While I won’t turn down a tasty white wine, give me a hearty, complex red any time — something bold with rich flavors that grow as the glass warms in your hand. Despite the flippant name, this 2007 Zinfandel from California’s Lodi wine-growing region is a serious wine, a good wine. Buying it for under $7 (at Grocery Outlet) almost seems like stealing.
It’s hard to say what makes any wine a “good” wine. If you like it, I guess it’s good. Maybe you like Night Train. I got no problem with that. (And, truth be told, Zinfandel’s Italian cousin, Primitivo, is used to make fortified wine in that country.) But for me, the best wines spur more than the physical senses, bringing out a memory, real or imagined. Like a good book, a good wine can transport you to a different time and place.
Imagine yourself staring down into long-abandoned cellar in a forgotten farmhouse outside a nameless Greek village. The temperature falls with each step as you descend the old stone staircase, curling into the darkness. As your eyes adjust to the gloom, you see row after row of dusty oak barrels and a few unlabeled bottles. Grab a couple and carry them upstairs. Imagine gazing into the dark mystery of that first pour and wondering just what history that bottle contains.
In the case of Zany Zin, that history probably trumps your imagination. During the revolution that won Greece its independence from the Ottoman Turks, a Greek fellow named Stamatopolous was captured and chained to a wall, presumably in a dark, musty cellar.
Facing death by fire, Stamatopolous earned a place in a long line of legendary Greek heroes by breaking free from his chains and escaping. His story is still told in his native village, and half a world away, where his great-great-grandson, Gus Kapiniaris oversees the Stama Winery in honor of his ancestor.
“My blood is in this vineyard,” he told California Country Magazine in 2007. “All of my life, all my work, all my blood is lying in these vineyards.”
It’s blood well-spent, indeed.
In old war movies, there’s often a scene where exhausted Allied soldiers, hiding, hopelessly outnumbered in a bombed-out building in some ruined European city, discover a stash of vino and start passing the bottle. It’s never Chardonnay.
I imagine this zin to be something that might be found in such a place — full-bodied and earthy with enough character to hold its own under the weight of expectation befitting the winner of the 2009 Gold Medal at the Beverage Institute’s World Wine Championship.
The first whiff of this wine is almost overpowering, with heavy scents of cigar and damp wood, like you might expect in an old wine cellar — perfect for an old-vine red from one of the most notable wine regions in the U.S. Further exploration reveals a fruity undertone with a hint of oak. The finish is round and satisfying, with just a trace of pepper. It lingers like the memory of campfire smoke on an unforgettable vacation.
This wine also is not soon forgotten. It’s a worthy toast to trusted comrades and legendary ancestors.
Aromatique: Strong, but not sharp. Smoky with a hint of mustiness like damp wood.
SipQuips: Full-flavored, black currant or dark cherry … a bit sweeter as it mellows … with hints of oak and cigar.
Kitchen Couplings: Start with a Greek salad with lots of feta; garlic pork roast or, on a chilly evening, a hearty minestrone. Lasagna or a baked zit dish.