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Drink Tue May 27 2008

Downright Zin-ful

Last week, the Mid-American Club played host to the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Grand Tasting road show. An 80th floor view of the Chicago skyline -- and suburb-line at that height -- is an impressive backdrop for any event, but perhaps more impressive to me was the discovery that this "zinfandel" stuff is... kind of delicious.

I'm a white wine kind of girl. I know, I know, it's lame and puts me in stereotype-land rather than the company of connoisseurs, but it's worth pointing out: connoisseur I ain't. I just like me some fermented juice of the grape variety from time to time. And zinfandel has never been at the top of the list -- but after the ZAP event, I could absolutely will look forward to sipping some zin in the near future. More details on this revelation, and some excellent locally available wines, after the fold.

While we didn't sample every one of the 30-odd wineries (and exponentially more individual bottles) available, we made enough of a dent in the available wines for me to wake up with a fair fuzz of hangover the next morning -- though, worth nothing, not the head-pounding, oh god, take me now variety. So that was a plus.

For a tasting event featuring only a single main grape, the wines ranged all over the palate, from the dark earthy 10 year XY Zin (apparently available at the Olive Garden, in a weirdly classy purchasing move on their part -- light years better than those weird faux-jito lime chiller things I tried the last time I trekked up to Lincolnwood), to the bright blackberry jam of 2004 Ironstone Reserve (bottles starting at only $3, and every Ironstone variety was a winner). Generally, the standard zin taste is fruity, especially blackberries, cherries, plums and other red fruits, etc. with notes of black and white pepper, vanilla or toasted sugar, chocolate and caramel, and some smokier florals, like eucalyptus and cassis. All of those images, combined, also seem to speak to the perfect setting to enjoy a glass of zinfandel -- someone's back patio in late summer, next to the grill, rose bushes and morning doves rounding out the senses... Maybe overly poetic, but if ZAP comes back to Chicago for next year's tour, they might be better served by an event outdoors, at Galleria Marchetti or the Peggy Notebaert Museum, rather than the 80th floor of a downtown office building (yes, even despite that fantastic view).

Perfect tasting conditions notwithstanding, it was a packed event -- including fellow Drive Thru contributor Gemma Petrie, and a Book Club member. Waiters circulated with hors d'oeuvres which nicely complimented the wine, including some delicious scallops and radish and ginger slaw, beef carpaccio and tenderloin, and I made my way several times to the cheese and cracker station to add some solids to the menu. My notes from the evening get increasingly difficult to read, further down the page, but here are a few standouts which any oenophile can pick up right here in Chicago:

The previously mentioned XY Zin, available at ye olde Olive Garden, is also available Sam's in Chicago, as are most of these others. XY's very friendly rep led us through three bottles, spanning 100 years of vines for some very rich and oaky flavors. For food pairings, she suggested lamb or young rabbit, and then paused to say she had no idea who would eat rabbit, young or old. Fair enough.

Ravenswood, which brought swag to spare for the event (including a very nice little wine journal which the rep handed over to me when she heard me giggling about signing in on the media list -- well-played, wine lady) is a zin I've been familiar with for years, a big family favorite, and easily stood up to some of the more obscure names in the room with its smooth drinkability and subtle flavors -- particularly the 2003 Baricia. When we asked for food pairings, the rep just arched an eyebrow and said, "You need more than just the wine?" Amen, sister.

Local big-box World Market seems to have dibs on Zinfatuation, and lured tasters to their table with chocolates and free waiter's corkscrews. It didn't hurt that the wine was particularly drinkable -- sweet with a smooth finish and unmistakable chocolate flavors. The chili spiked dark chocolate they handed out while pouring was a particularly nice touch and kicked up the tannins in the glass.

CG di Arie's founder has both a PhD in fruit science, and a Chicago connection -- he was hired by Quaker Oats in Chicago only to have his brilliant idea for Cap'n Crunch cereal stolen, at which point he presumably turned to drink. A good thing too, as his winery's 2006 Zin and Southern Exposure reserve were both delicious, soft wines with burnt sugar noses and rich fruit and caramel flavors. Under food pairings, I have in my notes, for unknown reasons, "Powerbars, Snack Packs." I think we headed home for the night shortly after this stop.

I wish I could have tasted them all. I wish I could read my notes about more of the ones I did taste. Ah well, there's always next year.

 

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