When the wife and I were first bitten by the wine bug, Zinfandel was a big part of our wine life. It's that way for a lot of neophytes even now, and back then there weren't a lot of wines that delivered the bold fruit and lush palate that zins did. Robert Parker often spoke of the three R's of Zinfandel - Ridge, Ravenswood and Rosenblum. I bought and cellared bottlings from all three, especially Ridge's Geyserville and Lytton Springs bottlings and Ravenswood's single vineyard bottlings. I also was high on Storybook Mountain, although their wines were leaner and less flattering in their youth.
Then came the 90's. My tastes evolved and my interests went elsewhere at the same time that many Zinfandel's were being bottled with ridiculously high alcohol levels in the 16 -17% range. Those examples drank more like port than a good table wine to be enjoyed with your dinner. It seemed the critics were more enamored of "concentration" than they were of balance, and those thicker zins were born of ever higher scores for highly concentrated wines from the experts.
Zinfandel has always been considered our one uniquely American grape, although in truth it is related to a Croatian varietal called Crijenak Kastelanski and to Italy's Primitivo. Clippings of one or the other were probably brought here in the 19th century.
Luckily, the wine pendulum has begun to swing back toward the production of more balanced wines, Zinfandel included. That excites me, for I still have a soft spot for the grape that was my first love. So, I went looking for one to try in the everyday price point that I inhabit. One thing I hate about everyday wine from California these days is the ever vague "California" designation of origin. California's Wine Institute lists 8 full pages of legal AVA's - or American Viticultural Areas. "California" is not on the list. A wine with the origin "California" tells me practically nothing about its pedigree. In fact, those wines may have been produced partially with grapes from the vast central valley, where the melons and tomatoes come from. No thanks.
So when I spied Rancho Zabaco's Sonoma "Heritage Vines" bottling at my local store for $15, I pounced. Most of the grapes for this bottling come from three well known Sonoma vineyards: Frei Ranch, Stefani Ranch and Chiotti Ranch. In truth, this wine is pretty high in alcohol. The winery's website says 14.8% and the bottle says 15.3% so it must be somewhere in that range. But, despite the fairly high alcohol, this wine doesn't smell or taste hot, in fact it's nicely balanced. It's got typical Zinfandel blackberry and blueberry aromas with notes of peppery spice, a lush, velvety mouth feel and bold berryish flavors. There's nothing baked about this wine at all and it finishes long and smooth. This lovely everyday zin is produced from 93% Zinfandel and 7% Petite Sirah. It paired wonderfully with some pasta and a good Bolognese. Cheers.