A wine called Cardinal Zin might be tempting to try just because of its name. Like every wine from California’s Bonny Doon Vineyard, the labeling is playful and alluring and the bottle comes with the metal screw cap that Bonny Doon has championed for the last couple of years and placed atop all its wines.
Oh, and then there’s the wine itself. Cardinal Zin, if you haven’t figured it out by now, is a zinfandel — but not one of those giant, alcoholic California concoctions that tend to define the category and make me worry about dozing off in front of my dinner guests. This one, fortunately, is on the leaner side, weighing in at a mere 14.2 percent alcohol, and has some unusual compexity.
That clearly has something to do with the blend. The 2003 Cardinal Zin is mostly zinfandel, of course, but also has a generous amount of carignane and a dab of sangiovese, which is not surprising given that Bonny Doon is a laboratory for southern French and Italian varieties in California. (The chief scientist, or winemaker, is Randall Grahm, the eclectic and entertaining founder of Bonny Doon.)
At $20, Cardinal Zin isn’t sinfully expensive, nor is it cheap. But it’s one of the more interesting zinfandels you’re likely to find in this price range. I liked its slightly reserved style, in contrast to many zins that are jammy bordering on sweet and not at all subtle on the oak. Cardinal Zin is elegant and bright if a bit young — an hour or so of breathing will bring out the flavors, which will continue to emerge even over the course of a day or two.
The wine is softly tannic with good acidity, which keeps it from feeling heavy. The main flavors are dark cherry and blueberry with notes of spice, earth, minerals and a little citrus, namely orange. Oak does not call attention to itself.
This is one that you can drink with a variety of red-wine dishes, from spicy Latin chicken to meat sauces over pasta to roast pork, lamb and steak. Best of all, it’s a zinfandel that nicely complements a meal instead of being so hefty that it’s all but a meal in itself.
By the way, when opening a screw cap closure, the simplest way is to first twist the wrapper just under the cap, which breaks the seal, making it much easier to unscrew the cap. Let’s also remember that, while the cap elminates the need to jam a cork back in an unfinished bottle, its main contribution is the elimination of any possibility of a wine being spoiled by a tainted cork.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch