Zinfandel – WA vs. CA – QPR

One of my favorite food and wine pairings is big, bold, jammy Zinfandel with my home-made fajita’s. The offset flavor components and complimentary ones of both – to me – are one of the best pairings going. Think of grilled peppers and onions with cumin and coriander topped with your favorite meat (we use chicken and skirt steak). Then add in a huge jam-berry-peppercorn flavor from Zinfandel and you’ve got it.

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There’s no question that Zinfandel is indeed California’s darling grape – even more so to me than Cabernet Sauvignon and here’s why. They’ve been growing it longer than anyone else and by all accounts have almost perfected the process. The vines they have down there are older than sin and quite frankly create some of the most complex new-world wines I’ve ever had. There’s something about Zin that really rocks my boat and more importantly, my palate.

If you’ve been watching my latest interviews with several winemakers from the state of WA, then you’ve probably noticed question to them regarding WA as having the ability to produce Zinfandel on a truly competitive nature. It seems right now the thoughts are about 50/50 – some feel we can do it while others think of areas like Lodi County as being the cornerstone of that grape variety.

Maryhill 2005 Zinfandel – $14-$19
I happened to have snagged a case of Maryhill Zinfandel last year from my local wine shop and had a bottle that’s been laying down since that time – the 2005 Zinfandel which I really didn’t care for much at first in contrast to the 2004’s we’ve had from them.

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I reviewed its Proprietors Reserve awhile ago and thought it completely rocked it out of the park – so today, I’m going for a more QPR (Quality – price – ratio) with their “cheaper” Zinfandel which you can easily find for under $20 – I think I paid about $14.

This wine was made using 30% new French Oak and 70% French/American Oak which were 1yr old. It has a rated Alcohol of 15.5% which is very typical for Zinfandel. There were 1900 cases made, so availability should be very good – ask your local wine ship to order it or simply call the winery.

Nose: blackberry jam, peppercorn, baseball mitt leather, black cherry, tar.

Taste: Explosive tar-dipped blackberry jam and spice.. great finish that lingers longer than I thought it would. little bit of heat on the backend but it’s reasonably balanced.

Maryhill Zin Impressions:
I’m really glad I had a bottle of this which had some more age on it as I think it was entirely way too immature last year compared to what I’m feelin’ about it now. This wine is a serious contender and is one you need to really seek out and compare it to the likes of what CA is doing. It has a great finish and I’d hit it all day long with BBQ Ribs, pulled-pork, Fajita’s, and smoked meats.

Ravenswood 2005 “Old Vine” Zinfandel – Lodi County – $15
Ravenswood has been producing wines since the 1970s and has done a remarkable job of kicking out wines which are affordable and tasty while also doing some “higher-end” stuff to boot.

I know there are wine-snobs out there who’d turn their nose at this stuff and in the spirit of full-disclosure, I was one of them. Comon, a “grocery-store” brand? Really? I hadn’t give Ravenswood a good, concerted try for awhile as my last experience with them was less-than-positive. But like wine, people change, our palate’s chagne – the entire wine experience is one that’s chocked full of change – embrace it.

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Ravenswood actually does a blending process for this wine which consists of 84% Zinfandel, 14% Petite Sirah and 2% “mixed blacks”. Kind of sneaky, but I think the overall flavor profile is going to appeal to those who are new to Zin and may not appreciate having their palate’s ass kicked quite as hard by something like the Maryhill.Nose: Jammy, Peppercorned cherries on top of shoe leather with hints of tobacco and menthol

Taste: Tastes like it smells – completely… Huge cherry component with peppercorn, chocolate and shoe leather. The tobacco hits on the back-end of the palate. Jammy. Nice finish but it doesn’t seem to hang out quite as long as the Maryhill Zin.

Ravenswood Impressions:
This is a very fruity wine when tasted side-by-side ot the Maryhill – it’s so ripe with cherries and strawberries that it almost reminds me of a Cabernet in that aspect. It does have some of the jamminess I adore in Zin as well as a slight vegitel component. I can see this wine having a broader appeal to the folks who lend a bit more old-world. It’s not near the powerhouse as the Maryhill but a very enjoyable wine nonetheless.

The Final Word:
Each one of these wines brings some great Zinfandel goodness to the able – but for me and where I’m at right now, I’d take the Maryhill. I really appreciate it’s ability to tackle your tastebuds quicker than Michael Jackson does little boys. It can easily power through any hearty southwest-inspired foods, a hearty peppercorn steak or – if you’re up to the challenge – on its own merits.

If you’re new to Zins and want a good first entry into the wonderful world of what they’re all about then I’d easily recommend the Ravenswood Lodi County – it’s super smooth mouth-feel – I know – will cater to a broader audience.

This little test showed to me that Washington can compete when it comes to Zinfandel and do a great job of it. If you have access to both of theses wines, I’d highly encourage you to try them both – then you can go with me on what’s been a fun journey of two excellent wine regions producing a slightly different style of one of my favorite red grapes.

Foods I’d pair with these:
BBQ anything
Steaks with a peppercorn reduction
Smoked meats
Fajita’s
Tex-mex foods

  • Nico

    DP,

    Nice Zin crazy post. I promess, I’ll give a try to the BBQ sauce – Zinfandel combo later this spring…

  • http://winefoot.com dp

    Brother.. I will change your life with the bbq sauce I make..:)

  • http://www.winomagazine.com JoshL

    I want in on some of that BBQ.