During a recent visit to the North Carolina mountains, my wife and I were lucky enough to be part of a small dinner party with friends who make their living in the food and wine industry.
It was one of those evenings, full of laughter and great stories, with a wonderful meal accompanied by terrific wines that were way beyond my pay grade. Such a gathering of experts in their fields was perhaps common for them, but for us it was rare and special.
Naturally, there was a good deal of conversation about the wines we were drinking: the artisan winemakers and the tiny vineyards in obscure regions of the world, as well as the companies on the West Coast making “knock-your-socks-off” Cabs, Chardonnays and Zins.
As often happens when I’m around, the topic of wine in the $10 range came up; non-industrial, well-made wines that are excellent values. “Oh, you should check out the wines from Bogle Vineyards,” one friend said, while another echoed “I really like their Old Vine Zinfandel.”
I had, of course, seen Bogle around on the shelves. After all, they have nine different wines for sale around New England, so the brand has been hard to miss, but I’d never tried any of their offerings.
I’m partial to Zinfandel. It’s the first single-grape varietal wine I can remember drinking, and well-made Zins are reliable companions for most sturdy-flavored foods, such as blue cheese and grilled meats and poultry. I seize on any excuse to pour a Zin with a meal, a loyalty that often leaves me standing over the grill in single-digit weather.
Although beer fans might disagree, in the warmer months, there’s nothing better than Zinfandel to go with the richness of Boston pork butts graciously roasted over low, smokey hardwood and charcoal fires, the heat slowly rendering the fat, smoke infusing deep flavor, until the meat is pull-apart tender. The berry and pepper flavors of Zinfandel — particularly old vine Zinfandel — are the perfect complement to barbecue’s layers of silky sweetness. Next time you have pulled pork, give it a try.
Old vine Zinfandel, which is made from low-yielding vines that produce grapes with intense flavors, also is an excellent accompaniment to hardy winter stews, chilis and soups, particularly those with Middle Eastern, African and Indian influences.
Bogle, it turns out, makes one of the best old vine Zinfandels I’ve had in this price range. The wine is produced from gnarled 60- to-90-year-old vines in northern California, where Zinfandel was planted by some of the earliest European settlers.
In 1973, Patty and Chris Bogle, who were recently married and in their early 20s, started helping his father, Warren Bogle, plant Petit Sirah and Chenin Blanc grapes on 18 acres in Clarksburg, Calif., south of Sacramento. Initially, they sold the grapes to other producers, but in 1979, they founded their own winery with the hope of making 4,000 cases a year. The company now produces about 2 million cases a year, and sustainably farms 1,700 acres of vines.
Patty and Chris Bogle both died young — he was 45 and she 59 — and three of their children now run the business. Bogle has been known for making high-quality wines at value prices. CEO Warren Bogle II and his siblings have continued that heritage, which they see as their market niche.
The Bogles have the vineyards and the winemaking expertise to create a Cabernet Sauvignon that could sell for $100 a bottle, but that category isn’t tempting them, Warren Bogle II told the Sacramento Bee last year. “I don’t see us coming out with a $50 Bogle wine,” he said. “We want to continue to make a $10 wine that tastes like a $20 wine, or an $18 wine that tastes like a $40 wine.”
One example of the company’s commitment to quality is Bogle’s continued use of oak barrels, while most producers making wine in the $10 range use oak chips to flavor vintages.
In fact, Bogle Vineyards has a fermentation room in its state-of-the-art winery that accommodates 100,000 specially made American oak barrels. The Old Vine Zinfandel spends a year in the barrels, giving the wine “a smooth and supple finish,” the winemaker says on the company’s website.
I’m glad I took the advice of our friends in North Carolina and tried the Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel. It’s a great wine that I will drink to last out the winter and bring on the summer with its pulled pork and other grilled foods.
Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.