LAB RAT REPORT: 2007 Mendocino County Zinfandel
Castle Rock Review for LabRattery
Wow, where to begin? It’s coming up on 10 PM and as promised (implicitly) by being chosen as a labrat, I need to do a timely and honest review of a bonus wine that was sent to me—even though it was soooooo good that I drank most of the bottle with dinner. Still, one must make sacrifices in the name of duty, so here it is…
Super Short Review:
Just buy this. It’s an awesome Cali Zin. I wrote this after not even having Googled it or read a review; I wanted to come to it unbiased. Having said that, when I post this Friday AM, unless it’s over $40/bottle I am inclined to get it. Bottom line: It's a perfect companion for rich, complex food.
Slightly Longer Review:
This wine is a very good mirror for food, especially food that is oily/rich/creamy OR fruity/nutty, or has some funk/fermentation aspect to it. In fact, this may be a red that goes amazingly well with not-spicy-hot vegan or vegetarian food. Not for vinegary things or things that are too spicy hot (ie don’t waste this one on vindaloo or a course with a pickle plate) but great for funky cheeses served with fresh fruit, or prosciutto with melon, leg of mutton or good lamb, organ meats, quiche, etc. If you just scored some amazing sheep or goat cheese wherever, you want to serve this with it along with fresh fruit and substantial, flavorful nuts.
Even Longer Review:
Well, I made sure that I got out of work in time, nevermind St. Patrick’s Day festivities (passed a tourist in Midtown Manhattan with green paint smeared on one side of his face and a black eye, which sums up what it’s like to work in Midtown on St. Paddy’s Day), in order to make sure that I could pick up my Labrat Wine from my local Mailboxes/UPS/Etc guy. My birthday is this coming Monday, and I saw this as a sort of early birthday gift. Unlike last St. Paddy’s Day, I had absolutely no desire to drink green beer or eat semi-free corned beef and cabbage buffets that had been out at room temperature since noon at one of the 8,000 local pubs near me.
Once I got home, the first thing I did was take the wine out of the box (kind of hard to drink otherwise unless it’s box wine, which this most definitely is NOT). I was overjoyed when I saw a Cali Zin. California Zin is one of my most favoritest wines of all time in the whole universe. On top of that, it LOOKS like an EXPENSIVE one—doublewoot! Black Tie Pour maybe?
This wine was NOT green for St. Patrick’s Day, but a little green out of the bottle. As soon as I got it out of the box, I opened it and took an initial sip. It was as any good “breathing” red wine would be—total TnT, Tannins and Tart. I tasted great promise though, and poured a little more to let it breathe.
I would most definitely allow this one to breathe for at least 20 minutes before drinking. If you have a proper aerator (which I don’t) then use it.
First impressions: As mentioned, T&T, thin legs, deep maroon/purple/”hi I’m a California Zin” purple. Cork was in good shape, but fresh out of the bottle, the wine did not have a lot going on RE aroma otherwise. What aroma I did get initially was berry and leather, not a lot in the midzone range.
While I waited for it to breathe, I assembled a cheese-plate dinner and fired up Pandora on my Chumby (shameless plug—grok my stations. UserID Threemoons). I have easy access to Murray’s Cheese in Times Square, so many nights I just have cheese, fruit, and bread by way of dinner. Given my insane work hours, this makes for a great light supper. I had roasted chicken quarters—very spicy, oven-fried with hot sauce, panko crumbs, and bbq rub—in the fridge, but thought that they would overwhelm the wine.
One phone call to a friend who’d left a message later, the wine had opened up a bit—aromawise I was starting to get fresh berry notes.
Being that I was starving, I had a few cashew nuts at this point. Then had a sip of the wine. It was incredible—the wine picked up all of the butteryness of the cashews while the fat in the cashews calmed down some of the right angles on the wine down. Encouraged, I continued to put out a dinner of small nibbles.
I took another brief phone call again and made it back to the wine. By now, the aromas had started to open up—black pepper, cloves, fresh berries, and leather were starting. It was still thin RE mouthfeel—think clarinet vs. saxophone on the palette.
The label on the back of the bottle says to serve with pasta or chicken, but I disagree—this is a fantastic wine for a cheese plate or rich, creamy, cheesey, or meaty pasta dish (or a cheesy one with substantial veggies in it).
While setting out dinner, I had a nibble of a Spanish dried fig, and it made the spices in the wine explode, as well as the sweetness of the dried fig. Ditto for a blueberry-the experience was very yin/yang and I saw a real relationship developing here; it’s like the wine was professionally-applied makeup for food. It’s as if every flavor of what you ate came back magnified x10.
Then I had to call home to the folks to thank them for birthday cards; let the wine breathe while I did this. Then it was time to cut some cheese (no juvenile fart jokes please). The menu, as a series of small bites:
Whole multigrain bread
An Anjou pear
A few cashew nuts
Some jarred artichoke hearts in vinegar and oil that I forgot I had.
Assorted nibbles of cheese as follows, mostly goat/sheep:
Small goat crotini
El Trigal Young Machengo
Sparkenhoe Red Leicester (I actually know a guy who lives a 5-minute walk from the creamery where they make it, but I digress)
Vacherin Friborgeous Alpage
The machengo, paired with the wine, tasted nuttier than I ever expected. The pear also blended perfectly.
The one pairing that wasn’t made of win was (initially) the Red Leicster, which is otherwise on my Top 5 Cheese List and one of my all time faves, either room-temp or melted. It gave the wine a coppery taste; the very “ideal Cheddary/grassy” notes didn’t strike a perfect note with the wine.
OTOH the other cheeses exploded in the mouth after a sip of wine; think like a sort of Cheese Amplifier. This one goes up to 11! It made the Monte Enebro more mushroomy/goaty, and the Vacherin—normally very pungent—even stinkier in a GOOD way.
The only other “near miss” was the jarred artichoke hearts-this wine just does NOT like vinegar, even though artichokes and red wine are usually BFF. So, don’t use this one for your “Cheddarlike cheese” and pickle sandwiches.
Keep this one for stinky cheese courses, served with a hearty cracker/bread and fresh, mellow fruit and nuts. I think this would also pair brilliantly with plain duck or mutton. Ditto for anything mellow and/or smoked—think smoked poultry, game, funky cheeses, pea soup made with smoked ham hocks, etc.
Last Licks—tried a very –well-aired-out sip of the wine with the Red Leicester again, and it was a slightly better pairing. Still, I would stick to the smoky/funky/deep/creamy end of the pool RE pairings.
PS—FWIW it also goes great with chocolate.
THANK YOU wine.woot for the priv of LabRatting, please call me back!