If our Wine of the Week, Bluenose 2008 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($25), were an animal, it would be a Spanish bull, one that wins all its fights.
It also makes me think of the 1940s singer Kate Smith, belting out "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain," or Ethel Merman having her way with "Everything's Coming Up Roses."
You get the picture. This wine is powerful and, at 16.5 percent alcohol, a tad pugnacious. It charges ahead fearlessly. From the bold way it fills your mouth on first sip to the warm heat of the lingering finish, this brawny zinfandel takes control of your palate instantly and never lets go.
When it comes to specific flavors, think dark, as in black licorice, dead-ripe blackberries, new black leather warmed by the sun. Within these flavors there are suggestions of dried Bing cherries, milk chocolate, dried tobacco and dark topsoil covered by dried leaves. There's a meaty quality, too, expressed in the wine's big fleshy tannins combined with the hint of leather. It's a wine you can chew, or almost.
So, how do you make a bruiser like this behave at the table? The two easiest ways are with dry-aged, well-marbled beef and with grilled ribs slathered with a classic Oakland-style barbecue sauce without too much heat. Try it with fajitas made with skirt steak and topped with roasted sweet peppers, or with seared rare skirt steak, mashed potatoes and wilted spinach.
Vegetarians should consider creamy polenta with either roasted carrots and parsnips or a rich mushroom ragout.
Beans, especially white beans, are another good way to go. In cooler weather, Tuscan white beans are a great match, as is rebollita, a similar but heartier dish that includes bread, and cassoulet.
Today's recipe is a good bridge between seasons. We're still spending a fair amount of time outside, which makes bruschetta, prepared on an outdoor grill, a good option. The flavors of the grill engage nicely with the wine, the bean puree warms you on a cool night and the spinach, somehow, makes it all sing.
Bruschetta with Cannellini Bean Puree & Spinach
Makes about 4 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
2 cups cooked cannellini or other white beans (see Note below)
-- Kosher salt
-- Black pepper in a mill
10 ounces young spinach leaves, rinsed but not dried (some water should cling to the leaves)
2 to 3 garlic cloves, pressed
4 to 6 thick slices of country-style bread, toasted or grilled
-- Extra virgin olive oil
-- Red pepper flakes, in a jar
Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium saute pan set over medium-low heat, add the minced garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the beans and cook for 5 minutes, using a fork to stir and mash the beans into a pur?. As the beans cook, they may need a splash or two of water so that they don't dry out. The texture should be smooth and creamy. Taste the beans, season with salt and pepper, remove from the heat, cover and keep hot.
Working quickly, pour the remaining tablespoon of olive oil into a wok or large saute pan, add the spinach and the pressed garlic and cook over high heat until the spinach wilts, about 2 minutes. Use tongs to turn the spinach as it cooks. Remove from the stove.