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Wednesday Wanderings
Fire Up The Barbie—We’ve Got The Wines To Drink Right Here

By Stephen Eliot

About this time last year, we were beginning to wonder whether or not Summer was ever going to arrive. Rains had ruined Memorial Day picnics and skies were gray and the days still had an uncommon chill. We were being told by some that a great vintage was in the offing, (we will wait to see about that), but it was strange territory, and the season progressed like a tumble down Alice’s rabbit hole.

Things are different this year, at least so far. Warm days have been the norm, and last weekend saw plenty of triple digit temperatures here in the bay area and throughout wine country. It is far too early to make any meaningful predictions as to just what the harvest will be like, but it does mean that alfresco suppers have returned and the grill is out of storage.

My kids would prefer that dinner be cooked and served outdoors every night, and I have never been able to come up with much of an argument why not. I am particularly fond of real barbecue, the kind that requires low heat, plenty of patience and the right kind of wood (hickory, oak and pecan are my favorites.) I have a real appreciation for brisket, and properly smoked chicken and duck can be a revelation, but my passion is pork from ribs to pulled shoulder to spicy links that have been cooked over smoldering logs of pecan. And, the wine to go with it is Zinfandel.

Oh, there are plenty of red varietals that I enjoy with barbecued pork, and as long as the wine is not too tannic, it will do useful service. A tangy Barbera or fruity Dolcetto are welcome, simple Côtes-du-Rhône reds and Spanish Garnachas are nice, and a vibrant young Beaujolais will never be refused. While pig and Pinot can be a match made in heaven, I do think the subtleties of good Pinot Noir tend to get lost in the smoke and spice and sauces of good barbecue. When given the choice, I will cast my vote for good Zinfandel every time.

It has been argued that Zinfandel inherently lacks the sophistication required of a truly great wine and that it is, at its best, a wine that has little place in fine dining. Anyone who has enjoyed the outstanding bottlings of Ridge, Ravenswood and Storybook Mountain Vineyard over the years knows just how silly such beliefs are. Still, good Zinfandel has a certain wild side that makes it so suitable to patently unsophisticated barbecue, and its combination of richness, generally temperate tannins and sheer fruity strength are hard to beat.

Here, then, are a few recent CGCW favorites that are especially well-suited to rich barbecue fare. They are culled from a long list of impressive efforts that we have tasted thus far this year, and they run the gamut from a stunning, eminently collectable wine that ranks the very best Zins to be had regardless of price to a bonafide Best Buy priced for everyday drinking and all points between. What they all share in common is a wonderful affinity for well-seasoned, saucy pork from the smoker, and they deserve a look from all fans of real barbecue.

95 BEEKEEPER Madrone Spring Vineyard Zinfandel Sonoma County 2009 $60.00
There are more than a few Zinfandels that display impressive concentration and depth, but not many manage to combine power and polish quite the way that this stunning newcomer does. From its wonderfully rich, highly extracted aromas of optimally ripened berries and fancy oak to its lengthy, like-minded flavors, it hits all the right varietal marks, yet it gives the impression that it has not begun to really show its stuff, and it could be another five years before it finds its fullest voice. It may not be cheap, but it is one that collectors will not want to miss.

92 PROULX Swiss Colina Zinfandel Paso Robles 2010 $30.00
Proulx is a welcome new name to the CGCW table, and, of its several fine wines, this one stands out as our favorite. From its intense aromatic beginnings to its rich and long-lasting flavors, it is charged with lots of well-defined, ripe-berry fruit and shows an appealing inclination to plushness. It is slightly supple in feel and sports a spine of well-managed tannins that affords a nice bit of structural grip, and, while certain to keep well and evolve for several years, it is a delicious, polished, fairly classic Zinfandel that is tasty right now.

92 SBRAGIA Gino's Vineyard Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2009 $30.00
Wonderfully expressive aromas of sweet berries, plums, cocoa and quince make for a most inviting start here, and the deep, well-filled flavors that follow do not disappoint. There is a bit of evident tannin underlying its layers of fruit, fine oak and mildly briary spice, but the wine avoids the least hint of coarseness and comfortably buffers its scant finishing heat with fruity extract to spare. As good Zinfandel so often does, it invites early drinking, but there is room for real growth and we would urge that a few bottles be cellared away.

89 MURPHY-GOODE Liar's Dice Zinfandel Sonoma County 2009 $21.00
This ripe, moderately full-bodied offering reminds that ripeness does not necessarily come at the expense of good balance, for, while it claims 15.5% abv on the label, it is a deep, impressively fruity wine that shows surprisingly good manners. Marked by a keen sense of berries from beginning to end and holding on for a long finish, this is one to serve alongside richer foods such as a slow-roasted pork shoulder.

88 OTTIMINO Zinfinity Zinfandel Sonoma County 2008 $18.00
Deep and well-defined blackberry fruit is the featured player in this very solid and fairly energetic young Zin, while scattered suggestions of briar and spice contribute a nice bit of interest and range. While the wine shows good weight and concentration, it is never less than balanced, and, if a touch of tannin shows up at the finish, it provides the kind of grip and structural spine that ensure several years of positive growth.

88 GNARLY HEAD Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi 2010 $12.00
As good a value as can be found among current Zinfandels, this well-crafted effort is simply without peer at the price. It is long on juicy, clean-as-can-be, distinctly varietal fruit and is filled out by a deftly placed dollop of creamy oak. Moderately full-bodied and very well-balanced with nary a hint of the heaviness or heat that sometimes come in wines of its provenance, it shows fine stamina and fruity length. It will make tasty drinking will all sorts of summery grilled fare but will keep well by dint of its balance.

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