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Zinfandel attracts a following

Lorn Razzano —

I was bopping down Oak Street the other day on my bike — heading for the cool guys at Cycle Sport for a little tire pressure help. — Once inside I spied a patron wearing a deep purple shirt that had written — on the back "Life is Hell without Zinfandel!" This was the third purple — "Zinfandel" shirt I had seen in two days, which reminded me of the solid — following this massive grape has on the world of wine.

Zinfandel lovers are variously called "Zin Freaks," "Zinners," — "Zin Heads" or "Zinaholics." The love of this grape crosses all genders — and economic levels and produces zinfandel festivals and clubs across — the world. No other grape variety has its groupies like zinfandel. On — the other hand, there are wine drinkers who simply avoid zinfandel at — all costs. Zinfandel has split the wine world in two for more than 50 — years.

Zinfandel is arguably the "largest" red grape on the — planet, producing huge alcohol levels and tastes that can be described — as blackberry jam layered on dark toast. Zinfandel polarizes simply because — it is what it is, spicy, rich, palate gripping and alcoholic with twists — and turns in ribbons of extended aftertastes. Its detractors call the — grape "one dimensional" and too huge to use effectively with any cuisine — except barely cooked beef. Those who look for subtlety and nuance with — allusive complexities in their wines find zinfandels as heavyweights with — one punch: the massive knockout. The biggest complaint that one hears — again and again is the heart throbbing high alcohol levels seen in almost — all zinfandels. It is not uncommon for the average zinfandel to hit above — the 13.5 percent level and rising. The truth of the matter is that if — wine were chocolate, zinfandel would be fudge.

For my money, Amador County, Calif., is the place to — look for the classic zinfandels. This hilly, road twisting zinfandel country — is in the heart of the gold mining country about 35 miles east of Sacramento — off of Highway 16. The center of the action is around the town of Plymouth. — There are many nice tasting rooms in the vicinity of Plymouth as well — as wineries tucked in the foothills. Visit the little curve in the road — called Sutter Creek, which is a Jacksonville-type village complete with — Victorian homes, bed and breakfasts, small shops and long time eateries — filled with locals. If you stay at the charming Historic Inn, you will — be central to all of the winery action as well as a classic small town — diner next door.

If you are buying zinfandel, look for Amador County on — the label and try to find a zin less than 14.5 percent alcohol. Serve — with grilled meats, rich pastas or any rich type of fare. I like airing — out these powerhouses for half an hour before serving. This helps bring — up the complexities of the wine which would otherwise lay dormant in the — brooding darkness of the wine. There was a famous zinfandel club I visited — some years ago named "The Purple Tooth Club." This about says it all. —

Lorn Razzano is a commercial wine and spirits judge — and is a co-founder of KSOR wine tasting. He was on winery staffs of various — Italian and French wineries in the 1970s and has owned Ashland Wine Cellar — since 1980.