The Crimson Knell of Zinfandel 11/06/11
Russia is a land fraught with contradiction. Although its name is a mere two syllables, it is the largest country on Earth in terms of land mass. The first nation to send a man into space, Russia ranks among the bottom 50% alphabetically. And while regarded as an egalitarian paradise during its brief but memorable stint in the Soviet Union, Russia has never quite reclaimed its former glory, the kind of sweeping, imperial conquest enjoyed under great leaders like Peter the Great and Dolph Lundgren.
In fact, Russia was once so great that its kings weren’t called kings at all, but czars. And indeed, this brings me to the point of my whole Russian digression, which you may have guessed has something to do with wine. No, not Russian wine – I haven’t found any of that yet, though I’d like to try some – but a bottle from California, right here in the good old U.S. of A.: the La Czar 2007 Zinfandel, from the Dry Creek Valley.
A grape whose reputation has been irrevocably marred by the oceans of cheap pink swill parading as “White Zinfandel,” which doesn’t even make sense, Zinfandel is supposed to produce full-bodied red wines, and these can often be intensely fruity. Don’t conflate fruit with sweetness, however, because real Zinfandel isn’t loaded with residual sugar, in contrast to its more whorish cousin. High in alcohol and acidity (though generally soft on tannins), Zin pairs particularly well with barbecue, though even better with puns.
The La Czar was a bit older than most Zinfandels I encounter (they’re usually drunk rather young) and is available for $14 at the PA state stores, as part of the Chairman’s Selection program, reduced from a suggested retail price of $25. I’ve had mixed luck with Chairman’s Selections in the past, so the suspense was mounting from the time I walked out of the store with the bottle in hand to the time I walked back into my apartment and opened it, a full five minutes later.
My first impression of the Czar? This wine was powerful. A deep crimson in the glass, it gave off a slightly pungent aroma at first, reminiscent of the gamey, berry notes I tend to refer to as mulberry. In time this faded, and the nose took on the character of blackberries and cloves, with progressively greater clarity as it continued to breathe. To modify the parlance of our times, it wasn’t so much a fruit bomb as a fruit laser: sharp and focused.
On the palate, notes of blackberry and blueberry were predominant, and the fruit was so pronounced that the wine did, in fact, taste sweet (though I should emphasize again that it wasn’t). The alcohol, even at a hefty 15.2%, didn’t taste a drop over 15.1%; and tannins were light, just sufficient enough to showcase the black pepper notes on the wine’s finish. This is one of those wines that serves the dual purpose of being interesting enough for me to drink, while also being friendly enough to please crowds of non-winos. I even rebought it, and brought it before just such a crowd, just to be sure.
I award the La Czar Zinfandel thumbs up. A simple Zin, but proud, and certainly worth $14 (though not $25).