Wine: Zinfandel is sunshine to go
Zinfandel is California's signature black grape variety and its most versatile.
At one end of the taste spectrum, Zinfandel is capable of producing some of California's ultra-premium quality reds, especially from century-old vines that can deliver richly flavoured wines with deep layers of opulent black fruits, liquorice and leather, infused with sweet spices, clove and nutmeg.
At the other end of the style and price spectrum, Zinfandel has successfully been reinvented as a keenly priced and very friendly off-dry style of rosé, misnamed as "White" Zinfandel.
Zinfandel's food matches are equally versatile. The powerful and rich red style is perfect with dark game and red meats, while the light and fruity off-dry pink "whites" are best when chilled and suit spicy Asian dishes of chicken, herby vegetarian and chili flavoured shellfish.
If the alcohol hovers around 10pc, not all the fructose in the grapes' juice has been fermented dry to alcohol, leaving a little natural sweetness.
Zinfandel -- sunshine to go.
1) Zinfandel 2009 Chateau Montelena, Calistoga, Napa Valley, California 14.5pc
Perfumed with red and black fruits. A friendly embrace of pepper and spice with nutmeg followed by a blackberry trail on the taste buds. Classy, concentrated, delicious. Match with a casserole of smoked ham fillet, white cannellini beans and tomatoes.
€34.50 at McCambridge's, Galway and tindalwine.com
2) White Zinfandel 2012 Rockstone Ridge, California 10.5pc
Aromas of raspberry sauce rippled through vanilla ice cream. Off-dry natural fruitiness of ripe strawberries dusted with icing sugar. Light-bodied and refreshing crisp acidity. Serve chilled with pizza topped with feta cheese and green olives. Anchovies optional.
€4.69 at Aldi nationwide
3) Zinfandel 2010 Beringer Founders' Estate, California 14pc
Silky tannins, crunchy blueberry flavours and plump currants. An elegant Zinfandel with a peppery finish. Try with turkey drumsticks braised in white wine, blunted by cream, caramelised onions and thyme.
€19.99 at Next Door off-licences nationwide; Bradley's, Cork; Redmond's, Ranelagh; Sweeney's, Glasnevin and Jus de Vine, Portmarnock
4) Vintner's Reserve Zinfandel 2010, Kendall-Jackson, Mendocino County, California 14.5pc
Ripe baked blackberry pie aromas. Seductive and black fruits married with paprika and peppery spice. Go with a gamy dark meat -- fried venison escalopes, batted thin with toasted pine nuts, wild mushrooms and a splash of rich Madeira.
€19.99 reduced from €22.99 until January 12 at O'Brien's 32 off-licences nationwide
5) Napa Valley Zinfandel 2010 Napa Cellars, California 15pc
Oozing with jammy black fruity flavours studded with spicy peppercorns. Mulled wine-like, potent and spiced with a warming finish. Match with a juicy peppered sirloin steak.
€19.99, widely available at Superquinn, Next Door off-licences and independent off-licences
6) Sonoma Zinfandel 2011 Seghesio Family Vineyards, Sonoma County, California 15pc
Subdued and brooding earthy aromas. The dark side continues on the palate with an assertive attack of juicy black fruits and black pepper with a cocoa-powder dry finish. High alcohol, but in balance with depth of fruit. Try with smoky corned beef and celeriac mash.
€30.99 at Le Caveau, Kilkenny and Greenacres, Wexford. In Dublin: Avoca Food Market, Monkstown; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock and Red Island Wine, Skerries