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Wine of the Week: Martinelli Vigneto di Evo Russian River Valley Zinfandel

This is a weird time for Zinfandel. Even here in Sonoma County, Shangri-La for fans of California’s heritage grape, when a Zinfandel is plonked onto the tasting room bar, as often as not it’s accompanied by the disclaimer: “This isn’t one of those big, jammy Zinfandels.” Whatever went wrong with big, jammy Zinfandels?

Today’s wine scene is like Aesop’s fable turned upside down. You know the one, about the the fox and the grapes? Long story short: fox fancies making a snack of some grapes dangling from a vine, but since they’re just out of his reach, hates on them. “Aw, they were just sour grapes, anyways,” the fox is reported to have said.

“Aw, forget about it,” says the modern fox, turning tail from some sweet, ripe Zinfandel. “It was probably just one of those jammy, fruit bomb Zins, anyways.”

Might there be just a tad bit too much hand-wringing around the issue of Zinfandel and alcohol levels? You go from 13.5 percent alcohol by volume to 15.5 percent—suddenly, cats are drinking with dogs and all culinary bets are off. Yet that’s the equivalent of less than one full drink per bottle of wine. If you’re going to complain that the last glass got you intoxicated after draining one bottle to you own head, well, that is a moment for self reflection, indeed.

Martinelli Winery & Vineyards 2012 “Vigneto di Evo” Russian River Valley Zinfandel ($30)

Here’s an unapologetic “cocktail wine” boasting an alcohol content of 17.2% by volume. And it’s as jammy as the come. In combination with the toasty notes from oak barrel, the aromatic impression is of toast on jam—a bright strawberry-raspberry jam medley. This wine owns its jam; it doesn’t exist without its jam.

Translucent ruby red in the glass, the wine is more tongue-numbing than hot in the mouth, and the sensation of sweet, liquid jam dries out on a fine mat of tannins at the finish.

Martinelli, which also makes the famed “Jackass Hill” Zinfandel, now makes the Vigneto di Evo from several Zinfandel vineyard that they farm. This might fare better than a delicate Pinot Noir with an entrée like glazed ham—or, skip straight to the cheesecake course.

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