Zinfandel’s Rocky Ride

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Ah, the ups and downs of red Zinfandel. Not so long ago, nobody was sure where it originated (it is genetically identical to southern Italy’s primitivo), although it was found throughout California. Next, nobody seemed to care about it anymore, so acre upon acre of old vines were torn out, replaced predominantly by cabernet sauvignon, merlot or even chardonnay. Then, “If we can’t sell it, let’s make it into a rosé” and White Zin was born (Sutter Home, anyone?). Wake up 40 years later, and the best of those old plantings, and even newer ones in the right places, allow Zinfandel to ride again! Today’s example, from Frank Family Vineyards, is winemaker Todd Graf’s interpretation in a dark, brooding style. Made from older parcels in and around Napa Valley, it is testament to why Zinfandel should have mattered all along.

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Zinfandel, Frank Family Vineyards $38 suggested retail price

Bright purple in color. You almost need sunglasses! On the nose, a pure, vibrant stream of smoky blackberry, black cherry and highly spicy nuances that sit in a cradle of cedar underpinning. The wine is bursting with balanced flavors of plum, blueberry and cherry. Aeration reveals chocolate, cola and a leathery, chewy finish. The tannins give structure but not harshness. (89% zinfandel, 11% petite sirah aged in 100% French oak, new.) Try with oxtail stew, goulash or an eggplant/mushroom casserole. Drink now-2023.

92/100 points

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Arturo Ciompi

Trained as a classical clarinetist and conductor, Arturo plied his trade for many years in New York, performing with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, New York City Opera, the American Symphony and countless chamber music groups. While living in Durham, Arturo became the wine manager at two iconic gourmet stores: Fowler’s in Durham and Southern Season in Chapel Hill. He had a wine spot on NPR in the ’90s and has been a continuously published wine journalist since 1997. He has won national awards for his work and is currently writing for Durham Magazine and its weekly blog, “Wine Wednesdays”. In addition, he loves teaching the clarinet. Read more on his website.

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