Zinfandel has been grown in California since the 1830s and has found an ideal home in Sonoma, benefiting from its warm days and cool, maritime-influenced nights. It has regained recognition as California’s claret after the rise and decline of “white Zin,” a sweet pink made from Zinfandel grapes, but bearing little resemblance to true Zinfandel.
Difficult to grow and identical to Italy’s Primitivo, Zinfandel is thin-skinned, is prone to disease and must be picked precisely at harvest. This compelling grape produces a diverse range of medium- to full-bodied styles that are full of impact, characterized by pepper, spice and bramble fruits. Zinfandel pairs beautifully with barbecue, Mexican food and strong cheeses, enhancing these foods’ flavors with its own unique mélange of spice, depth and power.
Pezzi King Vineyards, Zinfandel 2008, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, Calif.
The acid-tannin balance on this full-bodied wine is striking, with aromas of fresh-cracked black pepper, dark berries, plums and a touch of port-like dried fruit. The palate offers cherries, cola, dark chocolate and additional spice-clove notes. Pair with a big, juicy hamburger with a thick slice of Cheddar and homemade chunky ketchup onabrioche bun.
$18.99; Kaya’s Import Wine and Liquor, 4117 Union Road, Oakville, kayasimport.com
Murphy-Goode Liar’s Dice, Zinfandel 2008, Sonoma County, Calif.
The appeal of this medium-bodied Zinfandel is in its moderation of impact, with restrained black pepper notes, jammy wild raspberry aromas, ripe plums and vanilla bean. An elegant, substantial and soft finish brings to mind toasty coconut. Pair with brown sugar and bourbon ribs, red-chile chicken enchiladas and crispy stuffed olives.
$15.99; Starrs, 1135 S. Big Bend Blvd., Richmond Heights, starrs1.com
A St. Louis-based wine and food enthusiast, Jennifer Johnson is a sommelier, wine educator, journalist and hospitality and marketing consultant who loves to celebrate life, family, food and wine.