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Zinfandel on a Budget

With the Memorial Day Weekend now behind us, the BBQ season has officially begun. In the past, Zinfandel has always been a favorite of mine for this time of year, its bright fruit flavors making the perfect accompaniment to summer BBQ. But lately, the price of this uniquely American variety has sky-rocketed—at the same time there's been a shift away from the balanced, fruit-driven style that characterized many top Zins. Today, too many are made in an in-your-face, jammy style that has more in common with a jar of Smucker's jelly than a bottle of red wine. These high-alcohol, port-like monsters have a devoted following, but they aren't what I crave with food on a hot summer day.

So it was with some trepidation that we assembled a group of around $15 and under bottles of Zin. Even in this price range, the wines tended to be over-ripe and oozing with sweet fruit, but a few showed some restraint and balance. Here are the panel's top three reasonably priced Zinfandels:

2004 Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel, $9.99

It opens with pleasant aromas of dark cherry and strawberry backed by an enticing touch of meaty bacon, and is a very well-balanced wine that weighs in on the elegant side of the Zinfandel spectrum. With lovely berry flavors, a soft kiss of oak and hints of anise on the finish, the vine age for this very appealing bargain-priced Zin range from 40 to 80 years.

2004 Cline Ancient Vine Zinfandel, $12.99

What's the difference between old vine and ancient? European immigrants planted Cline's vines over 100 years ago. At that age, you get very low yields of amazingly concentrated fruit. The result is a burst of blackberry and raspberry flavors with layers of subtle pepper, spice and coffee. It's a wine that's naturally rich but not over the top.

2004 Edmeades Zinfandel, Mendocino County, $15.99

The most expensive and biggest wine of the three favorites offers very ripe candied cherry aromas with just a touch of alcohol coming through. It's impressive on the palate with mocha berry flavors framed in a just over-the-top style that shows some restraint on the finish and good length. If you like your Zins on the bigger side, this is your wine.

This week's panel: Rosemary Gray, Boise Co-op; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Eric Nelson, Idaho Wine Merchant; Kevin Settles, Bardenay.

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