Sunday, November 1, 2009

Zinfandel Counterprogramming

It's a shame that zinfandel, a grape that even when rendered well does not make my favorite wines, is subjected to so much abuse by too many California winemakers. Most of these wines strike me as way overripe and overblown, and I've tasted a few that go even beyond that, as if they were chaptalized with blackberry pancake syrup. Too few producers, such as Ridge, produce more balanced renditions.

I'm happy to say that Graziano made a balanced 2004 from the Eddie Graziano Vineyard, where the grapes are grown organically. Black pepper is far and away the dominant characteristic here, and that's because the fruit is not big and bruising and overripe. The wine does have one big flaw: per the fact sheet (PDF) it was aged in 30% new, heavily-toasted oak barrels, which gives it a sweet polish that obscures the ruddier aspects of the wine much like cellophane obscures your grandma's nice couch. (And now I want more than ever to taste the Dashe L'Enfant Terrible.) But even so, this went well with spinach lasagna and a cheddar-inflected risotto cake.

Better yet and cheaper still ($14) is the 2006 Monte Rosso Primo Rosso, also made by the "Graziano Family of Wines," which is a blend of zinfandel, nebbiolo, carignane, sangiovese, and negroamaro. Its slightly sweet tannins are balanced by slightly tart orangey acidity, while the medium-bodied mouthfeel is soft yet nicely structured. There's a nice zing of black pepper to compliment the generally red-fruited flavors (esp. currant), while a darker note of slightly bitter licorice provides a welcome complication. In other words, it's more interesting and complex than its big brother, and it worked well with enchiladas.

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