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The art of Zinfandel

I know, I am often talking about wines that have too much oak, too much tannins – wines that can overpower the food. You guessed it, my personal preference leans towards wines with more finesse, maybe even less body, more acidity and complexity.

Wines, that may not appeal to you at all. But maybe you would fell for such wines if they were served to you the way they were meant to be served – with food.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate a glass of nice, huge Cabernet Sauvignon from California, Brunello or Amarone from Italy, famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape from French Rhône or some spectacular and impressive Garnacha from Spain. Absolutely!

But can you drink it every day? Besides the negative effect on your wallet, trust me – you can get tired of these wines. And it’s not because they are not good enough. Just the opposite.

Lined up at any wine tasting, these wines are always the winners! They stand out. The tannins, the full body, the aroma. Totally impressive! But put the same wine next to your food…. not so much anymore.

When I go through my tiny wine cellar, I noticed that these big wines are always left there, waiting. Sure, the price is the factor as well, and we tend to leave wines like that “for a special occasions”.

But I know one thing for sure: when deciding what to have with my dinner, I am always looking for more acidic, light or medium body wines (mainly from European production). The famous “table wines” from Europe. There is a reason why Italian, Spanish or French wine lovers could have a glass of wine with their lunch. Their table wines are light, fruity, with low alcohol – that are meant to just complement the meal.

When I want to entertain and share a “big bottle” of wine with my wine enthusiastic friends, I plan to prepare a richer meals like steak, beef stew, barbecue, grill meats and sausages – something that can stand to wines I intend to drink. (Note: if your friends drink anything, don’t waste your really special bottle. It’s not being cheap. The chances are they wouldn’t appreciate the flavor of it anyway.)

When talking about these big, special wines, I realized that I completely forgot about the traditional American grape, Zinfandel. Yes, the sometimes unjustly neglected Zinfandel.

Experts say that this grape is genetically similar to Croatian grape called Crljenak Kaštelanski and to Primitivo, traditionally grown in Italy since 18th century.

Zinfandel, as we know it in California, perhaps got its bad name among wine drinkers thanks to its “White Zinfandel” cousin. I am talking about the almost best selling variety of wine in United States of America that outsells the red six times!

Today I have picked three Zinfandel wines that have nothing to do with their “white friend” but everything to do with the original, noble red grape, proudly grown in California. These are wines that I repeatedly tasted over several vintages, and always appreciated the quality and complexity that they offer.

The art of Zinfandel – just right for our autumn mood for something comforting, impressive and big. There are many great Zinfandels on the market that I know of, but today I have picked some of my personal favorites.

I hope you like my selection:

Artezin – wine produced by Hess Collection Winery in Napa, is blended with a tiny bit of Petite Sirah to add character and complexity to the wine. Winemaker Randle Johnson, prior his work at Hess Collection, was a big passionate lover of this traditional American grape and produced some great wines in Mount Veeder.



Cline Ancient vines Zinfandel – one of many Zinfandel wines produced by Cline cellars in Carneros. Fred Cline restored many ancient vines, originally planted in California by Italian and Portuguese immigrants more than 100 years ago.


Mara Reserve Zinfandel Dolinsek Ranch The art of Zinfandel

one of his two excellent examples of wine created from old vines Zinfandel in the heart of Napa Valley. Charles Mara is not only producing these outstanding Zinfandels, he is also a wine merchant, wine judge, Professor of Oenology, a member of the Society of Wine Educators (bot don’t worry, there is nothing “professor” about him and his wines). He use his knowledge and passion to produce best possible Zinfandel. And he does a great job…

Please, let me know your favorites. I would like to taste them next!

California, Red wine, Zinfandel

Artezin 2008

Artezin 2008Winemaker: Randle Johnson
Grape: 91% Zinfandel, 9% Petite Sirah
Region: Amador, Mendocino and Sonoma County, California

Hess Collection winery, a significant Napa Cabernet Sauvignon producer, came out with their first Zinfandel release few years back. I remember tasting this first vintage with its winemaker, and I still see his face full of excitement. It was a huge hit among us, the wine sales crowd, and our customers as well. I think Zinfandel was a grape that was poking Randle for quite some time, until he finally accepted the challenge.

The result was a wonderful, full bodied Zinfandel, full of classic jammy fruit seasoned with spicy tones like nutmeg or black pepper. The first vintage of Artezin Zinfandel had 14,5% alcohol level (this is back in 2005, when high alcohol wasn’t so common yet), but it didn’t lack elegance and complexity. A new Artezin was a very impressive, affordable wine and a huge compliment to already high quality Hess family’s portfolio.

At that time we asked Randle Johnson why he decided to make Zinfandel (until then Hess produced top notch Cabernet Sauvignon wines and Chardonnays only). With his passion for Californian heritage he told us with a smile on his face: “I just had to try it.” Well, we were glad he did. What I didn’t know then was the fact, that prior his work for Hess Collection winery, he was producing Zinfandel in Mount Veeder. He knew the traditional Californian grape well and it was only question of time for him to let it shine again.

Few weeks ago I was excited to taste a newest vintage of this, now well established, wine. Indeed, I wasn’t disappointed. Artezin, the art of Zinfandel, is a showcase of warm Amador County, where the most of the fruit came from. Combined with Sonoma valley fruit that enriches the blend with noticeable spice, this Zinfandel is balanced, rich and jammy. Grapes were harvested from 3 family owned, sustainably-farmed vineyards. The final blend then aged in 100% French oak barrels until its current release.

Tasting notes:
Dark ruby color with a strong aroma of ripe dark fruit, dried plums and black cherries. On the palate I tasted a very pleasant, rich fruit like dark cherries, blackberries, ripe plums with a spicy notes. Generous tannins are a typical for Zinfandel (it creates its mouth-feel sensation), but not always this velvety and creamy as in this wine. Enough acidity to balance it all out. Lovely, very impressive Zinfandel for upcoming winter.

Dry – Off dry – Medium sweet – Sweet
Light – Medium – Full body
No oak – Aged in oak
Retail price: around $ 18.00

Ideal food pairing:
barbecue meats, goulash, beef stews, Beef Bourguignon , Beef Chorizo, Lamb burgers and many more…

All recipes paired with wine, Lamb

Lamb Chops with Dried Cherries and Port

Lamb Chops with Dried Cherries and Port
(recipe and picture: courtesy of Ken K.)


2 teaspoons olive oil
4 4-to 5-ounce loin lamb chops
1/3 cup chopped shallots
3/4 cup ruby Port
1/2 cup low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
3 tablespoons cherry jam
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Chopped fresh mint or parsley

Heat oil in heavy medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper. Add lamb to skillet; cook to desired doneness, turning often, about 10 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer lamb to plate. Pour off drippings from skillet.

Add shallots to same skillet; sauté 1 minute. Add Port, broth, cherries, jam, vinegar, and cardamom; boil until cherries plump and liquid is syrupy, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over lamb and sprinkle with mint. Makes 2 servings.

Wine pairing suggestion:
This rich comforting dish (especially on long winter nights) deserves some rich and fruity wine. I picked Artezin, wine made by Hess Collection Winery in California. The name suggests that this wine is an art of Zinfandel. Yes, it definitely is.