In a toast to my United States of America friends on the long holiday weekend for their National holiday - American Independence Day on July 4th - I raise a glass of Zinfandel - Zin for short.
I chose Zin to drink because this is the grape variety to me is synonymous with American wine. It's a grape that arrived in the USA in 1822 when a Long Island nurseryman imported grape vine cuttings from a collection in Vienna and slowly made its way west, eventually arriving in California in 1852 to quench the thirst of goldminers. It thrived in the Californian conditions and plantings took off. California became its home. Even with the later dominance of French varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Zinfandel still rates as second most planted red grape variety in the state.
American Zinfandel used to be hard to find in New Zealand, but globalisation and consolidation of wine producers has opened up borders. Thus wines like Ravenswood, a Californian producer that is now is the same stable as Nobilo Wines, shouldn't be too hard to find in our South Pacific isles. But what about New Zealand Zin? Well, search hard and ye shall find because in 1994, Zin vines arrived here too.
Coincidentally it was former Ravenswood winemaker John Kemble, of Kemblefield Estate in Hawkes Bay, who was partially responsible for Zinfandel's presence in New Zealand. After arriving in New Zealand to set up his winery he imported vines from Ravenswood's Sonoma Valley vineyard and bulked up the cuttings until he had enough to plant in 1997. In 2000, the first Kemblefield Zin was produced
Kemblefield has had some zinful success, the 2002 Reserve even winning a gold medal in an American wine competition. Now, with vines maturing and good vintage conditions in 2004, they've produced an affordable estate wine too.
Kemblefield Hawkes Bay Zinfandel 2004 is deep in colour, almost opaque, with a purple-red garnet hue. There's mocha-infused aromatic oak and spice on the nose and dark tarry flavours with fruit that's a little reminiscent of tamarillo at first, then flavour bursts of plum and concentrated blackberry emerge from the creamy oak backbone. The tannins are firm yet supple and the finish is bright and spicy. It's a fascinating wine in many respects and tasted alongside several California Zin's the Kemblefield did not disappoint at all. And for a price tag of $24.95, this is New Zealand Zin at a decent price that's ready to enjoy now. The wine has 14% alcohol by volume and is sealed with one of those new-fangled Diam corks.
What to drink with Zin? Well, my experiments turned up plenty of delicious food matches. As Zin can withstand salty food, Crispy Pork Crackling goes down a treat if you are looking for a snack.
Zinfandel can also handle strong food and a Venison and Bacon Casserole was simply superb. I also matched the wine to Chicken with a Cranberry and Orange Sauce - which went with all the Zins, Spicy Hamburgers on Corn Bread, Roast Fillet of Lamb with Mint and Garlic, Juicy Steak with a Zinfandel Wine Reduction and Creamy Spiced Pumpkin as a side dish.
While the Venison and Bacon Casserole was made with using a purchased Beef Bourguignon 'easy meal' sachet, using venison casserole meat rather than beef, you can find most the other mentioned recipes in my Food Files
by clicking here.
Here are some of the other Zin reviews ....
Ravenswood Vintners Blend Californian Zinfandel 2003 Medium-weight red/black colour, not opaque, with a charred oak aroma that is slightly salty smelling, like dried rosemary, and sweet, juicy flavours with red boiled lollies and a touch of liquorice, spiced orange peel, fruit cake cherry and blackcurrant supported by creamy oak and finely textured tannins. Not a big whopping style, but tasty and mouthfilling with an underlying savouriness to balance the sweetness. 13.5% alc. $19.95.
Ravenswood Napa Zinfandel 2002 Deeply coloured with spicy oak aromas, this is robust and earthy with lashings of redcurrant and berry fruit, grunty tannins, solid oak and peppery spices. A concentrated meaty wine with a vanillin oak, a touch of red liquorice and tobacco on the juicy finish and excellent length. A big wine made to go with food, but you will also it enjoy just on its own if you like a hearty mouthful. A no-go zone with the lamb, it is absolute superb with Juicy Steak with a Zinfandel Wine reduction. 14.5% alc. $35.
Ravenswood Sonoma County Zinfandel 2002 is dark and dense in its deep red colour. It's a big, rich succulent wine with violet and black cherry aromas, lashings of spice, tar, chocolate raisins and juicy plum fruit with firm succulent tannins, a peppery undercurrent and cedary French oak adding a smoky aura of quality. 14.5% alc. $35.
Bonny Doon Cardinal Zin 2003 Lighter depth of black-red colour, the inferred lightness carries through the to palate that is introduced by clean, spicy floral aromatics. With hints of Asian spices and glace cherry fruit, there's creaminess to the clean, fresh backbone although the tannins are quite dry. This wine tasted better the second day, when it had evolved into a much richer tipple. Match to Creamy Spiced Pumpkin - which would actually work as a pasta sauce to make a full meal. The sweetness and creaminess of the pumpkin dish cuts through the dry tannins. Sealed with a screwcap, this 14% alcohol wine costs $39.95.
Seghesio Sonoma Country Zinfandel 2004 With its deep blue-red colour, this full-bodied wine is crammed with mocha, pepper, cherries, red liquorices and lashing of vanillin oak with a fine tannin backbone, youthful spicy notes and currants. It's voluptuous, rich, ripe and creamy and will appeal to lovers of the big Aussie style. 15% alc. $39.
© Sue Courtney
2 July 2006