter's '06 Contra Costa bottling), like Ravenswood, produce both starter zins and the kind of complex, rewarding red you'd pair with grilled Kobe beef. Especially this time of year, I like to pair zins with just aboutanything off the grill turkey, sausage, lamb, pork, venison maybe with a side of grilled eggplant. That blackberry-plumcherry meets mocha-pepper-spice combo enhances them all. And you might as well have a glass of the late, great '05, '06 or '07 while you're grilling, especially if you are watching the fog roll in.
It is moments like these that you will summon up Joel Peterson's infamous mantra: "No wimpy wines." What a zinfandel world it would be.
New and recommended:
Rocca Family Syrah, 2005 ($45): This 100 percent Yountville Syrah yieldsdarkcherry nose and intense flavors of cocoa, black plum, pepper and spice. Grade: A
RodneyStrong Symmetry, 2005 ($60): A classic Alexander Valley red, approachable and rewarding even now. Quite elegant. Grade: A
Pfendler Chardonnay, 2007 ($38): This Sonoma coast stunner goes elegant and long, with shades of Asian pear, crème brulee and a touch of oak. Only 150 cases produced. Grade: A-