Tag Archives: wine blog

Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend Old Vine Zinfandel vs. Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel

Cost: Average price $9

Where buy now: Haskell’s – $7.99

Grapes: Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend: 76% Zin, 15% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane, 3% Syrah

Gnarly Head: 77% Zin, 23% Petite Sirah

Region: California

Vintage: 2010

Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend vs. Gnarly Head

Recently, I’ve received several requests for Zinfandel recommendations. To that I say: get your butt on a plane to San Fran, drive up to Sonoma County and drink yourself stupid with Zin. Actually, wait until early October for three huge reasons. 1.) Fall Crush- harvest season of a new vintage year, 2.) Fewer crowds, 3.) Hardly Strictly Bluegrass [HSB]- a FREE 3-day music festival in Golden Gate Park. Acts such as Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, and The Flatlanders are annual staples, and we’ve seen everyone from Steve Martin to John Prine to Mavis Staples. I cannot tell you how magical this festival is. You never feel you’re in a park with 350,000 others, though they do make it clear that there is no smoking CIGARETTES in the park (read: anything else is A-OK). This is how I fell in love with San Francisco; this is how I fell in love with Zinfandel.

The Zinfandel grape is originally from Croatia and managed to find its way to the US sometime in the mid-1800s. For wine to bear the name “Zinfandel”, 75% or more must be of the Zinfandel grape. I picked up two: Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend and Gnarly Head. Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend is a combo of award winning wines and carefully selected bulk wines, blending four different grapes. Gnarly Head is produced in Lodi, CA, known for its hot & dry climate. The grapes are exposed to more intense sunlight than typical wine grapes, which increases the fruit’s potency. Also, these grapes hail from free-standing 35-80 year old gnarled vines, unlike being grown on a trellis.

Back in Minnesota on a cold Valentine’s Day, I was craving ribs, and my husband didn’t put up a fight. He went to pick ‘em up, so I hit the wine store for Zinfandel [teamwork!].

Ted Cooks Ribs-RibZin 2012
Ted Cooks Ribs-RibZin 2012

Drooling head first, I dove right in to the ribs. We adore the ribs from Ted Cook’s BBQ Hole in South Minneapolis, so we got a full rack with medium sauce. [Yes, a FULL rack- we don’t eff’around!.] Smacking our lips and licking our fingers raw, we alternately sipped each wine to judge how they stood up to BBQ.

Both wines were pleasant. They each have an intense ripe berry aroma, deep ruby hues in color and decent legs [“legs” are judged by how far it seeps down the inside of your glass and refers to alcohol content]. These were both concentrated, flavorful wines with a hint of oak and spice often found in Zin. However, the wines differed in tannin strength and finish. The Ravenswood had a softer finish, a more rounded tannin structure, and a hint of smokiness. The Gnarly Head had more tartness, stronger tannins and a longer finish. It seemed to have a few other characteristics like a toasted oak and peppery spice to it. The stronger finish could hold up to the intensity of the BBQ, and thus paired better.

I suggest pairing the Gnarly Head with BBQ over Ravenswood, but if I was just casually sipping, I may choose the Ravenswood. In truth, I’d buy either one again, but likely gravitate toward the one with the better price. You can’t go wrong either way now, as they are both $7.99 at Haskell’s. Both of these wines are fairly common around town [I also saw Gnarly Head for $7.99 at Costco] so again, choose the one that costs less.

Zinfandel is a peculiar, somewhat polarizing grape. I noticed that West Coast folk seem to have the type of pallet to really dig Zin. I’ve also noticed that wine newbies find it a bit strong and tannic. Keep trying, I say: practice makes perfect! Try picking up 2-3 from the same year around the same price range and start forming your own opinions. Or, hell, zip out to San Francisco (say hello to my cuz Mark and his gal Rach) and shoot up to Sonoma. Just be sure to get a hotel room so you can happily collapse in your Zin-induced coma.



Bodegas San Valero – Manyana

Cost: Average price $6-$7

Where buy now: Haskell’s – $4.99

Grapes: Tempranillo

Region: Carinena, Spain

Vintage: 2010

Bodegas San Valero Manyana

It truly does not get more bang-for-buck than this $4.99 beaut’. Simply put: 100% Tempranillo wine; dark, ruby red in color, with smells of cherries, smoke, maybe a hint of plum. A little fruity, but with a hint of oaky spice, the taste is pleasant and mild. The finish doesn’t last long but, really, who cares? It’s $4.99. (You get an entire 750mL bottle for $4.99.)

If you aren’t a huge wine drinker, pick this up. If you are a huge wine drinker, and you are reading this during liquor store hours, leave now. [Did I mention the $4.99 price tag?] Perhaps it’s just the 2010 vintage, but this sucker goes down easy like a Sunday morning.

This is quite a versatile, medium-bodied red that would go well with typical Minnesota meat and potatoes fare. It would also go well with ribs, pork chops, or tacos. You could enjoy it with some tapas such as olives, almonds and Spanish Serrano ham (Trader Joe’s Serrano would pair nicely on a budget). Or, here’s a great movie snack: a bottle of $4.99 Manyana, a bag of Sweet Potato tortilla chips (on sale at Cub Foods for $2 and change), and mango salsa.

I insisted my husband try this wine immediately after he walked in the door that evening. I’m sure he was thinking “Ah, another cheap wine. Glory.” He took a few sips, and gave me an atypical “what is this?!?!?”. I told him it was $4.99. His next question was “Can we buy a case?” He NEVER asks if we can buy a case. If you didn’t catch this factoid earlier, Manyana Tempranillo costs $4.99.

You are welcome.

Domaine l’Enclos

Cost: Average price $10

Where buy now: Haskell’s – $7.99

Grapes: Blend – Colombard & Ugni Blanc

Region: Gascogne [Gascony], France

Vintage: 2009


Domaine l'Enclos Colombard & Ugni Blanc
Domaine l’Enclos Colombard & Ugni Blanc

While doing some online homework, I noticed Haskell’s had a bitchin’ sale cooking, so I shimmied down to the Downtown MPLS location over lunch hour. New to the store, and staring down a serious list of wines, I felt overwhelmed. Thankfully, my, nay, OUR new BFF Andy approached me. He appeared calm, educated, and ready to lead me into battle.

Then, I shamefully dropped the “B” bomb. Yep, B-L-O-G. I came clean to Andy about The Savvy Lush.com – he was the first liquor store person I’d ever told. As it turns out, when you tell one of “them” you write a wine blog, the floodgates open. He explained how Haskell’s is especially known for French wine. I was there seeking a budget Cali Zin, but “This is good”, I thought- I could learn some about French wine.

He pointed me to a Bordeaux for under $10. I bought it. I inquired about Tempranillos, and he led me to his go-to. I bought it. The white wine I saw online for super awesome sale was out of stock, so I asked him to recommend one. Guess what?

This week’s white hails from Gascogne (or “Gascony” to us Americans), in Southwestern France near Northern Spain. They’re known for “Armagnac”, a brandy named for the region. It is distilled from a wine blend, using Colombard and Ugni Blanc grapes. Andy didn’t have to say more- they make a mild cognac from this! Into the basket it went.

I begrudgingly returned to work, chomping at the bit to get outta there. At 4:58 PM, I raced home. Upon arrival, I tossed the dog out, flung off my shoes and methodically unsheathed each wine from the silky, green Haskell’s tote. I snatched some brie from the fridge (I know, brie should be eaten at room temperature- sue me) and unscrewed the cap, the first poured drops sending tingles where the sun don’t shine. After a quick swirl, it (the wine) started to open up, begging to be sniffed. It popped but in a light, crisp way with an aroma reminding me of lemon, faint lime and grassy scents. I took a measured sip- my nose had not led me astray. This is a dry white wine but is alive with hints of refreshing citrus. I took a bite of brie and then another sip. Wow.


My only regret is that I was home alone. No one to share these remarkable tastes with, nor to stop me from becoming pregnant full of wine and cheese. Words cannot express how much I recommend this wine, and it‘s right cheap right now at Haskell’s ($7.99?!?!?).