I spent more than a dozen years as a record store clerk back when there was such a thing as record stores. I had regular customers whose tastes matched my own and a few who, though our tastes were different, I knew what they liked and could make recommendations that kept them coming back. But there was a constant throughout my illustrious record store career, a query I got so often that it was unremarkable. For this unremarkable query, every customer was rewarded with a most remarkable recording. And, to a one, they all loved it.
The query: “I’m looking to get into jazz. Where should I start?” or “If I were to buy one jazz CD, which one should I buy?” The answer is obvious to anyone remotely into jazz: Miles Davis’ masterpiece, Kind of Blue. It’s impossible not to like this recording. It is as astonishing to the most hardened jazz Nazi as it is curiously wonderful and pleasing to the total jazz newbie.
I say that to say this: if you’ve never had a red wine but are curious and have no idea where to begin, start with a California Zin. They are (for the most part) as pleasing to the most poncey wine ponce as they are a perfect entry point for the wine newbie.
I picked up Challis Lane’s 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel at BevMo as part of their wallet-hugging buy one, get one for a nickel extravaganza. It’s regularly $8.99 a bottle, so you do the math. I like California Zins, and this is a good one. At less than $5 a bottle, it’s a steal. As much of a novice as I am, I feel pretty confident in saying that anyone new to red wines would be fortunate to have this as a tasty, inexpensive introduction to the world of reds. I daresay anyone who knows a thing or two about a thing or two would be delighted by this simple, unpretentious, delicious drink.
I’m still wrapping my head around this whole bouquet thing. I’m trying really hard to train my nostrils to pick out the various fruits and other sundry scents that act as notes in the symphony of The Way A Wine Smells. But aside from the obvious berry and plum which are fairly common, the overwhelming adjectives that come to mind are simple and rustic. Perhaps it’s a trick of the mind that occurs when I read “Old Vine Zinfandel” on the label. But I don’t think so. I have in my head, and this is no joke, a picture of a fire in a hearth. It sounds corny, I know. But it’s honest. And that’s the other sense I’m getting. This is an honest wine.
There is no pretense. It is so wet that I’m tempted to gulp it down. But that would be a disservice to the flavor. It is a genuinely tasty wine all by itself. I’m certain a more clever person could find the ideal food to pair it with, but it doesn’t need it. It stands well enough on its own. I think for $8.99, it’s a bargain. Two bottles for $9.04 is almost criminal.
The history of California’s Old Vine Zinfandels is interesting if you’re into such arcana. But if you just want a good, solid red wine at your table, whether you’re clueless or a certifiable Class A Wine Ponce, you would have a hard time beating the value of Challis Lane’s Old Vine Zin. I’d give it an easy 5/5 stars and suggest it as something that should be on hand at all times.