I come from a wine obsessed family. My late father amassed a small, but high quality cellar starting back in 1978 and so began the family tradition of wine talk at the table. For us, a special meal needed something special to drink, and even after having a modest cellar going, my father was always able to pull out something appropriate to rise to the occasion.
Once I was out on my own, I usually found I had Champagne tastes on a beer budget, and good wine was hard to find in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, where after pressing your nose to the window, squinting to read labels, the local wine merchant passed the bottle to you through bullet-proof glass. But then I moved to San Francisco. Here I gave myself a $3.00 a bottle limit and at that time, I was able to get crazy treasures for 3 bucks --Stag's Leap Petite Syrah and Ch. St. Jean Chardonnay, for instance.
I could find, by trail and error, something decent to go with dinner, but when I went out and faced a huge wine list, I found I could only fall back on the familiar or the splurge wines I knew growing up. Then I attended my first big tasting, ZAP, the annual mega-Zinfandel festival. It was 1997 and they were pouring the 1995 vintage for the most part, and barrel pours of the 1996s. This was the first time I had an opportunity to taste a single varietal, treated in a staggering array of ways, with distinct profiles of the classic regions. Every wine from every neighborhood seemed a little different and I found an affordable way to start collecting, learning about the mysteries of terroir, and training my palate. I could stray away from the "3-Rs" (Ridge, Ravenswood, and Rosenblum) and find little producers that created something different, something that smacked of thier little patch of the earth.
And I made friends. I found I could make fast friends with winemakers. I was thrilled to have other people to share my wine talk with, other than my family. A bonus for my table-talk-fatigued spouse as well. My brother, my friends and I, would share our favorite finds from ZAP and share them by email and sync them to our first-gen Palm Pilots so we had our lists when we went shopping.
Fast-forward to 2005 and the rise of the blogosphere. When I saw that you didn't need to have a Masters of Wine to write about wine, it dawned on me that a blog could be my special place to remember the bottles I love, the dishes I want to share, and a public place to put my favorites from big tastings like ZAP.
2006 Ottimino Zinfandel, Rancho Bello Vineyard
The Rancho Bello Vineyard is just north of the Green Valley AVA, which is near Sebastapol and Occidental. There, the grapes are both ripened by sun and stressed from lack of water - a good combination for Zinfandel. On nose, it has tinges of nutmeg and cinnamon spices with boysenberry/blackberry fruits that rise from the glass, like a beautiful black fruit cobbler. It's a full-bodied wine and has all the ripeness of a Russian River Valley Zinfandel, without being stewed or prune-y. Winemaker William Knuttel has a great touch with Zin, which can be a crazy uneven ripening beast --so much so that Ottimino is devoted exclusively to Zinfandel. This wine is a steal and offers a clean, classic Zin experience for under $30 a bottle. Recommended.