Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2004 - $13 ($10 on sale)
Barefoot Vineyards Zinfandel (NV) - $6 ($5 on sale)
Even tasting blind it's next to impossible to avoid your preconceived notions. I have always considered the Ravenswood Zinfandels to be reliable go-tos when I am in a rare mood to spend more than $8 for a bottle. Barefoot is relatively new on my radar and I'll admit that I've allowed the $6 price tag to cause me to question its drinkability, but recently some friends opened a bottle (well, three or four actually) for us (see: "My friends, you are lushes...") and I was pleasantly surprised. Still we wondered how it would fare against our old standby, and with both on sale and thereby in line with true cheapskate philosophy, Zin became the grape of the week.
Labels obscured in our fancy bottle tubes (manilla envelopes taped around the bottles) and labeled "A" and "B" (note: this only works if the glass is the same color and the bottle is the same shape, otherwise your best bet is the previously discussed Hobo Tasting with paper or black plastic liquor store bags, which allows you to cover the bottle all the way up to the top of the neck), we commenced the test.
We accompanied the tasting with several cheeses including fontina, mozzerella and aged gruyere.
Wine "A" had a nice deep ruby color and aromas of cherry, spice and oak (and, since nothing is stopping us from getting precious: fresh tobacco). It was medium bodied with a creamy texture and gentle tannins, indicating that it was ripe for the drinking. Cherry dominated the palate, with the tail end suggesting herbs and licorice. Our creamy and slightly pungent fontina tamed the acids and rounded it, while it collapsed under the aged gruyere. Overall we determined that it was the better food wine.
Wine "B" was lighter in color and body, with spice and raspberry aromas in the nose and an earthy and less refined flavor on the tongue. Words we tossed around were "scrappy" and "gritty". It vanished when challenged by everything but the neutral mozzerella. A slight chill might have improved it. Little in the way of character, good for sipping but not necessarily for food. Not bad but it was agreed - this wine just didn't move us.
So which was which? I will tell you that we were 100% convinced that we were correct, and this my friends is where assumptions will steer you wrong. We had even decided that yeah, the $6 was worth the price tag but that there was clearly a difference between what $6 and $13 can get you.
And that is, in fact true. Only in this case, $6 will get you wine "A" - Barefoot Vineyards, bumping it from "moderate" to "excellent" value. The Ravenswood Vintners Blends are made in a similar way as the wines assembled by the negociants of France, which all of a sudden explained its lack of character. Individuality is not the goal of these wines.
My conclusion: You can't always judge a wine by its label. The question is do you have the nerve to show up at that dinner party with a bottle of $6 wine, no matter how many ways you have to justify it? You have to admit, the Ravenswood label is probably one of the coolest around and they are certainly known for making some reliably good wines. This one, though, unfortunately does not cut the mustard against the upstart Barefoot, so my advice is to show up brandishing your skinflint ways without shame.
Good match for: The Barefoot isn't special enough for a fancy meal, but grilled hamburgers, grilled anything with a little bit of spice, pizza and red sauces would be great. The Ravenswood doesn't have the heft you might expect from a zin and is a nice sipper that sort of grows on you but gets hit and can't hit back when faced with food. Stuffed mushrooms and mild cheeses might do ok.
Value: Barefoot: Excellent
Impress your friends: Zinfandel was first marketed in the states by a nursery in Boston, Massachusetts, from there it making its way to California during the gold rush in 1849.