Barbecue season is finally here, and what better wine to slurp with lusty ribs, chicken, sausages and burgers than Zinfandel? Its full-bodied, spicy flavors wrap into firm, rustic tannins that make Zin a good partner for tomato sauce-slathered meats and poultry. Here are ten Zins, all available now, that have earned our Editors’ Choice designation, meaning they offer special attention for the price. Note the prevalence of Dry Creek Valley, where Zinfandel thrives under the hot summer sun. So pop a cork and imbibe Zins at your next barbecue.
95 Dry Creek 2007 Beeson Ranch Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley); $34. The vineyard is on winding, picturesque West Dry Creek Road and is comprised of very old vines. In the wrong hands, these low-yielding grapes might have been mishandled, but Dry Creek Vineyard knows Zinfandel. The result is spectacular, the essence of old vine Sonoma. Rich, dry and pure, it’s enormously complex in briary, peppery wild berries with a delicious edge of sweet raisins. Drink now for sheer deliciousness.
92 Miro 2008 Old Vines Zinfandel (Alexander Valley); $25. A terrific Zinfandel, beautiful to drink for its soft richness. Flatters the palate with deep, lingering black cherry and raspberry pie filling, vanilla, Indian spice and sandalwood flavors, but is completely dry with rich, intricate tannins. Only 190 cases were produced, but worth the search.
92 Ridge 2009 East Bench Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley); $26. A rich and satisfying Zinfandel, showing classic varietal flavors of ripe, wild red berries, tobacco, soy sauce, bacon and white pepper. Alcohol is notable in the slight heat and glyceriney sweetness, but those elements are welcome parts of the wine’s personality.
92 Kunde 2007 Reserve Century Vines Zinfandel (Sonoma Valley); $30. These old vines are famous for concentration, and this Zin surely is one of the most intense wines of the vintage. It’s huge in wild berry, currant, licorice, dark chocolate, bacon and exotic spice flavors that go on and on. For all the richness, it’s wonderfully balanced, with fine tannins and a crisp backbone of acidity.
91 Puccioni 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley); $28. As the definitive Dry Creek Zinfandel, it has tons of spices, wild berries and cherries and sweetly smoked sandalwood. It handles its high alcohol well, with the heat accenting the peppers. A lusty, complex Zin to drink now.
91 Neal Family 2008 Zinfandel (Napa Valley); $24. Great Zinfandel, worth the price. Napa Valley still makes the most balanced, claret-style Zins, and this polished beauty is right up there. It’s dry and elegantly constructed despite its considerable power, showing rich flavors of wild raspberries and cherries, sweet concentrated red currants, mocha, licorice and scads of peppery spices.
90 Bonterra 2008 Zinfandel (Mendocino County); $16. There’s a textbook quality to this Zinfandel. It expresses the classic California attributes of the variety. It’s perfectly dry, not too high in alcohol, firm in tannins, and deeply flavored in dark stone fruits and berries. And then there are the freshly crushed peppercorns, black, red, green and white, making it a perfect barbecue wine.
90 Pezzi King 2008 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley); $18. Classic Dry Creek Zin, dry, spicy and briary, it has those rustic tannins that just love cheese, tomato sauce, spice-rubbed barbecue or a great beef taco. Perfect ripeness, too, brimming with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.
90 Kenwood 2008 Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel (Sonoma Valley); $20. A beautiful Zinfandel that takes the variety’s rustic, wild berry, tobacco, anise, herb and pepper flavors and makes them as elegant as Zinfandel gets. Strong, grippy tannins call for a salty, peppery flank steak.
89 Main & Geary 2009 Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley); $18. An ambitious wine, obviously grown from low-yielding vines whose fruity flavors have been concentrated into wild blackberries and cherries, finished with the exotic spices that characterize Dry Creek Zinfandel. A very good Zin for the price.