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A Glass Half Full

7 September 2011

When a men’s room flood shorts out a circuit panel and your office building loses power for two days, there’s just one thing to do: Braise some celery and open a half-bottle of Zinfandel.

We slow-braised celery (seriously) with onions, garlic, tomato paste, fresh black olives, red pepper flakes and a hefty dose of olive oil. There’s no denying it’s an unorthodox dish, but it tastes absolutely delicious — hearty, savory and spicy, with a wisp of bitterness underneath. You can find the recipe here.

I reheated some for a light dinner, and I looked around in my collection for something big to pair with it. I found some good candidates, but I was dining alone, and opening a full bottle seemed a bit of a waste. Even I can’t put away an entire bottle. Or, well, it seemed unwise on a weeknight, certainly. Fortunately, I had a half bottle of what turned out to be a delightful 2009 Tin Barn Vineyards Zinfandel.

Zinfandel from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley can hardly be classified as obscure, but half bottles of anything other than dessert wines are still surprisingly rare. Even the largest wine stores tend to have just a corner devoted to them. It’s odd and unfortunate, because half bottles come in quite handy.

I frequently drink alone for this blog, I will freely admit, and it would be ever so much less wasteful to uncork half bottles. Typically, I’ll taste only about 1/3 of a full bottle before calling it a night. I’ll spray a blanket of inert gas on the remainder, which sits undisturbed on my counter or in my fridge for approximately four days, after which time I feel less guilty about pouring it down the drain. A half bottle solves this problem, allowing me to proceed with my important blogging work guilt-free.

I poured some of the Zinfandel, and its ample aromas quickly spread beyond the glass, the jam and wood easily detectable from two feet away. Tighter than I expected, considering its 15.7% alcohol content, this Zinfandel showed excellent focus and, quite surprisingly, some restraint. Wood flavors came first, followed closely by dark, rich fruit. After it had time to breathe, it opened and exhibited powerfully spicy black pepper in the finish. It worked marvelously with the braised celery.

The next time you’re in a large wine shop, see what half bottles they have on hand. Sometimes you’ll find a gem, like this excellent Zinfandel. Half bottles come in quite handy, especially for pairing different wines with different courses. Or if you have a perfectly reasonable, unimpeachably valid reason for drinking alone from time to time.


2009 Tin Barn Vineyards Zinfandel: For once, I’m inclined to agree with the label — it’s an “uncommonly seductive” wine. With a half bottle of it, you can have a perfectly romantic evening all by yourself. Chill 10 minutes in the refrigerator before drinking.

Grade: A-

Find It: You can purchase full bottles of the 2008 from the winery’s website for $27, but the half bottles are a bit harder to come by. I phoned the winery, which informed me that the half bottles were produced almost exclusively for the Wine Blogger Conference. They’re even more obscure than I thought! But your local wine shop will hopefully stock half bottles of something equally tempting.

California, Zinfandel

One Comments to “A Glass Half Full”

  1. That meal with the wine sounded delicious. Inspired me to come home and cook a nice meal for myself tonight! Also love the idea of a 1/2 bottle. Not that I couldn’t drink a whole bottle…over a few days, but a 1/2 would be so much better.

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