July 10, 2006
World Tri-Tip Cup, Round 3

After a Sunday that included the World Cup finals and an even more tedious "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," we resumed our search for the best wine to accompany California's signature cut of grilled beef: tri-tip.

This was the zinfandel round, four recent releases from the 2004 vintage, representing various appellations.

As a group, the wines were fairly tight - slow to express themselves - but pleasantly lean and relatively modest in alcohol in contrast to many examples of the varietal nowadays. ("Modest" in this sense is 14.5 to 14.9 percent alcohol.)

The best with the fairly assertively seasoned tri-tip - somewhat heavy on the salt, plus peppercorns - was the Artezin 2004 Zinfandel ($15), made with fruit from Mendocino County (58 percent), Sonoma County (25 percent) and Amador County (17 percent). A brand of the Hess Collection in the Napa Valley, the Artezin went well with the tri-tip not so much for its juicy fruit, which it did have, but for its solid structure and its ample weight, all of which danced gracefully with the richness of the beef. On its own, the wine, which includes 6 percent petite sirah, carries a note of white and black pepper to spice up its gentle blackberry and raspberry fruitiness.

A close second in the tasting was the DeLoach Vineyards 2004 Russian River Valley O.F.S. Zinfandel ($30), whose big berry juiciness, spirited spice and zesty acidity provided lively counterpoint to the power of the tri-tip. Be patient with the wine, however; it took forever to open.

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