Dining & Drink

Best Kept Secrets

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Searching For Hidden Quality Wines

Every year, our spirits distributors create a closeout catalog full of wine that’s been “aging” in the warehouse.  There’s going to be some swill on the list, but if you look hard enough, you might find something to pour into that fancy goblet you keep lying around for special occasions.  This week, I’ve done my homework and sorted the good from the bad.  So why don’t we dust off a couple bottles and drink to their discovery?

2006 Renwood Zinfandel

As I scanned the list, the name Renwood caught my eye because I’m convinced they can’t make a bad bottle of wine.  The clearance item in question is their 2006 Zinfandel from the Sierra Foothills of California.  The thin soils in this area are a fantastic match for Zinfandel.  In fact, Zinfandel accounts for almost half of the total wine produced in this AVA.  On a historical note, wine grapes were originally introduced here in the 19th century because of the California Gold Rush.  Apparently, the only thing that rivals a lust for gold is a thirst for wine.

Now I know what you’re thinking, there’s a reason this wine is on clearance, right?  Sometimes there’s not an easy explanation for why a product fails to “turn the proverbial head,” but it’s usually because the good news has trouble getting out.  In this particular case, people must have had their eyes closed when they skimmed over the label, or maybe they confused it with their toothless “Uncle Renwood’s” terrible moonshine.  Regardless, I’m happy to report that this wine isn’t the shameful relative “you don’t like to talk about.”  Its portrait can hang on the wall with the rest of its family because it’s a solid buy for $13.  And now the big secret: The clearance price is around $9 retail (for a very limited time).

Tasting Notes: The color and texture is lighter than a lot of Zins you’ll see, but that’s not a bad thing by any means.  Many Zinfandels are too weighty and overly alcoholic, but this one is light to medium in body.  As a result, it pairs wonderfully with food, and it won’t overshadow some of the more delicate dishes.  (I loved it with lemon pepper chicken on rigatoni).  In terms of flavor, the wine is very cherry with a hint of nutmeg.  It doesn’t have a lot of the black pepper spice commonly associated with Zin; instead it finishes with a pleasant roundness.  An easy steal for $9.

Toasted Head

Now, let’s move on to one of my favorite areas of all time, California’s Alexander Valley.  This AVA lies in Sonoma County’s northeastern corner and is one of the only places in Sonoma that gets warm enough for good Cabernet Sauvignon.  (Cab likes it hot!)  The Cabs from this area seem to have more restraint than their Napa cousins, so if you’re in the mood for some serious complexity without the in-your-face attitude, this is the place for you.

The bottle rescued from the distributor dungeon is Toasted Head’s 2006 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  I won’t lie, Toasted Head has never set my world on fire, which is ironic because the label is a fire breathing bear, but this deal was too good to pass up.  As a kid I learned to give bears a wide berth (especially ones of the fire belching persuasion).  However, I’m willing to make an exception for this wonderful Cab.

Both wines are great deals, but if there has to be a victor, it’s Toasted Head.  Normally retailing for around $20, they’re closing her out for around $9 retail.  I assure you, you will almost never see an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon retailing for less than $20.  Ever heard of Jordan ($55-$60) or Silver Oak ($65-$70)?  Both of these wines hail from Alexander Valley and easily earn their respective price tags.

Tasting Notes: This wine’s silky texture is something you won’t find in many Napa Valley Cabernets.  I tasted savory chocolate up front, but the finish reminded me of fresh red bell pepper with a little added spice.  It’s also lighter in body than most Napa Cabs, and therefore, doesn’t demand a steak or cigar accompaniment.

Zachary Ball is the wine manager at Dickson Street Liquor in Fayetteville

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