I know I'm guaranteed a great evening when I'm sharing several bottles of fine wine for some "journalistic research" with friends over dinner.
Courtesy of my very generous sister and brother-in-law, Nancy and Alastair Shore from Wisconsin, six of us local winery owners had the pleasure of discovering whether or not The Lucas Winery's ZinStar can truly handle long-term aging.
The current release of Lucas ZinStar Zinfandel is 2005 ($34.95) - already elderly, compared to the new 2008 Zins from most California wineries now hitting the market. David Lucas and winemaker wife Heather Pyle sacrifice cash flow to purposely hold back new releases for up to four years, building layers of aromas and silkiness in the process.
With six vintages from 1996 through 2001 in their own glasses, we stuck our experienced noses into each, finding nice scents of dark berries, meat, tar, oak and even sweet gherkins.
Each vintage of the vertical was holding up very nicely, with distinct berry fruit flavors of the younger vintages fusing with oak to become indescribable harmonious new complex pencil lead, almost floral flavors in the older vintages.
After forming our first impressions over conversation about the wine industry and kids, we took all bottles to pair with dinner on the back patio. ZinStar yielded its center stage position to become an important accompaniment to marinated barbequed pork tenderloin, an array of delightful cheeses, and, in particular, roasted eggplant in a tomato sauce with fresh tomato, garlic, basil and zucchini, which was my favorite pairing.
We had a hard time picking a unanimous outright winning vintage of the tasting, though I would have to personally single out the 1997 and 1999 as having a particularly good balance between the developing bottle bouquet and the focused fruit. (The 1998 was slightly corked and challenged by the double-whammy El Niño/La Niña growing season, yet we still drank every drop.)
By the end of the night, we not only developed a better understanding of the consistency and age-worthiness of the Zins of David Lucas, but also a deeper understanding of great friends that see each other not often enough.