It's one thing to taste wine in my tiny New York apartment, and it's quite another thing to taste it at top of a hill in Sonoma, looking down at the vineyards where the grapes for my glassful were grown. Standing upon the red volcanic soils of the Monte Rosso vineyard, where wine grapes have grown since the 1880s, a glass of wine seems more alive, part of a cycle of seasons of growth and harvest. It's easy, in Manhattan, to lose sight of where wine comes from, but here, it's hard to forget it.
I'm on a press trip in Napa and Sonoma this week checking out the harvest at Louis M. Martini and seeing firsthand how they make wine. (Tough life, I know.) There are plenty of excellent sips and bites to be had, but standing at the top of Monte Rosso in the blazing afternoon sun, the success of the pairing we tried took me by surprise.
Though I'm supposedly here to focus on Cabernet, Martini's Gnarly Vine Zinfandel has been one of my favorites this week. (Don't confuse it with the super-affordable Gnarly Head wines, though the name is close.) This Monte Rosso wine is earthy and rich with hints spiced baked plums, fragrant cloves, anise, and smoke. It's peppery and has a little blackberry flavor, but it's less jammy than many Zins. (Find the wine here.) It's 70% aged in French barrels, and the rest in American oak. It's a monster wine at nearly 16% alcohol, but it's still remarkably well integrated. Most importantly, it's a wine that tastes like it came from somewhere. And we were standing right there.
Our guide paired the wine with the soft, flavorful beef jerky from Angelo's Smokehouse. It's some of the tastiest jerky I've ever had; moist and intensely meaty, subtly spiced, and easy to chew. I liked both the teriyaki and plain flavors, and several in our group gobbled down the black-pepper dotted one at lightning speed. The jerky was a great partner for the wine, bringing out the spice and earthiness in each sip. The soft, warm fruity notes in the wine beautifully supported the smoke and richness of the beefy bite. I never would have guessed that jerky would be the perfect pairing for a luxury wine, but it really worked.
If you're looking for me, I'll be out hiking, with some nice Zin and beef jerky in my backpack.
Not a Fan of Jerky?
Cheese expert Laura Werlin pointed us toward another nice pairing for this wine. The Sartori Reserve Black Pepper Bellavitano is somewhere between Parmesan and cheddar, with a hint of nutty sweetness and a little crystallization. The light dusting of black pepper on the rind helps to make this a great match for Zinfandel's spicy notes.