12 February 2009

Rosenblum 2005 Monte Rosso Vineyard zinfandel

This is a beautiful bottle of wine, a conversation starter that puts zinfandel in the age-worthy camp, a big wine with fruit, acid and tannins enough to lay down for a decade, and a perfumed nose so fragrant you don't have to drink it to be satisfied.

We opened this and put a short pour into our glasses and swirled it, dark red and thick, slow legs dripping down the sides like those new Ipod ads. We swirled and smelled and talked. The cleanest, sweetest nose imaginable, not a big, jammy nose so typical of these 15.2% alcohol wines – wow, and breath after breath the nose blew sea-fresh and calm. We circled back to it time and time again, each description closer and further off, no different than the feel of sunshine on our faces on the first sunny day after a snowstorm. We absorb equally the quality of light and the plum blossom perfection of the nose.

A strong trace of tobacco, oily rich and earth, deep berries and a disputation on indulgences, organized religion and the will of God. Such presence for a young bottle of wine! – a clean line of fresh pepper, still clustered and growing on the vine.

A digression: chili peppers, Capsicum frutescens, those hot little red "Thai chili peppers" aren't indigenous to Thailand; their center of diversity is somewhere near present-day Bolivia. They were one of the first fruits brought back to Europe by C. Columbus. In Thai, they are called prik or "pepper," while pepper, Piper nigrum, the tropical climbing vine, is called prik Thai, or "Thai pepper." Thais and the Thai language recognize the primacy of pepper, and they call it their own pepper, whereas the later introduction of chili peppers, a mere three or four hundred years ago, is given the simple moniker "pepper." I wonder if Thai pepper – our black pepper – had a different name before chili peppers were introduced, and Thais had to differentiate between this new pepper, and their own indigenous "Thai pepper." And, while we typically eat dried, crushed peppercorns, our "black pepper," Thais put whole clusters of fresh peppers in a few different dishes, and the flavor bursts out. – This is the clean, pungent pepper profile that washed over our taste buds halfway through the bottle.

Whenever I drink a good zinfandel I feel a billowy lightness underneath the intense, full expression of deep-colored berry fruit; I think it is the harmonious balance of the grape and a winemaker's skill. All that fruit needs something to keep it afloat, and this bottle has clean lines of tannin that keep the fruit from overflowing. And so we talked and drank into the night, a perfect expression of zinfandel. Go, find this bottle, and drink it! Feeling carnivorous? A thick steak with cracked pepper, dripping red from the inside out.

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