If I could choose only one wine for the summer’s grilling, it would be good old American red zinfandel.
It has enough tannin for a New York strip steak, but, unburdened with the astringency of a cabernet sauvignon, it also can go with a cedar-plank-grilled side of wild-caught salmon.
It has the spice to pair with cayenne-rubbed beef and the sweetness to match a brown-sugar-and-ketchup sauce for pulled pork.
Finally, if you believe zinfandel’s fans, it has a quality called “brambly.” I’ve never been sure what this is, but I see it all the time in zinfandel tasting notes. Is it the thorny quality that makes Br’er Rabbit plead, “Please don’t throw me in the briar patch?” Is there a fruit or tree or bush called “bramble?”
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I googled the word “brambly” and found a dozen descriptions – from “a blackberry-fruit characteristic” to “a black pepper spiciness” to “prickly in texture” to “of the genus Rubus of the rose family.” Wow. A wine with all that must go with everything.
Zinfandel also is excellent for making marinades and barbecue sauces. Grilling author Steven Raichlen makes a sauce with zinfandel, ketchup, honey, butter, shallots and garlic.
One thing to understand with the zinfandel grape is its ability to get so ripe, so filled with grape sugar, that when fermented all the way dry, the wine can reach 15 percent alcohol, approaching the realm of brandy-fortified wines such as port. Thus much alcohol might make some wines taste “hot,” but most zins have the full body and sweetness to handle it.
Still, while most winemakers don’t like to talk about it, it’s generally known that some use reverse osmosis, a spinning cone, even the addition of a bit of water to lower the alcohol in a zinfandel. Google this and see.
Overall, zins run the gamut, from portlike opulence to the lean elegance of a fine Bordeaux. You can’t tell from the label. You have to try them, or turn to your wine shop owner or, ahem, favorite wine columnist.
▪ 2013 Frank Family Zinfandel, Napa Valley, 14.6 percent alcohol (84 percent zinfandel, 14 percent petite sirah, 2 percent cabernet sauvignon): deep red hue, aromas and flavors of black raspberries and black pepper, medium body, firm tannin, smooth finish; $37.
▪ 2013 Edmeades Zinfandel, “Gianoli Ranch,” Mendocino Ridge, 15.5 percent alcohol (100 percent zinfandel): deep, dark purple hue, aromas and flavors of black raspberries, black pepper and other spices, big, ripe tannins, full body, long, smooth finish; $35.
▪ 2012 Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel, Estate Grown, Napa Valley, 15.5 percent alcohol (98 percent zinfandel, 2 percent petite sirah): inky red hue, aromas and flavors of black cherries and espresso, medium body, big, ripe tannins, long finish; $36.
▪ 2013 Edmeades Zinfandel, “Perli Vineyards,” Mendocino Ridge, 15.5 percent alcohol (97 percent zinfandel, 3 percent syrah): deep purple hue, hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black plums and black coffee, mellow tannins, long, smooth finish; $31.
▪ 2013 Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve “Summation” Red Wine Blend (44 percent syrah, 25 percent zinfandel, 20 percent merlot, 6 percent petite sirah, 3 percent cabernet sauvignon, 1 percent grenache, 1 percent other varietals): dark red hue, big and spicy and lush, with aromas and flavors of black plums and dark chocolate, soft tannins; $17.
▪ 2014 Saldo Zinfandel, by The Prisoner Wine Co. (85 percent zinfandel, with petite sirah and syrah): dark purple hue, aromas and flavors of black raspberries and bitter chocolate, full body, long, smooth finish; $30.
▪ 2015 “Our Daily Zin,” by WX Wines, California Central Valley: dark red hue, aromas and flavors of black plums and cinnamon, smooth finish, no sulfites added; $11.