I judged a book by its cover. I mean…wine by its label. I couldn’t resist that bad-ass wolf staring at me from the center shelf in the wine aisle. Beyond that, it’s named after “The Wolf” himself, Jack London — and I definitely can’t resist a literary nod. So I bought the 2012 Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel expecting nothing more than big bold flavors — I got a little more than I bargained for with this one.

About the Wine: I’m going to combo punch you right now with a little wine-geek/book-nerd action. For those of you who don’t know, Jack London was actually a pioneer of sustainable farming in Sonoma 100 years ago this year. He picked up a few tips and tricks during his travels to Asia and brought those ideas to the Western US. Among one of the things he produced on his infamous Glen Ellen Ranch was — you guessed it — a vineyard. Unfortunately, at that time, his vineyard was not very fruitful, and (super unfortunately) his ranch was ultimately devastated by a huge fire. If you want to read more specific details about his sustainable farming practices, read my previous article all about it.

Ok, fast forward to present day, and Kenwood Vineyards is now the exclusive producer of the former author’s property. The single vineyard Jack London series includes Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah — rich, hearty reds produced in rich, hearty soils infused with prehistoric lava sediment.

The Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel is made from 95% Zinfandel and 5% Syrah grapes from the Jack London Vineyard. It’s been aged 18 months in combination 75% French and 25% American oak barrels. 14.5% ABV.

Flavor Profile: The wine is a deep, dark royal purple in the glass and initial aromas follow that theme. You’ll smell prune-y plums, brambly blackberries and boysenberries, and maybe a hint of earthy spice (like nutmeg). It’s intense, and there’s no denying from look or from smell that this wine is going to be full of flavor. And it is — but something odd happens. The initial taste is a pure acidic bomb — like those fruits you smelled aren’t quite ripe yet and you’re getting all of the sour without the sweet. Whoa. Ok, let it linger, it mellows out a touch, and you’re able to get a bit of the full fruit flavor. But that doesn’t last long — the tannins quickly take over and coat your tongue with pure sticky-wet soil. You may not be able to decide whether or not you like it; this Zin certainly won’t be for everyone’s palate.

I won’t deny that I was a bit put off by my first few sips. Could my little body handle this wine? But, as is my way, I prepped a meal with this wine in mind and, in this case, it was the food that saved the day.

Food Pairing: Because of the strong foretaste of acidity and the strong aftertaste of tannin, you’re going to want something juicy to go with this crazy Zinfandel. Kenwood suggests “tomato sauce dishes as well as grilled fish or steak.” Personally, I wouldn’t go with a tomato sauce, as the acidity may be too much on the tongue and in the belly. I think a fish dish wouldn’t be able to hold up against the boldness of the wine. Maybe a steak dish — but it’d have to be a perfect med-rare cook and have an indulgent jus or beurre rouge slathered all over it; otherwise, an undressed and/or well-done steak accompanied by those tannins would just be dry on dry.

So, my personal recommendation? A juicy burger — I had my favorite Turkey Burger which is minced with herbs and veggies so was able to bring in those missing elements to the wine, yet compliment both the acidity and the tannins perfectly. I would not have been able to drink this wine without that burger. On the other hand, the wine did bring a textural element that I wouldn’t have had with any other wine in my current library.

And now that I’m thinking about it, I would buy this wine again and I’d want to try it with some braised short ribs in a rich BBQ sauce — that sounds amazing! (I think I sense another recipe post in the near future…)

More Info: If you want to learn more about Jack London, check out my Jack London article. If you want to learn more about Kenwood Vineyards and their Jack London series, visit the Kenwood Vineyard website. I found the 2012 Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel at Safeway (Sale Price: $15). Now that I’ve tried this Jack London Zinfandel, I’m eager to try the Cab…I’ll see if I can find it….

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