Friday, April 17, 2009

Organic wine & food matching: Quivira "Wine Creek" Zinfandel & cheeses-to-die-for

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

Eating and Drinking Green Makes Sense

So now we that we have choices between organic and non-organic foods, eco-friendly and non-eco stiletto heels, hybrid and non-hybrid cars, etc., why aren’t most of us making the choice to drink green as well?

I suspect that, on an intellectual level, many of us figure that since wine is an alcoholic drink made from grapes, the organic-ness of a bottle is neither here nor there. The truth is far from that.

If you’ve visited vineyards in California or France, for instance, and looked at an organic vineyard that happens to be next to a non-organic vineyard, the differences are quite visible. Compared to organic vineyards, non-organic or “conventional” vineyards always look lifeless, practically dead: all you see is dirt between the rows, since any growth apart from vines is usually zapped with herbicides. In organic vineyards, you see not only wild grasses, brush and trees in and around the vines, and cover crops of herbs, beans and flowers planted between the rows, but also a landscape that is literally abuzz with activity – ladybugs, bees, wasps and spiders hopping between the leaves, birds all aflutter, and even squirrels and field mice (hence the owl huts normally found around sustainable vineyards) scuttling about.

If the vineyard happens to be cultivated in the even more biodiverse, holistic style called Biodynamic® – which requires at least 10% of a vineyard property to be devoted to forest, wetland, grassland, or as “insectories,” plus integration of active farm life – you’re also likely to see chickens scampering between the vines, sheep or goats munching on grass, and cattle (valued for their compost enriching manure) lowing nearby.

There is more than a world, but a universe of difference between an organic and non-organic vineyard. Between a vineyard cultivated with natural compost, monitored by beneficial insects and animals, and sprayed with teas made from herbs, compared to a vineyard hooked intravaneously to liquid fertilizer drips, zapped with herbicides, and sprayed constantly with insecticides. I know wine contains anesthesizing alcohol, but gee whiz: where would you prefer the grapes going into your wine to come from?

Quivira “Wine Creek Ranch” Zinfandel & cheeses-to-die-for

I’m recommending today’s Organic Wine Match of the Day – the 2006 Quivira Dry Creek Valley Wine Creek Ranch Zinfandel (about $34) – not only because it is 100% Biodynamic® grown and produced, but also because it’s one of the greatest Zinfandels I’ve ever tasted (and I came of Zin drinking age in 1976).

For those of you just getting a handle on biodynamics: Demeter USA actually certifies vineyards and wineries in two separate categories: “Wines Made with Biodynamic® Grapes,” and what they call “Biodynamic® Wine.” Quivira’s Wine Creek Ranch Zinfandel qualifies for the latter because not only is it grown biodynamically, it is also vinified with the highest natural standards: primarily defined by use of natural (rather than cultured) yeasts, zero additives (like sugar, tannin and acid “adjustments,” and bacteria to start malolactic fermentation), and restricted use of sulfites at bottling (for dry wines, less than 100 parts per million).

But the most important thing, however, is always how a Biodynamic® Wine tastes, and Quivira’s is an ultimate Sonoma style Zinfandel: thick as pudding, plump as a Christmas goose, and absolutely teeming with lively, concentrated, nostril tingling raspberry fruit, flooding the palate with an amazingly lithe, velvety texture despite a munificence of tannin and typical big Z alcohol (15.5%). Kudos to Quivira winemaker Steven Canter (pictured right).

Although I normally don’t hesitate to throw the Polish dogs, onion studded burgers or sweet/spicy marinated ribs on the grill when I bring up the bottles of Zin from the bottom floor, an epic bottling like the Wine Creek Ranch almost makes you want to save it for the end of a good meal, when you can show special friends and family how even a wham-bam-thank-you-m’am can shine with some well chosen cheeses.

My first choice? Have you ever had a white truffle specked Boschetto al Tartufo with a perfect Zin? Then you haven’t lived. The springy, sumptuous texture of this blend of sheep and cow milk cheese fills in the grains between a big, tannin laden Zin like the Wine Creek Ranch; while the pungent truffle, which overwhelms almost all other wines, adds complexing notes to the wine’s raspberry liqueur-like aromas.

Second and third choices: also from Italy, a Chili Pepper Pecorino’s subtle spice and grassy sheep’s milk edge brings out the peppery varietal spice almost lost in the lusciousness of a Zinfandel like the Wine Creek Ranch; while the deep, caramelized, well aged Goudas, like the Beemster 18 Year Old or Beemster XO, are some of the few cheeses in the world with the strength to carry a big Zin, and with enough natural sweet, crystal textured qualities to underscore the wine’s penetrating fruitiness.

What the heck, why don’t you go for all three of them, and throw in a fun blue veined cheese (one favorite: Holland’s Moulin Bleu) to complete the spread. Ah, life… ah Zinfandel!
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