Monday, August 18, 2008

Forgive me, I'm a Zinner

To celebrate the birthdays of me & the B (all of 3 days apart, same year, Leos, makes for interesting times...), we went up to Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma the other weekend with our Sac buddies Alysia & Josh. Despite having a wine fridge and wine racks at capacity, baskets full of bottles, etc., I did it -- I Zinned. That is, I bought a lot of yummy Zinfandel. But hey, it was from a region famed for the grape, a true red-blooded, good ol' American varietal (well, technically it has roots in Italy [Primativo] and Croatia [Plavac] but I think we've refined it enough to call it ours) that came darn close to being California's official wine grape.

 First stop after a long, traffic-jam filled drive was Dry Creek General Store to pick up some sammiches as fortification for the round of wineries we were to hit, so we took them to go in order to make our appointment at A. Rafanelli, hollowed ground for Zin fans "in the know." The first time I heard of this place was nearly a year ago from a waiter at Levende East, a fabulous restaurant/bar in Old Oakland. They didn't have the A. Raf on their wine list (good luck finding it many places outside the winery in general) but he urged us to visit the winery and sample their wares. The winery is surrounded by gorgeous vineyard-covered hills and a lack of signage makes visitors feel they're sneaking in to this appointment-only, family-run business. Two other couples were tasting when we arrived, a German Shepherd was sacked out in his doggie-bed, and one of the Rafanelli daughters was pouring the family's Zin, Merlot & Cab. The '06 Zin was the true standout, of course, with lively jammy and spice flavors and smooth tannins that will only get more velvety with time (hopefully I can hold on to my 4 bottles for awhile).

Then it was off to Preston where we ate under the picnic tables among the winery's many cats and fruit trees and then ventured into the tasting room, in search of their single-varietal Cinsault that sold out last year by the time I got there. Alas, the '06 Cinsault had sold out AN HOUR before we got there. Talk about bad timing for me. I was bummed, and despite the charming farmhouse and relaxed vibe, nothing tasted good enough to buy after that disappointment. Our "partners-in-wine" Alysia & Josh picked up a bottle of the L. Preston, a GSM blend that I purchased last time I was there (but wasn't wowed by when I got around to opening it at home).

Next stop was David Coffaro, one of my faves for his "little bit of this, little bit of that" blends. The first time I had his wine was a few years ago at the house of my parents' neighbors (who also happen to be my mom's bosses -- hey, I'm from a small town!). After requesting Carignane (not that a wild of a gander after seeing Peter's cellar!) we tried a Ridge Buchignani Carignane (can't remember the vintage) that was tasty, but not fruit-forward enough for my taste, then opened Coffaro's Carignane (probably the '03), which resonated far better with my palate. At Coffaro, amid a very casual tasting scene, complete with Raiders paraphernalia all about and Scorsese's Stones documentary "Shine a Light" projected onto a big screen amongst the barrels, we sampled the '05 sale offerings and went home with an '05 My Zin, '06 Carignane (of course), and the '06 Terre Melange, a tasty, earthy blend of the southern Rhone reds.

The collection of "family" wineries off Dry Creek Road beckoned next, and we first hit Papapietro, maker of lovely (although pricey) Pinot Noirs and, even better in my (excuse-the-pun) book, the just released volume of Wine Dogs USA! I left here with a $50 bottle of '06 Leras Vineyards Pinot and the $40 doggie book -- not the cheapest stop, but well worth it for the pages upon pages of cute canine mugs. Then we went to Peterson, which makes such a bevy of different wines that you're sure to find something for everyone. Indeed we did, snapping up the '05 Tradizionale Zin, the '05 Bradford Mtn. Zin, and the '05 Sangiovese. The Tradizionale was the smooth, supple Zin while the Bradford Mountain had the spice & sass.

We found the same variations of Zin in our last stop, Mazzocco (not a planned stop but settled upon by looking at Wine Country magazine for which nearby tasting rooms were still open!), which had gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows in a tasteful wooden, barn-like building. The '05 West Dry Creek Zin (91 points from Wine Spectator), was laden with super-ripe fruit, spice and cacao, while the '06 Sonoma Coast was the peppery one here -- both were purchased and we were off to dinner.

Our last stop in Sonoma Co. was at The Girl & the Fig for a scrumptious birthday dinner full of all kinds of proteins & veggies, but since this post is running waaaay long I'll just mention that what did the restaurant have on their wine list but the '06 Preston Cinsault! Score one for the birthday girl... :-)