Zinfandel can be considered the illegitimate child of the wine grape family. No one knows for sure where it originated.

It probably arrived in California in the 1850s, and because of its hardiness, became widely planted. Its fate during those times was to serve as a coloring agent for other red wines or to be blended with a  number of red grapes into the famous, popular and very affordable American Burgundy.

It was later that vintners rediscovered this grape and began to apply it to better wines. Just as the variety was beginning to make itself known, Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery did some experimenting with the grape and came up with white or blush zinfandel, which then swept the country and resulted in another setback for the traditionally made red zinfandels.
 
One producer, Ravenswood Winery, stuck to its guns and continued to make classically styled zinfandels. Today, Ravenswood concentrates most of its efforts on making fine zinfandel wines. The winery has just released its county series, which features grapes drawn from specific grape-growing areas. This series is a grand testing experience, as one is able to taste the differences in zinfandel grapes grown in some of the top districts in California. These wines are not only excellent but provide a great education for the avid wine lover.
The grapes that they have chosen to make their wines come from vines that are at least 35 years old. These geriatric vines produce fewer and smaller grapes than their juvenile counterparts, but the grapes they do produce are more intense than those from younger vines and result in wines with prominent aroma and flavor characteristics.
 
Ravenswood 2010 Napa County Old Vine Zinfandel ($16)
The Napa Valley is the most famous grape-growing district in California and probably the most famous in the entire world. Grapes from the Napa Valley are sought after by winemakers because of the nuances imparted to the wine by its location.

There is a section of the Napa Valley called the Rutherford Bench, which has achieved its notoriety not only for the grapes grown there but for the earthy flavor they impart to the finished wine.

This earthy element, along with all of the other nuances derived from its Napa Valley birthplace, can be found in the Ravenswood 2010 Napa County Old Vine Zinfandel. The dark, ruby-colored wine demonstrates almost explosive blackberry and black cherry aromas and flavors and ends in a finish of spice, cocoa and oak. This is not a wine to miss.
 
Ravenswood 2009 Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel ($16)
Ravenswood is one of those serious winemakers that take immense pride in what they make. The results are here for the tasting, and they are superb.

The Sonoma selection has a rich, ripe berry aroma and is resplendent with the flavors of blueberry, plum and black cherry - with a hint of cinnamon and vanilla in the finish. This is a wine that can easily compete with the top red wines of the world.

This zinfandel is the perfect accompaniment to almost any meat dish. It is also definitely the king of the backyard barbecue, where it can beautifully accompany anything that comes off of the grill.
 
Ravenswood 2009 Lodi County Old Vine Zinfandel ($16)
The warmer climate of the Lodi grape-growing district tends to produce fruit that is higher in sugar and fruit flavor but lower in fruit acid. Because of this, the grapes, and therefore the wines, develop strong and very noticeable flavors and aromas.

Wines made from Lodi zinfandel grapes are often referred to as jammy by winemakers because of their jam-like fruity flavor. Unlike jam, this wine is dry and proudly displays the aroma of dried currants. Spice in abundance is backed up by a suggestion of plum and wild berry. The finish is also very fruity and above all, long lasting.

Nixa resident Bennet Bodenstein is a wine columnist and helps manage ArticlesOnWine.com with his wife, Sheila. He can be reached at frojhe@suddenlink.net.