Ravenswood Zinfandel with Italian Food

Joel Peterson, the owner of Ravenswood Winery, has been called both a vino-revolutionary and the godfather of zinfandel.  That may be, but it doesn’t give you any idea of how knowledgeable he is, or that he is a delightful dining companion.  You may already have guessed that he makes a superb line of California zinfandels.  Joel was in town last week and together with some other writers, I had a chance to chat with him and taste his new vintages over lunch at A Voce in the Time Warner Center.  As far as I’m concerned, there is no better way to taste a wine than to accompany it with food, and A Voce turned out to be the perfect choice.

Joel organized the tasting in 3 flights.  We began with the lightest wine, the Dickerson Zinfandel, named for the vineyard where the grapes are grown.   This wine is made from 100% zinfandel grapes.  As soon as I lifted my glass, I noticed the aroma — like a big bowl of fresh ripe raspberries. It was a perfect way to the start the tasting and went great with the first course, crisp fried cassoncini, little turnovers filled with crescenza, a creamy cheese, and swiss chard, plus tender sliced prosciutto and stracchino, a soft cheese best known as the stuffing in burrata, and fresh fava beans.  Then we moved on to the Big River Zinfandel, also 100% zinfandel, which had a more subtle fruit aroma and concentrated flavor.  The third wine in the flight was the Belloni Zinfandel made from a blend of grapes.  Joel described the aroma as dark fruit like plums, which was true, and boysenberry, but since I ‘m not sure I know what boysenberry smells like I’ll have to take his word for that.

Joel made it clear that he wants to avoid what he called the “3 sins of Zin”:   high alcohol, high sugar, and too much oak.  With the next course we  drank Barricia Zinfandel fom the vineyard of the same name, made with 76% zinfandel grapes blended with petite sirah.  This wine was more complex than the first three with a better balance.  The Old Hill Zinfandel, so called because the vines are thought to be the oldest in Sonoma, went great with my pasta, Sagne alla Amatriciana.  Sagne is a wide fresh pasta ribbon and in this version it was sauced with a smooth tomato sauce flecked with smokey bacon and fresh marjoram.   The wine tasted of dark cherries with a rich leathery quality.  The bacon, tomatoes and spicy pecorino cheese on the tender pasta matched up with the wine beautifully.  The Teldeschi Zinfandel was particularly interesting to me.  Joel said that the blend of 4 grape varieties — zinfandel, petite sirah, Carignane and Alicante Bouschet — used were originally planted by Italian immigrants and this wine was a favorite with traditional grape growing families.

We ended with two more wines.  According to Joel,  the ICON Mixed Blacks was the wine that should have been and would have been made in California if it had not been for Prohibition.   The blend of grapes is the same as the above Teldeschi, but the proportion of zinfandel is much lower — 37% for ICON as opposed to the 75% in the Teldeschi.  That’s why the ICON cannot be called a zinfandel on the label.  To go with the wine, I had grilled quail glazed with fig reduction resting on a bed of fregula, tiny Sardinian pasta similar to couscous.  This was outstanding and the flavors of the fig glaze and grilled meat were an ideal match with the robust flavors of the ICON and the final wine of the day, the Pickberry Red.  This is a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend that shows promise, and will really come into its own with a few years of aging.



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    • Michele Scicolone