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15 Oct 2013

Sniff the Cap: The Night We Drank the State's Best Zinfandel

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The night we drank California’s best zinfandel, a 5.0 earthquake jiggled tectonic plates off the Pacific Coast.

We didn’t feel it. No tsunami warnings ensued.

Dave asked me if I would like to feel Adventurous. I said I did.

He was washing dishes. I was scalding tomatoes, making them into a salsa with avocado, lime juice, late-harvest green onions and fresh basil.

The chunky concoction tasted more Italian, like something you’d put on bruschetta. We ate it with tortilla chips.

Dinner was on the grill: St. Louis-style barbequed ribs, a rack and a half, which is all that fits on my small portable gas grill.

What wine goes best with ribs? Syrah! Malbec! Zinfandel!

Tough choices.

We chose to celebrate. Because it was Friday. Because Dave’s a federal employee who’s still working—he’s “essential”—but not getting paid. Because we have enough wine to ride out a couple of weeks of shutdown. (Paying the mortgage … that’s another story.)

We ended up opening this year’s best zinfandel, the double-gold-medal-winning California State Fair top pick—the Adventurous, a Macchia 2011 Amador County Zinfandel from the Linsteadt vineyard.

Macchia’s tasting room in Acampo, Calif., is a down-homey place with moderately priced wines. The Adventurous is $26.

We bought California’s Best Zinfandel on a Sunday in September. Dave drove over from Reno. I left Palm Springs at about 6 a.m. and arrived in the land of wine around 1 p.m. (My travel time included a crepe stop at the International House of Pancakes on Interstate 5. One shouldn’t taste award-winning wines on an empty stomach.)

Macchia’s tasting room was our third and last stop for the afternoon. We’d been to a super-loud and crowded tasting room, and then a quieter but fruit-fly-infested winery.

By contrast, Macchia was perfect. Friendly winery dogs greeted us and submitted to hearty petting. Tasting-room employee Vanessa Gonzales wore a Chiefs football jersey. Sampling commenced.

Macchia’s naming convention is memorable. A Sangiovese is called Amorous; a Barbera is Infamous. Zinfandels include Oblivious, Generous and Prestigious. We enjoyed subtle differences in fruit and spiciness and in the way the wine felt in our mouths. All remarkably delicious.

We’d tasted several wines before Gonzales remembered to tell us that they’d just gotten that big blue 2013 California State Fair ribbon on the wall for the 2011 Adventurous.

We sipped, liked and purchased.

We thought it was cool that the wine had won an award. Later, we realized that this wine had won The Award—“Best Zinfandel” in the state. After five minutes of extensive online research, I was duly impressed. (This year’s commercial wine winners are listed on the fair’s website. It’s fun to scroll through and plot future visits.)

The night we drank the best zinfandel in California, we opened the bottle more than an hour before dinner, but didn’t drink it. Ploop. Out came the cork. Dave sniffed the bottle. I sniffed the bottle. Nose-gasms ensued.

A decanting debate was brief: Should we dump the liquid into a large, oddly shaped bottle to let the wine open up?

“You don’t want to flatten it,” I said.

“You can’t flatten it,” he contended.

Dave poured a half-ounce into my glass. “Yeah, decant it,” I said.

We dumped.

Because I like to sip a little something while I’m cooking, I had a couple of ounces of Montepulciano that I’d opened the previous night. Perfect with Italian dry coppa and Spanish manchego. I learned to say Montepulciano by watching a YouTube video. How did you learn to say Montepulciano?

Speaking of streaming video, we'd planned to watch an episode of The West Wing’s season five on Netflix, but the night’s ante had upped. We selected an artsy Italian thriller instead. With English subtitles.

Dave had harvested purple potatoes, so we shredded those and cooked ’em up with garlic and chanterelle mushrooms. Zin’s a fine meat-and-tater wine.

Then the meat was on our plates. A toast—to Friday nights. We tested the velvet in our glasses, Dave noting caramel and light fruit. Me, nice warm spices. Then we dug in, dipping our perfectly seared ribs into a tangy Red Tail Ale barbecue sauce from Mendocino Brewing Company. Yeah.

But how would the wine fare with the super zingy ribs?

Not to worry. The wine not only didn’t disappear; the meat brought out the wine’s giant fruits. Big peppery plums! “Not for the faint-hearted,” as the wine’s promo proclaimed.

This is what pairing is about.

The movie, La Doppia Ora (The Double Hour), from 2009, began with a suicide and a dismal speed-dating scene. We hunkered on the couch and nursed the rest of the bottle for 90 minutes or so, wearing glasses over our schnozzes like oxygen masks. Inhaling flavor.

Can you use up smell?

I sat my glass down but was distracted by the intoxicating vapors coming from Dave’s wine. He guarded his Adventurous.

The plot twisted. The characters were not who they seemed to be. Everything changed. Our wine shifted as well, into harmonious balance, hints of vanilla.

Then bullets. Bad dreams. Hallucinations.

Is this wine the best because it is the best? Or is it the best because we think it’s the best?

Later while cleaning up, I polished off a few sips of montepulciano. After the Adventurous bliss, the formerly OK wine tasted disgustible with notes of sour refuse.

As the movie climaxed, we savored the last of our Adventurous, hopping on the Macchia website to price out a case ($312) that we would not be buying.

Finally, our last sip. The Italian thriller had resolved, and I don’t mean to spoil it, but true love was not served. Or was it?

We raised our empty glasses for a final toast.

Nothing notable, really, about our Friday night. We turned it into the night we drank California’s best zinfandel.

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