There’s Most Certainly a Place at the Table for Zinfandel

If wine were royalty, some might consider cabernet sauvignon to be king and chardonnay to be queen.

And zinfandel? Well, zinfandel would probably end up somewhere around the ranks of court jester.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, we need zinfandel to be there to make us laugh and remind us that wine tasting should be enjoyable. With its oftentimes big, fruit flavors, borderline “yikes” alcohol content, and a smack of brashness, a glass of zinfandel could easily be the life of the party.

Of course drinking wines isn’t all about fun and games, and zinfandel can have a serious side as well. Try something that’s had a few years to mature or open a bottle made from 50-year old vines and you’ll know that zin is perfectly capable of behaving itself and displaying plenty of style and sophistication.

That’s what I enjoy about this feisty, flavorful, full-bodied varietal. Zinfandel can wear many masks: from spicy and peppery to jammy and full of berries to dark and plush as a perfect stand-alone sipper.

Last weekend I traveled to San Francisco to attend the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Zinfandel Festival. Over 200 California wineries poured zinfandel…and nothing but zinfandel. Give me a chance to whiten my teeth and lift my head out of the purple fog I’ve been in and I’ll give you a recap, along with some of my overall favorites, in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, here are two recommendations to tide you over:

Cline Cellars 2009 Big Break Zinfandel (about $19) – Last week I featured this Sonoma winery and gave you a number of $15 a bottle and under choices they produce. But for a small step up in price, you’ll be treated to this awesome yet elegant zin. It displays lots of ultra-dark plum flavors to start and then melts into a lengthy, slightly chewy finish with a touch of chocolate.

Napa Cellars 2009 Napa Valley Zinfandel (about $22) – Here’s another excellent California zin that’s been blended with a bit of petite sirah for added depth and structure. It opens with a fragrant aroma of fresh strawberries, with more berry flavors on the palate to accompany the notes of red currant and dried cherry. Hints of cinnamon, clove and toasted oak linger on the finish.

Next week I’ll focus on food pairings to serve with your glass of zinfandel, along with several more recommendations for you to consider.

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