Monday, September 15, 2014

The Zen of Zin

Who can resist the fun alliteration of  Zin aka Zinfandel with another “Z” word? Of course – not me! Not only do I love the fun rhyming, Zin was one of the first grapes I discovered. Not as you might suspect, with the sweet blush wine, White Zinfandel, but as “North America’s only native Vitus Vineferia grape”. How could I resist being interested in this delicious grape that produced berry fruit flavors and yummy aromas? Especially when I was introduced to Zinfandel in beautiful California on a fabulous vineyard jaunt. Oh yeah, I was all about the Zin…

Vitus…what??? Well, there are grapes, and then there are the grapes destined for quality wine. Ever had a glass of Muscadine, Concord or Catawba wine? If you have, you understand the difference between a glass of Zinfandel and the others. BIG difference. The reason is not because of the winemaking technique, but because of the grape. Zinfandel is a Vitus Viniferia grape, and the others Vitus Labrusca grapes. Labrusca grape flavors are often described as musky, dirty, foxy and grapey. (Definitely not yum!)

Although rumblings from Europe in the 1970s, 80s and 90s claimed Zinfandel was a cousin to grapes existing for hundreds of years; most producers in California ignored the buzz and promoted the wine as a native. Not until 2002, was conclusive proof published to connect Zinfandel by DNA with the Croatian Crljenak Kastelanski grape. (Isn’t it wild that DNA testing is used on grapes? Who would think it?)

Zin is also related to Primitivo, the juicy red wine from Puglia in the heel of Italy. Zinfandel probably appeared in our country in the early 1830s, evidenced by an ad from a Boston nursery for a “Zinfendal” grape. Speculation has it that it arrived via an Austrian émigré on the east coast and traveled all way across to California in the 1850s, where it was the most planted varietal in the 1870s – wow!

During prohibition, not only Californians liked it, but the church and home winemakers did too. Zinfandel emerged from the dry era as one of California’s most widely planted grapes. Winemakers used the prolific grape as a starting point to get wine to consumers quickly, and today is still one of the most planted varieties in the state.

I can’t leave the story of Zin without a quick note about White Zinfandel. I know it. You are thinking to yourself, “WHAT? Surely she isn’t going to waste my time talking about that plunk!”

Don’t be a hater! I like white Zin for two important reasons. First and foremost, White Zinfandel saved the wonderful old zinfandel vines. Ugly, old and twisted Zin vines create the most delicious red wine to ever match meat off the grill.  Without it’s incredible success, (10 million bottles are STILL sold annually), those gnarly old vines would have been ripped up for other varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. Two cheers for the pink stuff!

Other than wine coolers, blush wine, like White Zin are often a way to slide easily into the world of wine. I know this to be a fact because I have an Arkansas cousin who called her jug of pink, “Texarkana Tea”. (Here in the South we celebrate our “unusual” family members, we don’t hide them away.) After watching her schlep a really big bottles to family get togethers for a couple of years, I finally introduced her to the true Zinfandel, and I’m mighty proud to have her on the real Zin side now.

Recently, a group of us got together for a Zinfandel tasting. (A crafty member of our winey gang, made our wine markers glamorous.) Interestingly, none of the “usual suspects” were presented to taste. No bottles from Joel Peterson, the Godfather of Zinfandel’s Ravenswood winery, no Gnarly Old Vines, no Kenwood or Cline, no Dancing Bull or Sebastiani. One lone bottle of grocery store wine slid into the lineup – a Bogle Old Vines Zin.

Our winner was a 2005! Zinfandel from Clos LaChance that I had resurrected from the bottom shelf of my wine closet. Since I am constantly telling my classes that wine is made to be enjoyed, not held, I began the tasting with the caveat that the older wine may not have “hung-in-there” for 9 years. But it did. Wowza, was it good. Beautiful ruby-garnet color, complex flavors including a little black tea and red ripe raspberries.

Runners up included a Klinker Brick Zin and our most expensive bottle of the night, Lambert Bridge. You can see the rest of the order, below.

What to serve up for a Zin tasting dinner? Beef or Pork, or even fish for the non-meat-eaters. All the protein coated with a smoky assertive spice rub. Check out this recipe for your Zin tasting, you are sure to get rave reviews.

Churrasco Style Steak 
with Chimichurri

If I am going to eat steak – it has to be really good. This recipe qualifies! Even if you are not a meat eater, you’ll love the Churrasco rub on cod, halibut or any firm textured fish or tofu.

2 LBs Sirloin cut into 2” chunks
1 Recipe Churrasco-style Dry Rub

Place the steak (or other protein) in a plastic zip bag and add ¼ - ½ cup of the dry rub. Close the bag and massage to coat the meat. Leave in the frig 1 hour or up to overnight. Remove the steak from the fridge for ½ hour before grilling and load onto bamboo skewers. Preheat your grill, (or grill pan), on high, and cook over medium high heat until desired doneness. (For medium rare, cook for about 4 minutes per side).

Churrasco-style Dry Rub

2 Tsp Each Salt and Pepper

2 TB Garlic Powder
2 TB Smoked Paprika
2 Tsp Ground Cumin

4 TB Dark Brown Sugar

Mix all the spices together in a bowl. Add the brown sugar and mix thoroughly.

Churrasco is a Portuguese and Spanish word for beef or grilled meat. A different cut of meat is the distinction for countries from Europe to Latin American to Africa that serve Churrasco. In Argentina and Brazil, this BBQ was traditionally served on the ranch each night for dinner, with a twice a year special event that invited the local community. Try hosting your own Churrasco inspired BBQ!

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