Co-owner, Zinfandel, Chicago
As might be expected from the operator of a restaurant named after a grape variety, Drew Goss can tell you a lot about zinfandel. But the essential mystery of the varietal’s origins even he can’t answer.
“Nobody is entirely sure where it came from, even after some DNA testing. The different stylistic range of zinfandels is really broad and not comparable to other European wine styles, like pinot noir is to Burgundies, so it’s a uniquely American wine.”
The range of styles available in zinfandels–from fresh and fruity beaujolais-like wines to those that are more like Rhone wines–allows zinfandel to match well with hearty American food that Zinfandel celebrates, says Goss.
The concept for Zinfandel the restaurant–all-American regional cookery, with a changing menu reflecting such things as barbecue, Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and native American influences–was born from the success of Topolobampo, where partner Rick Bayless explores the regional fare of Mexico. What better name and wine to reflect that, mused Goss, than zinfandel?
As the menu changes monthly, so does the wine list, which allows Goss to scoop up small lots of wines from distributors and wineries. The frequent changes don’t confuse the wait staff, as Drew and Susan run frequent food and wine tastings with the staff.
In fact, Goss leaves much of the wine decisions up to his staff. “We not only have a tasting every other week for the staff, but we sort of audition new wines, and they help me put together the by-the-glass list. It’s run sort of like a democracy, since they are ultimately the people who will sell the wines.”
Value (Under $100 per case)
Shooting Star Syrah, Lake County 1996
Very ripe, intense, smoky and chocolatey with hints of dried orange peel, leather and black tea.
Joseph Phelps, Vin du Mistral “Pastiche,” California, 1995
Rhone-style blend of mourvedré and other varietals that works with the whole menu; dark and rich.
Schuetz Oles Zinfandel, California 1995
Rich, yummy zinfandel fruit with a creamy mouthfeel and a satiny finish–our staff’s favorite.
Ca’ del Solo Big House Red, California 1996
Randall Grahm’s annual blend of exciting red varietals makes for a slurpy quaff.
Mid-Priced ($100-$200 per case)
Andrew Murray Esperance, Santa Barbara County, 1996
Inspired by the wines of Hermitage and Cote Rotié, a blend of syrah, grenache and mouvedré.
Horton Mouvedré, Orange County, Virginia 1996
Wildly overripe with mulberries, jasmine, briar and white pepper; not for the timid wine drinker.
Callaghan Zinfandel, Sonoita, Buena Suerte Vineyard, Arizona 1996
Chianti-like dried cherry and tobacco. Take off your rainbow shades; there is zinfandel in Arizona!
August Briggs Zinfandel, Napa Valley 1996
This future superstar winery makes polished, packed and powerful reds. Balanced and drinking well.
More Expensive ($200-$300 per case)
Fife Charbono, Napa 1995
Dennis Fife’s favorite varietal–dark, inky and packed with leather and wood smoke–big stuff!
Porteuss Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Yakima Valley, Washington 1995
Washington State cabernets are hot–this small producer quietly makes one of the best.
Merryvale Zinfandel, Napa 1994
Only 10 barrels (250 cases) were produced by this cabernet sauvignon powerhouse winery.
Paradigm Zinfandel, Napa Valley 1995
Bourdeaux-style with balanced structure, restrained oak and deliciously ripe fruit.
Grand Occasion (More than $300 per case)
Alban Grenache, Alban Estate Vineyard, Edna Valley 1994
John Alban learned his grenache making from the legendary Chateau Rayas–heady stuff!
Joseph Phelps Insignia, Napa 1994
Home run meritage from visionary Joseph Phelps. Every possible cabernet sauvignon descriptor found here.
Turley Zinfandel, Moore “Earthquake” Vineyard, Napa 1993
Full of exotic spices and very ripe fruit. It proves Turley zinfandels age and become more elegant.
Edmunds St. John Zinfandel, Brandlin Ranch, Napa 1996
Huge old monster zinfandel; rich, peppery and loaded with dead-ripe blackberries.