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Wine Column

Zinfandel, the Other Red Wine

Light whites and rosés have long been a staple accompaniment for summer meals and gatherings, but an excellent, and often overlooked, alternative for these is the American-grown zinfandel. Contrary to popular belief, both white and red zinfandels are produced from the same red grape. White zinfandel was an adaptation of the original red, a styling that came into fashion in the 1980s. Red zinfandel, however, is the predominant variety, and that which is largely misunderstood.

Most of the old and best-known zinfandel vineyards of California were planted more than a century ago by Italian, German, and Swiss immigrants, and despite its European ancestry, zinfandel thrived in California and has (almost by default) become the all-American grape. Zinfandel has a hallmark bold, fruity flavor, voluptuous textures, plush tannins, and plenty of subtle, smooth curves. One of the keys to achieving these qualities is the use of old-aged vines. Lacking the vigor of youth, these fragile old vines produce a smaller crop than do their younger cousins. With fewer grape clusters to ripen, the vines are able to focus more energy into each grape, which leads to greater intensity of rich flavor in the fruit. Winemakers have long known that using the fruit from the old-vine zinfandel grape produces highly concentrated wines that are densely packed with complex layers of flavor.

One can find zins with flavors ranging from blackberry, raspberry, or currant preserves, to chocolate and peppery spice. They can be found within a wide price range and are stylistically diverse, from almost jammy sweet on one side to rough and tough like a chewy cabernet on the other. Look for wines from California’s Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley, as these locations have been home to this varietal for more than a century. Napa Valley and other more in-land locales, such as Lodi, are now producing noteworthy wines as well.

The zinfandel grape’s origin can be traced primarily to the primitivo grape of Italy. A good Italian primitivo producer, especially of the Puglia region, may rival some of California’s best zins currently on the market. Putting them side-by-side and tasting the subtle, yet unique, flavor differences between the two distinct wines is a fun way to start exploring the world of zinfandel.

One of the most common food pairings for zinfandel is barbeque. The spicy-sweet crowd-pleasing wine goes hand-in-hand with any meat cooked in a similarly spicy-sweet barbeque sauce. Experiment and find out which style you and your guests like best, whether to be enjoyed with an end-of-summer meal or on its own.

2005 Cantele Primitivo

The 2005 Primitivo is an engaging wine with plenty of sweet, ripe fruit perfect for drinking over the next year or two. It spent 6 months in used oak barrels. It, too, is an outstanding value. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2010.
89 Points Wine Advocate

2005 Bodegas Mano A Mano

The 2005 Mano a Mano offers an inky/purple color along with more fullness and body as well as wonderful freshness (a characteristic of this vintage). Meaty, dense, and chewy, this beauty certainly over-delivers for its price point.
89 points Wine Advocate

2006 Castello Monaci Primitivo Piluna

The 2006 Primitivo Piluna is a wine of uncommon beauty. This vibrant, pure red shimmers on the palate with layers of dark cherries, sweet herbs, licorice and tobacco. It offers outstanding length and terrific balance. Readers who haven't discovered Primitivo owe it to themselves to do so. This is a great starting point. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2011.
90 Points Wine Advocate

Sobon Estate Fiddletown Zinfadel

Ripe and jammy, with berry cobbler aromas and zesty, rustic wild berry, loamy earth and spice flavors. A pleasure from start to finish. Drink now.
88 Points Wine Spectator

2005 Ridge Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs

A zesty spice bomb of a Zinfandel, with boysenberry, ripe cherry, licorice and roasted herb notes and long, deep flavors that build toward firm, cedary tannins on the finish. Best from 2008 through 2012. 18,000 cases made.
89 Points Wine Spectator

2004 Renwood Fiddletown Zinfandel

A genuine Zinfandel, intense and appealingly rustic. Wild berry, dusty clay and fresh licorice aromas, with tart, minerally boysenberry and smoky pepper flavors. The tannins suggest there's no hurry. Best from 2009 through 2012.
90 Points Wine Spectator

2005 Michael-David Winery Earthquake Zin

The medium to full-bodied 2005 Earthquake Zin reveals attractive up-front fruit, spice, tobacco leaf, and ground pepper characteristics. Drink it over the next 2-3 years.
88 Points Wine Advocate

The Fine Wine of Spain

The country of Spain has a long history of producing fine wine, particularly the red wines of Rioja. However, this famous name is just one small region among many. Spain has the largest area of land dedicated to viticulture of any country in the world. The Spanish claim up to 600 grape varieties, yet 80% of the country's vineyards are planted with just 20 of them. Tempranillo is the primary red grape, and is Spain's most widely planted variety; Garnacha and Monastrell are also commonly grown.

Numerous techniques are employed in Spanish wine production, affecting the bouquet, flavor, and body of the final products. Red wines are often labeled Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva. Most of these wines, and particularly those labeled Reserva or Gran Reserva, will be soft and mellow, with oak-tinged flavors. Additionally, these wines usually retain a certain sharpness of acidity. It is this combination of qualities that make these wines so perfect at the table.

Spain is also known for high-quality white wines, most of them made from Verdejo. This grape yields aromatic, crisp, and fresh wines, yet they are still full-bodied. Spain's most exciting new kind of wine is the silky white Albarino. This white varietal is quickly gaining popularity due to its refreshing and vibrant combination of delicious fruit and mineral flavors.

There are diverse Spanish wines that will appeal to wine enthusiasts, whether they are interested in old or new stylings, reds or whites. These wines are flavorful, unique, ready to drink, easy to pair with a wide range of foods, and fairly inexpensive to boot!

Remei 2004 Gotim Bru

The 2004 Gotim Bru is a blend of 60% Tempranillo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Merlot aged for 10 months in French and American oak. Purple-colored, it provides a fragrant nose of spice box, tobacco, blueberry, and blackberry. Firmly structured, medium to full-bodied, and layered, this ripe, tasty wine should evolve for 2-3 years but who is going to wait? It is an outstanding value.
90 Points Wine Advocate

Burgans 2006 Albarino

Medium gold-colored, the wine has excellent honey, mineral, orange marmalade and peach aromas and flavors in a just off-dry format. Drink it over the next 12-18 months with grilled salmon, tuna, and roast chicken.
89 Points Wine Advocate

Tres Picos 2006 Garnacha

This is a lovely, expressive, deep ruby-tinged wine offering sweet aromas of kirsch liqueur, licorice, white pepper, and dusty, loamy characteristics. Full-bodied, supple textured, flashy, and flavorful, it is an unreal value that should be enjoyed over the next 12 months.
91 Points Wine Advocate

Las Rocas 2005 Old Vine Garnach

The 2005 Las Rocas Vinyas Viejas comes from high altitude, low yielding, 100+-year-old Grenache vines and is aged in French and American oak. More aromatic than its sibling, it has a splendid perfume of spice box, lavender, kirsch, and blueberry. It is also a bit richer and longer in the finish. While it may evolve for 1-2 years, who could resist it now?
91 Points Wine Advocate

Con Class 2006 Verdejo

The 2006 Con Class Verdejo is 100% varietal from even older vines. Light gold-colored, rich, and intense. It is a great value. This pair of custom cuvees is a joint venture of importer Eric Solomon and winemaker Ricardo Sanz. The wines are produced from organically farmed fruit planted on pure chalk at high altitude.
90 Points Wine Spectator

Orobio 2005 Tempranillo

The 2005 Orobio Tinto is a new project of Artadi's Juan Carlos Lopez de la Calle. Produced from 100% Tempranillo from high elevations, 50% of the wine was aged for 6 months in French oak. Purple-colored, the wine reveals attractive aromas of spice box, vanilla, and blackberry. On the palate it is medium-bodied and firm with enough structure for several years of positive evolution. This solid value should provide enjoyment through 2017.
89 Points Wine Advocate

Pazo Senorans 2006 Albarino

Pazo de Senorans is always a candidate for Albarino of the vintage. The grapes are sourced from the lowest-yielding, oldest vines in Rias Baixas. The wine is tank-fermented in small vats, and aged on fine lees with batonnage. Light gold-colored, it offers up a fragrant aromatic array of spring flowers, peach, citrus, and lemon meringue. Crisp, focused, and intensely flavored, it should be consumed now and over the next 3 years.
92 Points Wine Advocate