Lots of people send me letters wondering what the next step on the learning curve of wine appreciation is. What, they ask, should I do after I've figured out what styles of wines I like? Look no further, my Purple Passionates: A fun and educational experience is to compare the same grape from the same winery from the same vintage from two different vineyards. What'll you discover? That factors like a vineyard's exposure to sun, amount of rainfall, and type of soil all add perceivable components to a wine's aroma and flavor. The French have a word (of course) for this combination of factors: terroir (pronounced tehr-WAHR). Next time you visit your favorite wine shack, ask a salesperson to set you up with a two-wine taste test. Or just go to Esquin (Fourth and Lander, 682-7374) and buy the two wines below. I did, and I'm a better person for it.
The original Zin
One of my favorite wines is Zinfandel, these days grown almost exclusively in California. Don't confuse this with White Zinfandel, a made-for-novices, semi-sweet wine created to solve a marketing problem (see next week's column). No, red Zinfandel at its best is hugely flavorful and typically earthier and more peppery than Cab or Merlot. One of the top Zin producers is Ravenswood, located in California's Sonoma Valley. And, in any given vintage, they'll offer several vineyard-designated wines (one that lists a specific vineyard name on the bottle) made from Zinfandel grapes. Two to look for: The '97 Ravenswood Barricia Vineyard Zinfandel delivers gobs of red plum and blackberry flavors with an intriguingly spicy edge to it, while the '97 Ravenswood Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel dances on the strawberry and raspberry side of the spectrum. Each offers moderate tannins, full-tilt flavors, and is about 30 bucks—pricey, but those are the wages of Zin. (Note: If Esquin is out of these, try Zins from two other Ravenswood vineyards.)