When Zinfandel is called for

I am a big fan of Cook’s Illustrated.  It’s somehow soothing to read.  No ads, lots of hand drawn pictures, and plenty of good, well-written material on how hobby cooks like myself can avoid recipe pitfalls or use shortcuts to end up with the same results as Julia Child.  They put out several supplemental publications that you can get at fancy grocery stores and book shops and I indulged in one recently.  It had a bunch of quick dinner ideas on little perforated cards where the recipe is on one side and a photo of the dish is on the other.  My big idea with this was to keep the cards in my car and then when I needed an idea for dinner on the go, I could flip through the cards, pick a dish, grab ingredients on the way home and (tah-dah) … something new and yummy (and easy) for dinner.  

Well, pretty soon my kids got involved and they started picking cards, which is actually a great way to get them to branch out; however, we’ve learned that what they pick isn’t always wine friendly as American cuisine (e.g. the recipe cards) can have sweet elements and particularly sweet and salty combined.  Now, we may not be the normal American household, but we enjoy wine with every meal, so what to do if your kid (or you for that matter) chooses maple-glazed pork chops with sweet potato-bacon hash?  Well, you do the same thing you do if your stellar Chef Tracey cooks up American bistro fare with the salty sweet components that Seattleites love (PORK CHEEKS guinness stout braised with mashed potato, red cabbage & apple horseradish relish or LAMB BROCHETTE marinated in yogurt served with cucumber raita, tomato chutney & saffron basmati rice) … you reach for the Zinfandel.

I don’t know how you feel about Zinfandel, but it’s not really my thing.  Jens loves every wine produced in the world if it’s well-done & well-priced for what it is supposed to be.  But I’m just not that sophisticated(?), open-minded(?) … what is it??  My palate isn’t narrow by any means, but I definitely have my preferences … and I’d never order a glass of Zinfandel at the wine bar.  And, by the way, Zinfandel, with its jammy, peppery richness, but lack of oak and tannins, has its hard-core following of people who love to just sip it, but it’s not a large group percentage wise.

Here’s what’s important to recognize, though, if you don’t think you’re into Zinfandel:  it’s the perfect red wine with dishes that have a sweet and/or spicy twinge to them.  So back to the maple-glazed porkchops with sweet potato-bacon hash… Jens headed down to the cellar to see what he could find and he came up with an old Zinfandel:  Ridge 2002 Pagani Ranch Zinfandel.  Zinfandel, as I mentioned above, doesn’t have a lot of tannins and tannins are what allow wines to age, so one might think that an 8 year old bottle might be over the hill.  But it was perfect … dark, plummy, pruney flavors and smooth, smooth, smooth.  No longer the fruit bomb it might have once been, but beautiful, and delicious with the slightly sweet pork.

So, note to self:  the next time you’re preparing something salty/sweet for dinner, keep your Zinfandel close at hand and you’ll be wowed!

Here are Jens’ wine notes from the Ridge we drank (label pictured above) as well as several Zinfandels currently available in the shop:

Ridge 2002 Pagani Ranch Zinfandel (CA)  Ridge is a big Zinfandel house located way up in the hills over Cupertino, CA.  A blend of mainly Zinfandel, with Alicante Bouschet and Petite Sirah. Well-aged, complex & elegant. Texture and balance are out of this world. Amazing aromas of dried strawberries, plums and prunes. Superb flavor profile of raisins, stewed plums, raspberries, milk chocolate and cocoa. Fine spice on the long, lingering finish. It’s so accomplished that it needs no further comment than this:  To die for!

Klinker Brick 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel $21.99 | Case $17.59  Dark, jammy fruit upfront, followed by flavors of raspberries, blackberries & cassis. Juicy & well-balanced, with great depth. Sweet, spicy finish with some fine tannins.

Four Vines 2006 Old Vines Zinfandel $13.99 | Case $11.19 This Zin isn’t as complex as the above two, but it’s a great price and with its pruney, peppery flavors, it pairs will with sweet & spicy flavors of BBQ … and the season is soon to be upon us.

Enjoy & cheers!
Julie (& Jens)
Owners, Portalis Wines