Spicing up a chilly autumn night is as easy as opening a bottle of juicy and bold Ravenswood Zinfandel. California Zinfandel was one of the first red wines that I fell in love with and Ravenswood excels at producing gorgeous expressions of this fantastic varietal. Truly a Sonoma icon, Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson's first harvest happened 40 years ago as ravens dramatically taunted him from the trees above as he worked to bring in four tons of grapes before a thunderstorm hit. The fruits of that tremendous labor were the first wines to bear Ravenswood's signature ring of ravens and demonstrate why the winery's credo is "No Wimpy Wines." With luscious flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and vanilla; Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2013 ($15.99) is a great introduction to the Ravenswood style and a tasty match with fall's heartier flavors such as roasts and mushrooms.
Zinfandel is known as a robust and spicy grape but it also can display incredible finesse. Ravenswood's single vineyard wines capture Zinfandel's unique nuances and the diverse terroir of Sonoma. Elegant but not wimpy, Ravenswood Big River Zinfandel from the Alexander Valley is crafted from grapes grown in a century-old vineyard. Vibrant flavors of blackberry, cherry, licorice, and plum are balanced by peppery spice, soft tannins, minerality, and a hint of earthiness. (I tasted 2013 but the 2014 Big River vintage is now available for $37.)