Hooker Zinfandel with pulled pork.
Hooker Zinfandel with pulled pork.

Hooker Blind Side Zinfandel 2010, California

Cost: $17-19

What: Zinfandel is one of my go-to wines that I often try when I am stumped for a food pairing. It usually has enough tannins to stand up to heartier food and enough fruit flavor to match lighter dishes.

The Hooker Zinfandel is a perfect example of the versatility of the wine, and it falls in that under-$20 sweet spot where you can find so many good wines.

Hooker Blindside Zinfandel
Hooker Blindside Zinfandel

This is a nicely complex Zin, inky dark in the glass with plum, blackberry and raspberry aromas. It has a medium body with layers of flavor that include raspberry, citrus, vanilla and some black pepper on the finish.

Ten months aging in French oak (20 percent new) give the wine some tannins, but they are well-integrated with the fresh fruit to create a rich, full mouthfeel. Everything is in perfect harmony.

The blend is 79 percent Zinfandel, 20 percent Petite Sirah and 1 percent Merlot. The winery produced 1,040 cases.

The wine’s label also has a good story behind it. I know what you’re thinking, but get your mind out of the gutter. The wine takes its name from the pivotal hooker position in rugby. The hooker often handles the ball and has to make quick decisions about whether to run, pass or kick it.

The co-owner of the winery and the father of the other owner both played hooker on college teams, so the name of the wine seemed like a natural.

Winery: Betsy and David Lawer founded Lawer Family Wines 10 years ago, creating the Hooker label to honor the sport of rugby. Both David and Betsy’s father played the hooker position in college, David at Duke and Betsy’s father at Stanford.

The winery has several vineyards in Napa and Sonoma. It concentrates on growing and selecting the best grapes, using The Ranch winery for everything from crush to bottling.

There are three other Hooker wines, Breakaway Chardonnay, Old Boys Cabernet Sauvignon and Home Pitch Syrah. Each is named with a rugby term. Blind Side is named for the blind side flanker, a position that requires a combination of speed and strength.

Lawer Family Wines produces wine under the Three Coins and Duck Shack labels.

The winery also offers vacation rentals in the heart of its vineyards in Calistoga in the northern end of Napa Valley.

Goes with: Zinfandel is a versatile wine that I like to pair with American staples because it is a true American wine. So my wife Teri and I had the Hooker Zinfandel with pulled pork from a Boston Butt I had made.

The peppery Zin was perfect with the spicy Mumbo Sauce I prefer as well as the slightly sweet Sticky Fingers Teri likes. The dry wine also cuts through the slight amount of grease you get with the pork. We rounded out the meal with baked potatoes, creamed corn and cut fresh veggies, all of which were just fine with the Zin.

It also would go well with lighter meat on the grill, pizza, pasta with tomato sauce and hard cheeses. The winery recommends a Cioppino made with Alaskan seafood such as halibut, mussels and crab legs, with a sauce that includes red wine.

Cioppino Alaska

Ingredients:
2 medium onion coarsely chopped
1 small fennel bulb (no stalks or fronds) coarsely chopped
5 tsps. of chopped garlic
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsps. fresh thyme leaves
1½ tsp. hot red pepper flakes
3 bay leaves
2 large cans of tomatoes (crushed with juice) (28-oz each)
3 bottles of clam juice
2 cups red wine (the Hooker Zinfandel is perfect!)
2 cups of water
1 pound Alaskan halibut cut into 2-inch chunks
1 pound Katchemak Bay mussels
1 pound of cleaned squid (cut into rings, tentacles left whole)
1 pound of Alaskan King Crab legs (cooked and thawed, if frozen) or fresh shrimp (peeled and deveined)

Instructions

Heat oil in large heavy pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then stir in chopped vegetables, thyme, red-pepper flakes, bay leaves, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Cook over medium heat until vegetables begin to so en, stirring periodically for about 4-6 minutes.

Add can of tomatoes, clam juice, wine and water. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in halibut and mussels and cook, uncovered, for about 4 minutes then add the squid and crab legs (or shrimp) and heat for about 2 more minutes. Fish should be just cooked through and mussels open wide (discard any that remain unopened after 6 minutes). Discard bay leaves and serve.

Serves 8.

Warm sourdough bread is the perfect accompaniment

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