What: Zinfandel is a natural summer grilling wine. It seems to go well with just about anything you can put on the grill, and the usual abundance of soft fruits you find in a good zin smooth out the whole meal.
There aren’t many zins better than this lively wine from Frank Family, one of my absolute favorite wineries. It is a beautiful deep red in the glass with aromas of raspberries and vanilla with some herbal notes. On the palate, you get an explosion of fresh blackberries with black pepper. The long finish is round and balanced with more silky blackberry flavors.
Frank Family is especially known for their cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, but their zinfandel is just as good. Winemaker Todd Graff pulls out every bit of flavor for this smooth wine.
It is garnet red in the glass with lush aromas of raspberry and vanilla. There are layers of fresh fruit with some black pepper on the palate. This wine is silky smooth, round and balanced with juicy blackberries on the finish.
The grapes are 86 percent zinfandel and 14 percent petite sirah from throughout Napa Valley. The grapes are from vineyards in Chiles Valley, Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga where Frank Family has long-term relationships with growers.
After fermentation, the wine spends 16 months in 33 percent new French oak barrels and 67 percent in once- and twice-filled French oak barrels.
I like to serve zinfandel at cellar temperature (about 55 degrees). It will warm up quickly in the glass, but won’t be overly warm, which really ruins the flavor of red wine.
Zinfandel is a true American wine, made from grapes that are related to primitivo in Europe, but still an American original. It was first planted in California during the 1850s Gold Rush. It thrives in California and is the third leading variety there.
Winery: Frank Family celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, founded by former president of Disney Studios Rich Frank.
He started visiting the Napa Valley on weekends in the 1980s. Frank loved the area and finally bought the historic Larkmead Winery, which opened in 1884. His partner was Koerner Rombauer, who he bought out in 2007.
The stone building from the original winery is on the Registry of National Historic Places, and is now used for parties and receptions.
The winery has been one of the most popular in California to visit for years, often being voted best in the state in various competitions. It has several tasting rooms and a knowledgeable staff that keeps things fun. The tasting rooms are in a 1930 Craftsman home in Calistoga, with picnic areas outside.
The winery is open daily, but reservations are required Friday-Sunday. It has become a popular spot for picnic lunches.
Winemaker Todd Graff has been with the winery since 2003. He and his staff make a wide range of varietals, including cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, petite sirah, sangiovese, chardonnay and some very good sparkling wines. They get grapes from 450 acres of estate vineyards as well as other vineyards under long-term contracts. Since October 2015 Graff also has been general manager.
Frank’s wife, Leslie, an Emmy-award winning news journalist, also takes an active role in the winery.
He also runs his own entertainment company, Prospect Park, which develops television projects.
Frank Family has received Napa Green certifications for both its vineyards and its winery in the Napa Green Certified Winery and Napa Green Certified Land programs. The program is designed to conserve and improve the quality of the environment through vineyard-specific programs. Certification also means the winery has minimized energy and water use, waste and pollution.
Goes With: We had this wine with Chicago Italian beef, one of my favorite quick meals. It’s quick because all I do is thaw out the beef and gravy and put it on toasted hoagie rolls.
You can’t find Italian beef around here, so I import it from Chicago through Portillo’s, one of the largest hot dog and beef chains in the area. The thinly sliced roast beef takes on a special flavor from the gravy, which is loaded with spices like oregano and red pepper.
Most Chicago beef sandwiches also have thick slices of green pepper that have been cooked in the thin gravy that really is more an “au jus” than a gravy.
A friend of mine from church mentioned the Italian beef the last time I wrote about it, and that reminded me to have it again soon. I could tell by the look on his face that he loved this meal as much as I do.
I served the beef sandwiches with fried potato wedges, a great way to finish off leftover baked potatoes. Just take a baked potato, cut it in wedges (4-6 per potato depending on the size of the potato) and pan fry them in about a quarter inch of oil. I try to get each side of the wedge in the oil until it is lightly browned. They don’t take long to cook; you’re just crisping them up a bit.
Italian beef goes particularly well with this zinfandel because the spiciness of the food balances the spiciness of the wine. I like a nice peppery zin when I’m having this beef, pizza or Italian sausage.