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Faces of Zin

Four takes on four Zinfandel wines

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Somewhere in between Mother's Day and the Fourth of July—between brunch and barbecue—rosé season transitions to Zinfandel season. If it's Father's Day that marks the turn, all the more apropos for the granddaddy of California wine.

Zin is at home in the North Bay. Sonoma County is, in terms of Zinfandel acreage, a distant second to San Joaquin County, home to some pretty decent Lodi Zinfandel, and maybe a portion of the Central Valley's inland sea of white Zinfandel. But Zin's good reputation for red wine quality, outside of a few notable spots around the state, has a more than 150-year record here. The Kenwood Vineyards 2014 Sonoma County Zinfandel ($18) may be the kind of uncomplicated, tangy and red-fruited hamburger washer that many people think about when they think Zin, but it's just the beginning.

Zin has classic style. Kenwood's 2013 Six Ridges Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($26) is the epitome of that valley's Zin style. Wine-soaked wood and Mexican chocolate spices, cinnamon and vanilla, kick up a blackberry-flavored sipper that's not too tangy, not too tannic—just right.

Zin has historicity. A darker, more brooding Zin, if you will, Kenwood's 2014 Jack London Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Zinfandel ($28), comes from the northeast-facing flank of a dark, brooding mountain. This wine teases with fruit and spice scents of raspberry and bergamot—patchouli, maybe—and with fanciful notions of Jack London, vintner, which he was not. However, much of the red wine enjoyed by the author and other Californians around the turn of the previous century was certainly Zinfandel. Here, a wave of sweet red berry flavor carries furry tannins across the tongue.

Zin has backup. Although the Sidebar Cellars 2016 Russian River Valley Zinfandel ($28) contains less Zin than the previous vintage, which was labeled as a "red blend," with 78 percent it makes the varietal cut (75 percent is required by law), so why not? Part of the charm, but also the intangible value, of old-vine Zinfandel plantings is that they include a seemingly random hodgepodge of accessory vines. This wine comes from a vineyard originally planted in 1890, and contains Petite Sirah, a common companion to Zinfandel, along with some real outliers like Beclan, Peloursin, Plavac Mali, Palomino and Monbadon.

An unusually large fraction of Alicante Bouschet contributes color to this wine, which seems also aromatic of purple ink, along with oily oak, Graham cracker and chocolate biscuit. Why all of those other grapes? Well, in this wine the combination makes for a palate-coating yet surprisingly supple mix of blackcurrant and boysenberry liqueur flavors—maybe those forefathers knew best, after all.

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