Zin-sational Value from another Secret City

The other one!

The other one!

There are those moments of peak performance when you catch a certain fruit during the prime of its season and sense that it just couldn’t possibly get any better, even by waiting another single day. So you wistfully sink your teeth into it. And instantly you know from the lusciousness that indeed it is perfectly ripe. The same could be said for the fruit of wine.

The 2012 Oak Ridge Ancient Vines Zinfandel from Lodi reminded me of this. Unfamiliar with this $11 value, my curiosity elbowed me to add a bottle to my purchase last week.

Understandably, when locals see a wine labeled Oak Ridge they may be somewhat judicious – lest the vineyards be a little too close to home. And although there is no need to worry (since it comes from the California cartel and not the local one) this Oak Ridge Ancient Vines Zinfandel is, coincidentally, just as explosive.

A gluttonous wine, that would make any mythological wine god smile, the succulent Lodi Zin struts around with aromas of cardamom and tucked-away cinnamon spice before flashing that self-indulgent rich cherry and red berry fruit. Not to mention that spicy Zinfandel calling card. Giddy up! Start humming “my heart’s on fire.” And go get a case.

A must have for Zin lovers

"Swelling and puffing and almost due"

“Swelling and puffing and almost due”

It is mid year and 2013 already has its mega-value Zinfandel. If you’re a Zin fanatic, then it’s compulsory for you to try the Old Zin Vines 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi. Yep, that’s a mouthful to say… but one you’ll relish tasting.

The OZV is all-out succulent fruit, a real tongue teaser… waiting to be bathed in more. Lodi juice is always some of the best for Zins, and the OZV jams with the best of them. Think nectar-like hot blackberries swelling, nearly popping on the vine, from the blazing heat wave. And then there’s the ladles of black cherry fruit. Top the finish off with a sprinkling of cocoa flavor and you have a very self-indulgent glass of wine. At a scant $12.99, you’re not going to find a better value in Zinfandel this year. Zincredible!

Dinner Party Night

Budget week rolls on…

Curry Night: Bengali Style

Curry Night: Bengali Style

Our Bengali connection invited us over for dinner the other night; what better way to save during Budget Week than a full thrown East Indian throw-down at a friend’s house!

Longer readers of this blog will recall that last year I started admiring the combination of spicy, zippy California Zinfandel with a like-minded dinner of Indian cuisine. And there’s a not so small segment at your local wine shop in which any number of these California Zins would serve as suitable pairings. Here’s a refresher from Mama Desai.

But since it’s a dinner party (and more than likely a weekend) your selection needs a small step up in price and quality. The $15-20 dinner party wine is well worth the cost of not having to shop, cook or do the dishes at the end of the evening.

Knowing the parameters of the night’s menu in advance, I set out to test whether I could stretch my Zinfandel model into the Italian variety, a grape known as Primitivo. Doing so might accomplish two goals.

Primo Primitivo

Primo Primitivo

If the Primitivo pairs just as well as the California version (with this spicy East-Indian fare) then not only do I have more wines to choose from for future such dinners, but I also have a wine (in Primitivo) that I already know pairs well with beef, wild game, and red sauce recipes. And that means I’m covered when picking the right wine for several other dinner party menus.

The 2011 Cantine Baldassarre inPrimis nailed it. This Primitivo from Salento, in the southern Italian region of Apulia, has just enough of that alluring spiciness that we savor in California Zins but with darker fruit notes of fig, black cherry and prunes. So whether your next dinner party requires a BBQ friendly wine, a wine with an acidity level that sings the praises of a good tomato/red sauce, a selection that holds up to red meats (without being just another Cabernet) or a spicy paring for Indian food, then a Primitivo like the Baldassarre inPrimis will make you the Bollywood star of the next dinner party.

Special thanks to Ranjan and Nita!

You say you want a resolution…

HealthyDinnerLet’s face it; the only thing that we’re going to read or hear about for the next few weeks is how to eat right in 2013. So for the sake of conformity and not wanting to sacrifice on flavor, I found this great dish from an on-line fitness mag. Colorfully filled with the healthy sweet potatoes, butternut squash, kale greens and black beans, this vegetable chili has a distinctive chocolate/cinnamon pseudo-mole sauce with a nice sweet-heat undertone.

Skip the parsnips (that’s just overboard healthy) and match up the dish with a nice spicy bottle of Amador County Zinfandel like Renwood or an aromatic and briery Dry Creek Vineyards Zinfandel.

The new “it” wine…while it lasts

“Well, hello!!!”… That’s the very pleasant, very familiar reception you’ll receive after just one whiff, indeed one taste, of the 2010 DeLoach Russian River Valley Zinfandel. Your tongue will promptly thank you and then beg for another sample of this very tantalizing vixen. The DeLoach is a powerfully enticing Zin showing off an aromatic allure of brown sugar, warm cinnamon and trademark Zinfandel spiciness.

Pour a little of its black cherry goodness into the mix and you’re holding a glass of one of the best Zinfandel’s to rattle your wine rack in about five years. With some very special pricing that I hear is out there, you should be able to claim what was a $20 bottle for under $15. If I were buying a case this year for Fall BBQ’s and tailgating, THIS would be IT.

Zinfandel and Primitivo, two clones of one great grape

It has been said that the Greeks brought wine to Italy, and in turn the Italians gave wine to the world. The old ruins and wine presses of the ancient Roman Empire in Germany and France as well as much of Western Europe are the initial proof of this global manifestation. But it wasn’t until Italians immigrated in-masse to the United States, and more specifically California, that this old saying began to take root (in the form of new vineyards) and to establish a sense of street cred in the wine world.

One indication of that new world wine influence can be found in the bulk plantings of America’s beloved Zinfandel grape. Originally traced back as a virtual clone of the Italian varietal known as Primitivo, the Zinfandel grape is believed to have been brought to the United States sometime in the 19th century.

After surviving both the phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800’s and American prohibition in the 20th century, Zinfandel was replanted extensively and thrived throughout much of California’s wine country. And the families of Italian immigrants like Sonoma County’s Seghesio family carried on that tradition of giving wine to the world.

Seghesio makes over half a dozen Zins including their flagship Sonoma County Zinfandel that comes capped in a bright blue foil. Melodically fluid with loads of red fruit flavors like cherries, strawberries and raspberries, the 2010 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel is the gateway to Zinfandel heaven. If you’re a huge fan of Zinfandel then be sure to save up for one of their specialty Zins like the Rockpile, Old Vines, Pagani, Home Ranch or Monte Rosso. You won’t be disappointed!

Interestingly enough, the history of the Italian version – the Primitivo clone, led researchers to track both it and the Zinfandel clone even further back. Although most Primitivo can be found grown and vinified on the “heel” of the Italian boot, its indigenous roots (like that of Zinfandels) have been studied and ultimately linked back to plantings of a Croatian clone just across the Adriatic Sea.

In contrast, Italian Primitivo tends to have a noticeably different flavor profile than its American Zinfandel counterpart. Since it is less fruity, with more of a rustic note, Primitivo is very food friendly especially when it comes to traditional Italian recipes. Producers like Monaci, Cantele and Apollonio are affordable and accurate representations of Italian Primitivo. But, of the Primitivos that I’ve sampled, it is the 2010 Layer Cake that seems to have the closet resemblance to California Zinfandel. The proof is in its fruit-forward style and approachable demeanor.

Finally, if you classify yourself as a Zin-fanatic of Zin-head, then it’s a must for you to check out California’s ZAP Festival. ZAP or Zinfandel Advocates & Producers holds an annual festival in San Francisco at the first of every year that is considered to be one of the best wine events in all of California.

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Must try: 2009 Klinker Brick Old Vines Zinfandel


The BEST Zinfandel I’ve had this year for under $20 is hands down the ’09 Klinker Brick. Laden with rich dark fruits of chewy black cherries and overly ripe Southern blackberries, this old vines bottling is stacked with layer upon layer of luscious and indulgent Zinfandel nectar. An alcohol level that tops out at a whopping 15.8% best demonstrates Klinker Brick’s intensity. It’s not “just another brick in the wall.”

Best red values for the first half of 2010

The first part of this year has proven that the influx of new wines and the growth of wine consumption have no end in sight. Likewise, as more Americans are making the switch from distilled beverages to vino, national wine conglomerates are establishing new strategies to both saturate markets and to make sure that no bottle is left uncorked. With all these neo-bottlings and lascivious labels, consumers are sometimes hesitant to make multiple leaps of faith. As we’ve all learned at one time or another, just because the back of the label sounds like a sweet Keats’ poem doesn’t make it so. The following list represents the best values by wine category that the East Tennessee market has seen for the first half of 2010.

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