Liquid Assets

'Tis the season for zinfandel lovers

Ever wonder what wine to have with the holiday turkey? Conventional wisdom says we should be popping a bottle of white wine and, indeed, a bottle of Alsatian Riesling or champagne would be a perfect match. But this year, why not try Zinfandel? The time has never been better. First, we've had a run of three good vintages in a row, 2001-2003, so just about any Zinfandel you find in the stores right now should be good. Second, there is a wine glut in California, and most of the wineries are holding their prices steady (some are even quietly lowering them). But the most important reason to try Zinfandel is it is still the California red wine where you can get the biggest bang for your buck.

California Zinfandel comes in several strengths, from the delicate versions made in Napa to the monsters grown in the hot area between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. For a holiday feast, with all of its rich foods and multiple courses, most folks will prefer a medium-bodied Zin. The least expensive wine I've found that is consistently recommendable is Rancho Zabaco's Dancing Bull Zinfandel ($10). Their 2002 vintage has beautiful color and nice berry flavors that would go well with turkey and cranberry sauce. It's so good, in order to get a better bottle of Zin, you have to jump over the $15 range.

But what the hell, it's the holidays. For $15-$20, you can have a bottle of world-class Zinfandel. Like the 2002 Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel ($18), a luscious wine filled with blackberry flavors and packaged in a striking bottle with a sensuous quote from Mr. London engraved on the back. Or the 2002 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel ($18), from a family-owned operation that has been producing better wines almost every year. Both of these wines are very food-friendly in that they won't be too intense for what's on your plate.

The last two Zins I have to recommend are big bruisers with concentrated flavors and dark colors that will stain both your tablecloths and your teeth. These are not for the faint of heart, but if you like your red wines to remind you more of Linkin Park than Coldplay, search out the 2001 Renwood Old Vine Zinfandel ($17) or the 2002 Brutocao Cellars Unfiltered Brutocao Vineyard Zinfandel ($20). Both wines will stand up to the most flavorful holiday food you can create, but I'll be pairing them with cornbread dressing. Renwood's wine is easy to find, but you'll probably have to ask your favorite wine store to order the Brutocao.

My final recommendation isn't a Zin, but you could almost certainly fool most people into believing it is. Californians have been making sweet, fortified Zinfandels for years, but they generally cost a fortune. The port-maker Croft has recently released their 1997 Late Bottled Vintage Port for $17, and it would be yummy with pecan pie, chocolate, or a tray of cheeses, as well as making for a great way to finish the evening.

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