It's the time of year in South Florida when we plan our final barbecues of the
season, warily eyeing the coming summer with its heat, humidity and hurricanes … all the time watching people in national TV commercials gleefully dusting off their grills.
As we cook burgers, sauce-slathered chicken and big steaks, it's one last excuse to break out bottles of America's omegrown wine … big, rich, hearty, red zinfandel.
Zinfandel can be lush and packed with red-raspberry fruit, lean and firm like a
Bordeaux or anywhere between. Allowed to run its ripening course, the grape can easily develop so much fruit sugar that … when combined with yeast and fermented … it can build up alcohol levels of 15 percent or more, almost into the realm of port.
Unlike the cool, computer-controlled fermentation crisp white wines undergo, zinfandels are generally allowed to seek their own temperatures in open-top vats, sometimes reaching 85 degrees or more, to extract maximum jammy fruit and deep color. This, too, encourages those high alcohol levels, and makes the wines seem even more generous.
The V. Sattui Winery, established in 1885, has the advantage of getting its zinfandel from 94-year-old vines, which greatly concentrates its flavors. Interspersed with a “field blend'' of carignane, petite sirah, alicante and golden chasselas (thought to be the sherry grape called palomino), those vines yield rich and hearty wines.
At Artezin Wines, winemaker Randle Johnson gathers zinfandel grapes from three Northern California counties: Amador for lush, jammy fruit, and Sonoma and Mendocino for spicey flavors.
· 2007V. Sattui Winery “Crow Ridge'' Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma
County (zinfandel with small amounts of carignane, petite sirah, alicante, golden
chasselas): ripe, rich red plum, cola and cinnamon aromas and flavors; full-bodied,
warm with alcohol, spicy; $33.
· 2008 Artezin Zinfandel, Amador, Mendocino and Sonoma counties: intense black
raspberry, cinnamon and herbal aromas and flavors; full body; soft, creamy,
smooth; rich tannins; $18.
· 2006 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi: powerful, full-bodied black raspberry and clove aromas and flavors; rich and hearty; $19.
· 2006 Sanctuary “Mariah Vineyard'' Zinfandel, Mendocinio Ridge (95 percent
zinfandel, 5 percent petit sirah): aromas and flavors of oak, vanilla, black raspberry
and licorice; lush and fruity, with powerful alcohol; $24.
· 2007 Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Zinfandel, Calif.; rich and soft and fruity,
with red raspberry flavors; $14.
· 2008 Frei Brothers Reserve Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley: hearty and rich, with black cherry and cinnamon flavors; $6.
· 2007 Bonterra Zinfandel, Mendocino County (from organic grapes): black raspberry and bitter chocolate aromas and flavors; $13.
· 2007 DeLoach Zinfandel, Russian River Valley: black cherry and black coffee flavors; rich and hearty; $19.
· 2007 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Zinfandel, California: black raspberry and espresso aromas and flavors; firm tannins; $18.
· 2005 Kunde Estate Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley: black cherry aromas and flavors; full-bodied and rich; $18.