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Zinfandel is like your favorite uncle — generous, hearty, exuberant, a giver of bear hugs. Zins’ big, ripe tannins are powerful enough to handle a big grilled steak, but not so astringent as to take the enamel off your teeth. They’re packed with rich, sweet flavors — raspberries, plums, boysenberries, coffee, chocolate, mocha — that will stand up to the spiciest barbecue.
No place makes better zins than California’s Sonoma County. I was a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair in Santa Rosa, Calif., recently. The “$35-and-over” zinfandel panel I was on tasted 77 of the 200 or so zins entered and gave 29 gold medals. We agreed among ourselves that it wasn’t excessive. The wines were that good.
The first wine listed below, the Pezzi King, was the sweepstakes winner as best red wine in the entire 2012 competition, which included 950 wines. The Fritz Estate zin won a double-gold award, meaning the vote of our five-person panel was unanimous. Among the others, you’ll notice that some wineries entered more than one wine — from different vineyards, different microclimates and so on — and often won more than one award.
• 2010 Pezzi King Estate Old Vine Zinfandel, Vineyard Row 26, Dry Creek Valley: hint of cedar, big, ripe black raspberry flavors, spicy, lush and opulent, powerful and sweet, almost port-like; $50.
• 2009 Fritz Estate Reserve Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County: red raspberry aromas and flavors, spicy, full, generous; $50.
• 2010 St. Francis Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley: ripe black raspberry aromas and flavors, full-bodied, opulent; $40.
• 2007 Woodenhead Old Vine Zinfandel, Martinelli Road Vineyard, Russian River Valley: aromas and flavors of black plums and chocolate, ripe tannins; $45.
• 2010 St. Francis Rowe Vineyard Old Vines Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley: rich, full black raspberry and espresso flavors, long finish; $45
• 2010 St. Francis Zinfandel, Three Valleys, Sonoma County: sweet/tart cranberry aromas and flavors, rich and full-bodied; $35.
• 2009 Paradise Ridge Zinfandel, Hoenselaars Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County: lean and powerful, black raspberry flavors, firm tannin; $40.
• 2010 Rock Wall Wine Co. Zinfandel, Harris Kratka Vineyard, Alexander Valley: ripe, intensely fruity, red raspberry flavors, ripe tannin, long finish; $35.
• 2009 Kunde Estate Century Vines Reserve Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley: lean black cherry and espresso aromas and flavors, firm tannins; $40.
• 2009 J. Baldwin Mountain Estate Grown Zinfandel, Rattlesnake Ridge, Mayacamas Mountains, Sonoma Valley: lean, with aromas and flavors of black plums, licorice and cinnamon; $35.
• 2010 Fogline Vineyards Zinfandel, Grist Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley: very rich black raspberry and chocolate flavors, intensely fruity; $35.
• 2010 St. Francis Zinfandel, Monticello Vineyard, Kaarin’s Terrace, Sonoma Valley: sweet black raspberry and milk chocolate aromas and flavors; $45.
• 2010 Hauch Cellars Zinfandel, Treborce Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley: sweet, intensely fruity black raspberry flavors, ripe tannins; $36.
• 2010 Pezzi King Reserve Zinfandel, Serracino Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley: pure sweet, jammy red raspberry fruit, big, ripe tannins, long finish; $50.
• 2010 Pezzi King Reserve Zinfandel, Harris Kratka Vineyard, Alexander Valley: aromas of mint, flavors of red raspberries, generous, rich and port-like; $42.
• 2009 Mayo Family Vineyard Reserve Zinfandel, Ricci Vineyard, Russian River Valley: very rich black raspberry and bitter chocolate aromas and flavors, ripe tannins; $50.
• 2010 Mayo Family Vineyard Zinfandel, Ricci Vineyard, Russian River Valley: tangy red raspberry and spice aromas and flavors, ripe tannins; $40.
• 2010 Mayo Family Vineyard Reserve Zinfandel, Ricci Vineyard, Russian River valley: hint of cedar, sweet red raspberry flavors, zaftig; $50.
• 2010 Mazzocco Sonoma Reserve Zinfandel, Smith Orchard, Dry Creek Valley: oak aromas, sweet black raspberry and chocolate flavors, mellow, very fruity; $52.
• 2010 Mazzocco Sonoma Zinfandel, Pony Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley: sweet and mellow, with red raspberry and black plum flavors, opulent; $44.

email: fredtaskerwine@gmail.com