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Wine of the Week: Rodney Strong 2012 Knotty Vines Zinfandel

Late summer is a freaky time for Zinfandel. Harvest is coming up, and it’s prime time for Zin to go all kinds of haywire. Some grapes in the bunch would like to remain green, while others prefer pink. Some grapes will attain perfect, plump ripeness — and then turn into raisins practically the next day.

We’ve all heard Pinot Noir called “the heartbreak grape” a heartbreaking too many times — forget about it. Zinfandel is the freak-a-do grape.

That’s one reason old-vine Zinfandel has such a good reputation. It’s not just the quality of the wine, but the consistency.

Every year, grapevines take lessons that they’ve learned from the previous vintage, in effect, and apply them to the next. Old vines, having weathered many decades, and with roots sunk deep into the ground, just have a more even-keeled approach to setting a crop and ripening grapes.

Rodney Strong’s 2012 “Knotty Vines” Northern Sonoma Zinfandel ($25) is sourced, in part, from knotty-wooded vines planted in 1904.

This 15-acre Russian River Valley vineyard near the winery is supplemented by vineyards in the Alexander and Dry Creek valleys — hence, the Northern Sonoma appellation.

A textbook Sonoma County Zin, the medium-bodied wine veils its boysenberry fruit, at first, under a toasty haze of sandalwood and carob, revealing its full range of mixed-berry jam when slathered on the palate.

Sweet fruit masks the tannins a bit, so it’s mainly spicy, jammy, and moderately grippy as the finish lingers.

Easy to enjoy with grilled meaty treats on our late summer Sonoma County evenings, cooled by a coastal breeze.

Recipe: Grilled Rib-Eye “Ranchero,” Summer Squash “Calabacitas,” Grilled Scallions, And Warm Tortillas

Recipe by Chef Jeff Mall

Ranchero Sauce:

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes
  • 1⁄2 yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 poblano chiles, seeded and de-ribbed
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and de-ribbed
  • 2 peeled garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 2 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Summer Squash:

  • 2 ears corn, husked
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 Anaheim chile, seeded, de-ribbed, and chopped
  • 2 pounds summer squash, cut into small dice
  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 rib-eye steaks (10 ounces each)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 green onions

1 tablespoon olive oil

Warm flour tortillas for serving

For the ranchero sauce: Preheat the oven to 450°F. In a small dry skillet over medium heat, stir the cumin seeds until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Grind in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes, onion, poblano chiles, bell pepper, and garlic cloves with the olive oil. Spread in a single layer in a roasting pan and bake until the vegetables are blackened in spots, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Transfer the vegetables to a large saucepan. Add the cumin, oregano, and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Working in batches, puree in a blender, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Stir in the red wine vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Serve now, or reheat over low heat. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month. Makes about 1 quart

For the summer squash: In a large pot of boiling water, cook the corn until just tender, 2 minutes; immediately plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and cut the kernels from the cobs.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and chile and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the squash and cook for 2 minutes. Add the corn kernels and cook for 1 minute more. Add the cream, bring to a boil, and cook until cream has thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm, or reheat just before serving.

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill to medium-high. Oil the grill grids. Season the steaks with salt and pepper and grill for 4 to 5 minutes on each side for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate, tent with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, toss the green onions in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill until well marked, about 30 seconds on each side.

Divide the squash among 4 plates. Slice the steaks and fan slices on each plate. Drizzle with the ranchero sauce and top with the green onions. Pass additional sauce and the warm tortillas at the table. Makes 4 main-course servings.

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