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Zinfandel

The wine discussed in this post for me represents keeping the love of wine simple. Most of us, most of the time, want wines we don’t need to think too hard about to drink and enjoy. Perhaps too much condescension is leveled against pure enjoyment of a glass of fermented grape juice, whatever its actual quality. I am guilty of cuvée snobbery on occasion, thumbing my nose at perfectly decent wines because… they’re just decent. As if everything in this life needs to be spectacular to satisfy. Too much pretense remains in the wine world. It’s just juice, folks. And with that, I present to you a bottle of fun, fruity simplicity.

Located in California’s Central Coast, Clayhouse Vineyard produces a fine set of delicious reds, but the first wine of theirs I ever tried was the 2005 “Adobe Red.” I was hooked. Fruit-driven but not overly lush, with some tannic backbone giving it a firm feel, and a nice medium finish, my first sip of this blend reminded me why I keep going back to the U.S. and its AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) – the wines are straightforward and tasty. If you’re really cerebral about your wine, you’ll lay down some handsome dollars to get yours, but folksy wine lovers like myself get by just fine on buying mid-priced American. I like my wines the way I like my trucks: except I don’t like trucks. Simile fail. Anyway, I was hooked on Clayhouse Vineyard from the first sip. And nothing about that has changed from 2005 to 2007.

The 2007 Clayhouse Vineyard “Adobe Red” boasts fruit from their estate Red Cedar vineyard, near Paso Robles (a personal favorite for California AVA’s). As mentioned before, it is a blend of the following grape varietals: 41% Zinfandel, 32% Petit Sirah, 16% Syrah, 5% Malbec, 4% Grenache and 2% Mourvèdre. According to the winemaker, yields were a bit lower in 2007, with small berries, leading to excellent concentration of flavor. All varietals were fermented separately, 15% aged in French and American oak for just over a year, then were blended and bottled in 2009.

What results is a wine that appears vibrant red in the glass. On the nose, I found loads of ripe cherry and plum, a bit jammy but not overwhelmingly so, with some vanilla notes from the oak. The mouthfeel was supple, with good tannic structure, and enough acidity to keep it interesting, showing juicy cherry and blackberry flavors with more vanilla bean and spice. Medium finish; delicious. I would pair the “Adobe Red” with mushroom and cheddar cheeseburgers, strip steaks and scalloped potatoes, or possibly a slice of humble pie. $15.

I just love Zinfandel, as a proper Californian, and frequently linger over both the black pepper raspberry jam of lush Lodi to the anise and blackberry of a Primitivo from Apulia in Italy; whatever Zin my glass holds, my glass is full. So why the total lack of write-ups on here? My camera was never handy; my hand was shaky; my memory gone. Excuses, excuses.

Whatever the reason, my hiatus ends with this wine, the 2007 Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel. The soul of California liquified and bottled. Bold claim? I don’t care. Deep inky red with hints of purple in the glass, showing extremely punchy fruit on the nose: juicy raspberries, blackberries, backed by notes of mocha and white pepper, with vanilla and other spicy hints. Nice dose of new American oak in this one. It reveals more ripe dark fruits in the mouth, with big tannins that cloak your teeth; well-balanced, but a bit lush, this wine ambles in a very satisfactory manner to a long finish. Pairs with almost anything red you would put on a grill. $13.


Zinfandel stands alongside Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon as my red grape of choice. Its flavors range from juicy and bold raspberry fruits to darker fruit accented by leather and black or white pepper. It pairs perfectly with grilled steaks and burgers. Summers in California mean summers filled with barbecue nights and glasses of Zinfandel by the beach, or the pool, or the yard. There is every reason to love this wine. In a very visceral way, Zinfandel symbolizes California for me.

That said, everyone should have the opportunity to try a good one. Lolonis was the first organic producer in the United States; over 50 years ago they were using fully organic farming methods, before the idea was even being described in agriculture journals. The grape berries are hand-picked, and the wines are all handcrafted in keeping with a tradition that started in the 1920’s, and in fact, the Culinary Institute of America uses the Lolonis Zinfandel as the textbook example of what this varietal can achieve.

Forget Ravenswood. Forget Cline. The 2007 Lolonis Zinfandel was, first of all, beautiful in the glass, pure garnet red. Heady aromas of blackberry and dusty leather, with a glorious hint of pepper at the end. In the mouth the wine has bracing acidity, but perfectly balanced to the dark fruit, with just enough oak toast and supple tannin to complete the package. This is wine meant for marbled meat, grilled, seasoned, hearty. The finish was long and glorious. $20.