Sat 5 Jul 2008
For our Fourth of July dinner, I grilled a steak outside, a rib-eye from West Wind Farms, a family operation in East Tennessee that raises all their beef, poultry and pork on strictly organic, free-range, grass-fed principles. They make a trip to Memphis, with stops along the way, once every two weeks. Anyway, I mixed together a dry rub of ground cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper, patted it on both sides of the steak and left it to absorb the flavors for an hour. LL made an arugula salad and a salmagundi of fresh corn, black beans, roasted red peppers, lemon zest and lime juice and, um, some other stuff. I grilled the steak over hickory and maple charcoal; it came out perfectly medium rare on the inside, crusty and spicy on the outside.
The only possible wine to have on the Fourth with such a meal would be zinfandel, an American wine, to be sure, but made from a grape brought to California in the 19th century; it shares DNA with the primitivo grape of Italy’s boot-heel, though the wines made from the grapes are nothing alike. I plucked from the rack a celebratory example, the Sausal Zin XXXV 2006, Alexander Valley, Somona County, issued to commemorate Sausal Winery’s 35th anniversary. Sausal makes zinfandel wines in the classic sense, that is, they trade on the grape’s natural character rather than pumping up the wine with soaring alcohol levels and overwhelming ripeness. Vines on the estate go back from 50 to 130 years; when Sausal says “Old Vines,” believe it. The winery also produces one of the few sangiovese-based wines in California that actually tastes like sangiovese.
The color of the Sausal Zin XXXV 2006 is dark ruby with a faint cherry-red rim. Yes, the wine is large-framed, rich and intense, but it radiates purity and clarity in its spicy black currant and blackberry flavors layered with hints of wild raspberry and undertones of sandalwood, licorice, lavender and minerals. After a few minutes in the glass, the fruit takes on roasted and smoky aspects, while sleek and polished tannins spread their influence. The Sausal Zin XXXV 2006 is, I hope you understand, the opposite of the jammy, over-wrought zinfandels of which we see so much, particularly from Sonoma County. Only 250 cases were made, so mark it Worth a Search. Excellent. About $35.
More widely available, in 3,050 cases, is the Sausal Family Zinfandel 2005, Alexander Valley. Made from 50-year-old vines, this is another big, rich, intense, zinfandel, though it’s more earthy and minerally, more austere from the beginning than its XXXV cousin. It offers a pure black cherry foreground filled in with smoky black currant and plum flavors that flirt with the super-ripe qualities of boysenberry and blackberry tart. This model is also spicier than its counterpart, and the tannins are denser and chewier. This is, in other words, a brasher, more rustic version of zinfandel than represented by Zin XXXV, though no less enjoyable, especially with hearty fare like grilled pork chops and burgers. Very good+, and Good Value at about $18.