Visiting winery Web sites—to find, say, a good Zinfandel, which seems to go with any dish based on vegetables—is a good deal less frustrating than it was before last year, when a Supreme Court ruling eased shipping directly from winery to customer. Here are some informative and entertaining sites to help you find a wine that, despite its power, is often the red you want on a summer evening.
Cardinal Zin, Bonny Doon
Randall Grahm has long been America’s wittiest writer on wine, as well as the maker of offbeat wines that attract cult followings. Like his famous winery newsletter, written from his home base of Santa Cruz, his Web site merits Most Fun in Class honors (his biographical note is called “The man behind the curtain” and features his head bobbing in front of a green pipe organ with urns shooting flames). Cardinal Zin—“a rich, fragrant chocolate cherry bomb which requires no fire suppression equipment”—has from the start been one of his greatest hits.
Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel, Ravenswood
Since its first vintage, in 1976, Ravenswood has made itself practically synonymous with Zinfandel, and was among the first California wineries to make people recognize the name of the grape and to change the grape’s jug-wine image (borrowing from Grahm’s punning tendencies, it calls its promotional cross-country events this summer the “Zinfomaniac Tour”). Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel gives a pure sense of the character that drew Joel Peterson, the winemaker, to a little-known and little-esteemed grape.
Amador Zinfandel, Tulocay Winery
Available from crushwineandspirits.com
Neal Rosenthal, a New York wine importer whose taste in wine and food I trust completely (his own site is madrose.com), calls Bill Cadman, who began his small and purposely modest Napa Valley winery in 1975, an “unheralded genius.” Cadman’s straightforward but subtle wines are the only California ones Rosenthal will sell. This is a ripe, powerful, high-alcohol wine—but like all good Zinfandels, it has enough acidity to cut through the jammy fruit.
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers is a nonprofit group for winemakers and “advocates” who love the grape. It provides ample information on Zinfandel and is sponsoring a seminar in Napa, July 7–9—called, naturally, the Zinposium.