SonomaWino: Zin Buddhist

Wine with a view.Let me tell you about my pal Christopher Sawyer, the wine writer and sommelier, who has been something of a vino-mentor to me.

Every Thursday, Sawyer leads a class dubbed Grapes to Glass Wine Education at the Carneros Bistro in Sonoma. The class attracts aspiring oenophiles and winos alike, who not only get to absorb Sawyer’s well-fermented knowledge of the stuff (which runs deeper than most wine caves), but also enjoy healthy-sized tastes of the wines being discussed. For free, or “gracieux,” one might say over the French wine Sawyer occasionally serves despite his fierce loyalty to Sonoma County, particularly its zinfandels. The varietal, which Sawyer enjoys referring to as “California’s sweetheart grape,” was the subject of a recent class.

Not all were pleased.

A pair of visiting Iowans became miffed when they discovered that the wine Sawyer had poured them was red rather than the “white zinfandel,” that they expected. Those of us blessed to live in Northern California, where proper wine flows like a mighty river, might be unfamiliar with the beverage, which is essentially a blush-hued fruit punch scientifically-engineered by Sutter Home to ruin the palates of Midwesterners. In fact, the current iteration of their product is the result of a fermentation accident back in the 70s in which all the yeast died leaving behind excess sugars. You know what killed the yeast? Shame. I remind that this is but one man’s opinion.

When the couple persisted in their shock and dismay, Sawyer seemed poised to conduct an intervention, but politely refrained. The moment was an object lesson in what we will call Zin Buddhism. Sawyer bowed slightly and took a sip of the red wine spinning in his glass: the only thing that might have hampered his own appreciation of it was the patient smile on his lips.

The rest of us followed suit and enjoyed a chewy 2003 Dashe Cellars Dry Creek Valley zin, spruced with notes of amaretto, chocolate and dark berries. (It also has a pull-tab on the back label that yanks off into a calling card with a web address printed on the inside – kudos to their marketing department!). The Moon Mountain 2003 Estate Grown zinfandel was another standout – it’s very curvy with a spit of rust and a hint of cedar. Ditto the Ravenswood 2002 Barricia, a wine likewise with a lot of vavoom. It’s a bonny table wine – make that a dancing-on-tables wine – with notes of blackberries, cinnamon and umph.

Upcoming Grapes to Glass classes with Christopher Sawyer include “Food and Wine Pairings” with food writer Kathleen Hill on July 20 and “Syrah of Shiraz” on July 27. Classes are conducted at the Herb Garden of the Carneros Bistroand Wine Bar, 1325 Broadway, Sonoma. For more information go to or call (707) 931-2042. Free.

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