Wine column no. 16: Zinlicious

All Sam's Club has to have is a sale and Greg goes crazy. Lamb, you said? There's a sale on lamb? And there he goes to the store off of Burkardt Road so that we can freeze some racks and chops that we can then pair with a good bottle of red Zinfandel. 

Not that I'm complaining. Greg's memory for the price of various cuts of meat is like an MIT student's memory for the Blackjack cards everyone else hasn't yet played in Vegas. Which is to say: Don't even bother to try to keep score, because you'll lose every time.

So when we had our friend Rob and his son River over for dinner one recent Saturday, I was all about serving these newly purchased racks of lamb and their corrolating chops with a marinade of fresh thyme, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil that I let sit for about an hour. The chops weren't a success, but the racks of lamb were -- and paired with a 2004 Renwood Grandpere Zinfandel from California, they really shined. 

This Zinfandel smelled of caramel and chocolate, but the texture was all smooth and subdued. Paired with the tender, juicy lamb, this Varsity Liquors purchase definitely didn't need to impress -- it just did. 15.5 percent alcohol. About $28.

Speaking of Renwood, Winetree's got a 2006 Old Vine that's worth trying, too. For about $14, this bottle of Zinfandel is more spicy than sweet -- which worked out wonderfully, even when Greg was disappointed in the results of a two-hour effort to grill and smoke pork ribs that he'd marinated in barbecue sauce.
He was right that the smoked ribs were too dry. But honestly, I liked the grilled ribs, which were covered with the carmelized barbecue sauce. And paired with this Renwood from Amador County in California, they were delicious. This 15 percent alcohol creation was lighter than other versions of red Zinfandel we've had (think higher-priced Rosenblum Cellars, which we wrote about here:http://www.courierpress.com/news/2011/may/16/variety-of-rosenblum-zinfandels-worth-exploring/), but that was a winning element in this particular meal match. All in all, this was a really good bottle. It still really surprises us how varied red Zinfandel can be.

Another good, inexpensive red Zinfandel is the 2008 Zin Your Face, which you can get at Winetree. At 14.9 percent alcohol, this Cameron Hughes creation from Healdsburg, Calif., packs a punch, but it's a pleasant one. The label says this is spicy amd jammy, and that's definitely true. I paired it with spicy salsa, but even that couldn't compete with this Zinfandel's bursts of flavor. Greg liked it, too, saying it was spicy and fruity. I think it had flavors of cassis and oak, and even five days after being opened, it held up after being corked several times. A good buy offering good flavors, no doubt about it. About $12.

Now here's a Zinfandel that isn't really a Zinfandel, depending on what you read: The 2008 Layer Cake Primitivo, which is from Puglia, Italy. The ones that writewine magazines -- Wine Spectator, for instance -- say the Primitivo grape and Zinfandel grape are actually both clones of the same grape that originated in Croatia. Wine Spectator goes on to say that grape clones are naturally occuring genetic subtypes that are encouraged by some growers, but all I know is that this Primitivo was smoky, tannic, a bit peppery and more subdued in its cassis flavors. It also wasn't your typical sweet Zinfandel. It was well matched against a homemade pizza that Greg made of seven cheeses, ground hamburger, portobello mushrooms and artichokes. 13.5 percent alcohol. $12.99 at Schnucks.

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