Wine of the Week

Sometimes, bigger is better

Wine of the Week

Sometimes, Bigger is Better

I'll admit to having a bias for the little guys in the wine business. There's a better story in a small producer fighting the odds and breaking through with a delicious wine than in a huge megacorporation throwing 10s of millions of dollars into something. But sometimes, big wineries surprise me and offer distinctive wines at prices that shame their competition. I have recently found two.

Kendall-Jackson's 2005 California Vintner's Reserve Zinfandel ($12) is a real surprise. Jess Jackson has made a career of offering Chardonnay with enough residual sugar left in to make the flavor palatable to folks who only think they love dry wines. These wines run between 1 and 2% sugar, and folks suck them down like soft drinks. Well, something interesting happened to Jackson on his road to billionaire status. He decided he wanted something money can't buy: respect. So little by little, he's been making improvements to all of his wines. One of the first big successes is this Zinfandel. It has just enough Zin – 76% – to be legally called Zin. The rest is made up from Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre. Those additional grapes add up to a delicious bottle of wine with a great deal more complexity than is usual at the price. What we have here is a $25 wine for $12.

The other big find is the 2004 Chateau St. Jean Merlot Sonoma County ($25). If you saw the movie Sideways, this is the type of wine Paul Giamatti's character hated. Don't let that dissuade you. Yes, it is a huge, dark, rich, and highly extracted wine that values muscle over sophistication. But sometimes you want a grilled rib-eye steak more than Tournedos Rossini. If a wine of this quality were a Cabernet or a Pinot, it would run more than $50.

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Kendall-Jackson's 2005 California Vintner's Reserve Zinfandel, 2004 Chateau St. Jean Merlot Sonoma County

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