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Written by Nikitas Magel   

The Zinfandel Advocate and Producers' 2009 Good Eats Tasting Event

wine with appetizer

I write very infrequently about Zinfandel.  But this past week's arrival of the annual ZAP Festival in San Francisco is an occasion that demands Zinfandel be in the limelight, celebrating the only grape varietal that lends a truly unique slant to the identity of California wines.  Part of what makes this event (the largest of its kind) so special is that it brings to the fore that Zinfandel — both the grape and the wine it produces — is quintessentially Californian.  In fact, a bill came across our governor's desk a while back, pushing to make Zinfandel the state's official "historic wine."  (True to the Terminator character for which he's so well known, Governor Schwarzenegger shot down the bill, reasoning that it would downplay the significance of California's two other noble varietals, Cabernet and Chardonnay.)  But in the end, Zinfandel doesn't need to be exalted by the law of the land in order to continue enjoying the widespread appeal and significant production of truly high quality wines throughout California.  Quite frankly, better Zinfandel is enjoyed by many more wine fans than is Cabernet of comparable quality, but is produced by more wineries and in more quantities than the easy-to-like Merlot.  More so than any other red wine varietal produced in the state, Zinfandel strikes a balance — especially in its finest iterations — among quality and accessibility.

Many of us are head over heels in love with Zinfandel, and there are ever increasing numbers of small-production wineries throughout California who are making some truly sumptuous examples of it.  With that said, however, Zinfandel is a challenging wine to pair with food.  It's big, it's brash, it explodes in the mouth with fruit, and as alcohol levels seem to creep higher with every new vintage, there are really not a whole lot of foods that go well with it.  After all, bigger is not necessarily better, especially when it comes with drinking a wine as an accompaniment to a meal.  A wine of this sort demands some equally expressive and demonstrative tastes, which can tax even the most creative culinary talent.

Yet, such talent abounded at this year's Good Eats and Zinfandel Pairing.  While this event was not the headliner, per se, at the 2009 ZAP Festival, it reminds us that wine is often but a mere mirage of its true potential without the immediate presence of its intended mate: food.  There's a limit to which we can truly appreciate a wine when it lacks the comraderie of a well-paired dish to resonate with its flavor profile.

While this is not a comprehensive list of the foods that demonstrated beautiful harmony with the rich & full-bodied red Zinfandels represented, following comprise what were, in my opinion, the memorable stand outs of the 2009 Good Eats and Zinfandel Pairing.

  • Lamb Ragu with Creamy Polenta by Adagia (Berkeley); matched with Ballentine Vineyards' 2003 Block 9 Zinfandel.
  • Classic Meatballs in a Zinfandel-based Habaneros Sauce by Grillin' 4 Fun (Ripon); matched with Macchia Wines' 2007 Mischievous Zinfandel.
  • Lamb Keftas with Pomegranate Molasses Glaze by Murphy Goode Estate Chef (Healdsburg); matched with Murphy Goode's 2006 Liar's Dice Zinfandel.
  • Spicy Pork Carnitas on Mini Tostadas with Tomatillo Sauce by Mustard's Grill (Yountville); matched with Outpost Estate Wines' 2006 Howell Mountain Zinfandel.
  • Filet Mignon Steak Tartare by Lark Creek Steak (San Francisco); matched with Ridge Vineyards' 2006 Geyserville Zinfandel.
  • Curried Goat with Gungo Beans & Coconut Rice by Miss Pearl's Jam House (Oakland); matched with Rosenblum Cellars' 2006 Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel.

These culinary gems exemplified what to me is the challenge to wine-food pairing in general — and even more so when Zinfandel, in particular, is involved: effecting not only a resonance of flavors between a wine and the dish with which it's matched, but oftentimes a synergy of taste and texture that unfolds into a truly transcendent experience on the palate. end

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