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Four Vines 2005 Old Vine Cuvée Zinfandel

FEW, IF ANY, GRAPES have had more names or iterations than Zinfandel. Known variously as Zeinfandall, Primitivo and even Black St. Peters, this fruit-filled, spicy, dark grape has been used by vintners through the centuries to produce everything from super-saturated Tempranillo- like blockbusters to light, garnet-color, picnic-style reds and sweet, blushing syrups, such as the white Zinfandels of the 1980s. First introduced to the United States in the early 19th century, when high alcohol content was more widely regarded as a virtue than today (a preference that continued through Prohibition, when Zinfandel enjoyed a resurgence), the grape and its origins have, until recently, remained something of a mystery.

The specimens first sent to this country hailed from Austria and quickly spread west to California, where the vines thrived. Because of the grape’s ubiquity in the States, vine fanciers had regarded it as the only truly American varietal. Those who wear lab coats, however, were skeptical, eventually applying the subtleties of genetic science to the problem, and light at last was shed upon the murky origins of this feisty grape: An obscure varietal from a remote region of the Dalmatian coast, Crljenak Kastelanski (of which only a handful of vines then remained), turned out to be the forebear.

While the ancestor languishes in Eastern Europe, its progeny flourish in America. Zinfandel holds a particularly special place among the rebels of American winemaking. Such a wild one is Christian Tietje, a former chef from Boston who came out west to pursue a career as a vintner. Along with his wife, Susan Mahler, and partner, Bill Grant, Tietje created Four Vines, a winery based in Paso Robles, California. His culinary training instilled in him a predilection for food-friendly wines, and the intensity of old-vine Zinfandel fit the bill for him.

The Four Vines Old Vine Cuvée 2005 ($14) is a radically fun blend of Zinfandel from Amador, Lodi, Mendocino and Paso Robles, and as such, offers the imbiber an amalgam of this varietal’s various expressions across the state. It is richly dark, full of black plum and blackberry flavors, licorice, mint and sweet smoky oak. This is the ultimate wine for barbecued ribs, pork loin and tri-tip. Try it with all three at once; this succulent wine will stand up.

Four Vines, 805-227-0865, fourvines.com.

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