Sometimes even the longest-held prejudices can be dispelled. I’ve long had an aversion to Zinfandel because it is too often presented as a wine with way too much alcohol, too much fruit and too little balance.
I had the opportunity to learn a lot more about the wine the other day when I spent the morning in a Zinfandel seminar sponsored by the Society of Wine Educators. I learned that I prefer Zins from Napa and Sonoma over Pasa Robles. The Napa wines tended toward restraint more than most of the others. The Pasa Robles wines tended toward the overblown (from my perspective). I put the Sonoma wines in the middle.
At lunch at SD26 we had Italian food with (you guessed it) Zinfandel. My two favorite wines of the seminar and lunch were the Dutcher Crossing and the Grgich Hills. The Dutcher Crossing 2007 (Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma) had a beautiful elegance, balance and flavor profile. At 14.8% alcohol it is on the restrained side. It sells for $40, but the vintage is sold out. The Grgich Hills 2007 (Napa Valley) was also lovely with restraint and balance. The wine is available at Sherry-Lehmann for $35.
For dinner that evening I was judging the Pairsine food-and-wine-pairing competition. While I did use Folie à Deux 2007 Zinfandel at one of my food-and-wine-pairing dinners, I looked at that Zinfandel as a bit of an anomaly. It’s a pretty elegant wine with a (relatively) reasonable 14.5% alcohol level. I paired it with both fish and meat because the chef used a bourbon marinade, fingerling potato mushroom hash and sautéed spinach with both the grilled New York strip steak and the wild salmon. This was done to illustrate that the wines pairs with the preparation, not the protein.
At the competition I tasted some other Zinfandels that paired well with food. Two of the wines I liked best for their elegance, balance and flavors were the Sin Zin 2009 (14.4%), which you can get at Bottlerocket Wines for $12, and the Artezin 2010 (14.5%) on sale at Wine & Spirits Discount Warehouse for $14.19 (from $21).
The winner of the competition was Eric LeVine of Morris Tap & Grill in Randolf, New Jersey. He presented the best and the worst pairing with the wines – though both plates were delicious and creative. We appreciated his gutsiness.
On the best side, he presented foie gras crisps with truffles along with a tiny spray bottle that held a truffle, mushroom and Zinfandel reduction for you to spray on the foie gras. That paired beautifully with the Opolo Summit Creek 2010 Zinfandel. On the worst side, scallop ceviche with fennel and jalapeño served with lime cilantro gelato did not work with the wine. High alcohol wines, like Zinfandels, exacerbate the heat of the jalapeños.