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Highlights from the 2011 Good Eats and Zinfandel Event

As I expected, this year’s Good Eats and Zinfandel evening was a good time. There were plenty of tasty things to eat and dozens of very good Zinfandel wines. The event appeared to be very-well attended too.

Top Dishes
By no means was I able to taste everything, but I want to share my favorites from among those things I did get to enjoy. While there were restaurants from all around the Bay Area and Wine Country at the event, the three food items I liked best all came from San Francisco restaurants:

One Market Restaurant had my overall favorite. Their Zinfandel Risotto with duck confit, mushrooms and applewood-smoked baking was amazing. It looked a bit funny, because the wine gave the risotto a lavender color. However, the texture was perfect — thickly creamy with just enough tooth to the rice and the duck, mushroom and bacon well-integrated. And the flavor was great. It also paired well with the Three Wine Company Zinfandel because of the included Zin, the rich texture and the smoky, meaty flavors.

My second favorite dish highlighted another pairing affinity for Zinfandel, spice. The Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo from Town Hall Restaurant included traditional New Orleans gumbo spices such as ... along with plenty of black pepper. The andouille contributed flavors of smoke, earth and pork while the relatively mild chicken was tender and provided body to the dish. The wine it was paired with, 2009 Bedrock Wine Co. Dolinsek Ranch (Russian River Valley) Zinfandel is spicy in its own right but also has rich dark berry fruit flavors which were a nice counterpoint to all the spice. Another nice thing about a pairing like this is that you are expecting heat when eat spicy food, so the heat coming from Zinfandel with alcohol levels over 15% doesn’t seem incongruous. Take it easy when adding extra hot sauce though.

My other favorite bite was one I seek out every year at this event, the Filet Mignon Steak Tartar from Lark Creek Steak. I’m a big fan of steak tartar in general, but I find Chef John Ledbetter tunes his especially well for the Zinfandel. Actually, one of the benefits of making steak tartar to go with wine, Zinfandel or otherwise, is that it is so easy to adjust the levels of the non-meat ingredients to complement the specific wine you will be drinking.

This particular tartar had plenty of capers which provided a good counterpoint to the slight sweetness of the two wines Murphy-Goode was offering. There was enough mustard and spice to avoid getting steamrolled by fruit in the wine, but not so much as to conflict. Worcestershire and other potentially strong and distracting flavors were kept to a minimum. The high-quality, finely-chopped filet had good flavor and was naturally tender. (Because Zinfandel is typically very moderate in tannins, it doesn’t need a fattier cut of meat.) I also find the cold beef soothing on the tongue after tasting wines that are either spicy or high in alcohol.

The Wines
Since Good Eats and Zinfandel is mostly about the experience of trying a range of Zinfandel wines with different types of food, I didn’t make a point of systematically trying all of the available wines or taking copious notes on all of their aspects. However, I did take a few notes on the wines I found most engaging. The ones I mention below are wines that I suspect would get “Highly Recommend” ratings were I to try them in one of my blind tasting and evaluation sessions. I have listed them in alphabetical order.

2007 D-cubed Cellars Zinfandel Napa Valley: very good, offers rich, dark fruit but isn’t over the top.

2007 D-cubed Cellars Zinfandel Howell Mountain: I liked this a lot. It’s lighter-bodied wine than the Napa Valley blend above. I got a lot of black pepper on the nose and palate which set off the fruit nicely.

2008 Gamba Vineyards Zinfandel Russian River Valley: Gamba seems to turn out an excellent range of Zins every year. This particular wine blends juice from old and new vines to good effect. It won’t be released until Fall.

2007 McCay Cellars Trulucks Zinfandel Lodi: I find this wine is both more fruit-driven (blackberry) and structured than the wine below. It’s Zinfandel with discipline and, if I recall correctly, alcohol that’s only about 14.5%.

2007 McCay Cellars Jupiter Zinfandel Lodi: I find this to be a very distinctive wine due to its strong notes of hazelnut and carob. There’s good fruit too, but it doesn’t get in your face. I like this wine a lot and I'm apparently the person who does. It was listed in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Wines of 2010. It’s a bargain at $24.

2008 Mounts Family Winery Estate La Loma Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley: In the debate over high-levels of alcohol in dry table wines, many winemakers say that amount of alcohol doesn’t matter as long as the wine is balanced. This wine could be the poster child for that philosophy. Though the label indicates 16.2% alcohol, you don’t taste it or feel back-palate heat. The wine is all about delicious fruit.

2008 Rancho Zabaco Winery Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel Sonoma Valley: There’s a lot more to Rancho Zabaco than the wines you see on the bottom shelf at your grocery store. This wine, for example, is truly excellent. Made with fruit from one of California’s oldest Zinfandel vineyards, it’s rich and smooth with chocolate and dark berries.

2000 Ravenswood Teldeschi Vineyard Zinfandel Sonoma: Most people think of Zinfandel as a wine that is always at its best when consumed young. That’s not the case. When it’s made with good acidity and structure — and it can be — Zinfandel will not just hold but can improve for decades. I’ve found wines from the Teldeschi Vineyard to be good candidates for aging. This particular wine is excellent after one decade and should improve for another.

2007 Scott Harvey "Vineyard 1869" Zinfandel Amador County: Made from the oldest-documented Zinfandel vineyard in California (or the world for that matter), this wine shows red fruit with chocolate, spice and a hint of toasty oak. The old vine fruit helped keep the alcohol down to 14.5%.

2007 Starry Night Winery Zinfandel Sonoma County: A blend of Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley grapes, this is a friendly and fruity wine that also offers interesting herbal and white pepper notes. The fruit, oak influences and alcohol (14.4%) are well-balanced making this a good wine for either sipping on the deck or drinking with food.

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