Zinfandel 

The Memorial Day weekend is behind us, and that means the official beginning of the barbecue season, and that means it's time to break open the zinfandel. Wine from that grape can be on the muscular side with richly extracted, often over-ripe or jammy fruit, but none of the zins the panel favored were over the top. Even the biggest wine in the lineup showed remarkable balance, which is what you want when you pair a wine with food. The scores for the top wines in this tasting were the closest ever, with a tie for second and just two points separating first and fourth. Here are the panel's picks:

2006 Paul Dolan Zinfandel, $16.99

The aromas are rich and savory with bright cherry and black currant lifted by touches of white pepper and spice. Smooth, ripe cherry fruit dominates the palate along with fresh plum, both perfectly balanced by just the right hit of acidity. This is a lovely wine that is about as elegantly styled as zinfandel gets.

2006 Campus Oaks Old Vine Zinfandel, $15.99

Touches of toffee and spice back the ripe raspberry aromas marked by a light herbal component. The ample dark cherry fruit has a nice sweet and creamy component. Touches of caramel, anise and spice come through on the finish that offers a cleansing touch of acidity. This one is bigger than the Paul Dolan, but lighter and better balanced than most.

2006 Renwood Old Vine Zinfandel, $15.99

This is a classic big California zin that opens with creamy berry fruit, richly extracted, and backed by soft oak. The sweet berry, cherry and currant fruit flavors are overt, very ripe, but not overdone. Well-integrated acidity keeps things in balance, while light touches of anise and spice highlight the long, creamy finish.

2006 Carol Shelton Monga Zin (Old Vine), $20

The grapes for this wine come from a dry-farmed vineyard planted in 1918--now that's old vine. Lots of ripe plum and dark brambly fruit aromas foreshadow the rich flavors. Very low yields (one-half ton per acre) result in a naturally concentrated wine with bold cherry and pomegranate fruit and a long, chocolate-laced finish. As big as it is, ripe tannins and good acidity make it a very approachable, food-friendly wine.

This week's panel: Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Leslie Young, Boise Co-op Wine Shop.

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