Napa Zin with a kick: Wine column for Vail readers
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado Zinfandels fall into two categories: smooth, almost sweet, berry and violet flavors, and dark and spicy, with black pepper and berry flavors. Both styles have their place, but the latter makes for more food-friendly wines, and have light tannins and more structure to boot. For this bigger and stronger style, try the 2006 Bear & Lion Old Vine Zinfandel from Napa Valley. Howell Mountain Vineyards produces this Zin, but the law says they cannot put Howell Mountain as the name, since it is also an appellation, or geographical name. Half of the fruit does come from Howell Mountain, but the other half is from the Napa Valley floor. This combination gives the Bear & Lion Zinfandel ripe blackberry and spicy plum flavors and light violet aromas, but this is no sweet wine. Nice earth and iron components give it some edge, and the trademark black pepper hit on the finish shows the mountain vineyard pedigree. Medium-bodied, and nice and dry, the Bear & Lion drinks nicely on its own, but really shines with easy grilled foods, like hamburgers, ribs and spicy brats. This Zin is certainly big enough to pair with a steak, or grilled lamb loin for a real treat.Peter Chow purchased Howell Mountain Vineyards in 2005. The winery was founded in 1988, with the union of vinegrowers Mike Beatty (Beatty Ranch) and Joyce and Jerre Sears (Black Sears Vineyard). The Bear & Lion Zinfandel is a blend of grapes from Beatty Ranch and Black Sears Vineyard, with some valley floor fruit, mainly from the Ballantine Vineyard. The Beatty Ranch, at 1,800 feet in elevation, was planted in the early 1900s. The Black Sears Vineyard, at 2,400 feet, is the highest planted Zin in the Napa Valley. Both vineyards sit above the fog-line, giving the resulting wine the iron/graphite edge and the silky tannins on the finish.Winemaker and general manager Jack Stuart has made wine in Napa Valley for 30 years. The Bear & Lion refer to two animals that visit both Beatty Ranch and Black Sears Vineyard. The 2006 Bear & Lion Old Vine Zinfandel is $27.