Time to start drawing up New Year's resolutions. Near the top of my list, largely because it should be relatively easy to fulfill, is to become reacquainted with the wines of Mendocino County.
Recent evidence suggests something strange is going on up there in wine marketing that deserves a closer look. This isn't exactly breaking news, however. In recent years, Mendocino's vintners have released wines named for a racehorse (Seabiscuit, whose storied career ended in retirement on a Mendocino ranch), a beetle (Lady Bug, for its role in helping control spider mites, aphids and other vineyard pests) and even an election (Recall Red, the California gubernatorial referendum three years ago).
Now come a couple of other creatively named wines to generate buzz. One is the Mendocino Wine Co.'s 2004 Mendocino County Zig Zag Zin Zinfandel ($18). It's a very appealing, nicely constructed zinfandel, with fresh raspberry fruit, a lean but athletic build, and the tingle of spice and the creaminess of oak light and balanced. But what's apt to raise eyebrows is the name "Zig Zag," which even in the color and font of its type suggests the "Zig-Zag" papers that have been used for decades to roll joints made with another Mendocino County agricultural product.
On the wine's back label, however, the company's partners play it straight, saying the name of the wine was inspired by the zig and zag of Mendocino County's mountain roads. There is that, to be sure. What's more, they recommend the wine be enjoyed with grilled steak, cold pizza, good friends and great music, and nothing more.
The other involves two wines of Cole Bailey Vineyards in Mendocino County's Redwood Valley. Both bear the proprietary name Sesquipedalian, pronounced ses-kwi-pi-dey-lee-uhn, which refers to the use of long and ponderous words, generally by "a poser who uses fancy-pants words when simple ones would do," says the winery's own Web site. The labels are full of so much gibberish that the usual purple prose of wine appreciation sounds downright lucid by comparison. Even the corks get into the act, proclaiming in tiny type: "Sure to leave your physiognomy contorting in a paroxysm of orgiastic bliss." I'm not sure of the point or the inspiration, though one of the winery's principals, Jennifer Malloy Anderson, is said to be obsessed with playing online Scrabble.
As to the wines, they're made by one of my favorite winemakers, Jill Davis, known for her devotion to capturing with finesse a varietal's core character. The Cole Bailey Vineyards 2004 Mendocino Sesquipelalian Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) is young and robust, seizing the herbal, green-olive side of the varietal while not ignoring cherry and berry highlights; it's a wine best cellared for three to five years. The Cole Bailey Vineyards 2005 Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc ($18) is lean, dry and fine, its clearcut grassy and fruity flavors not at all undermined by the gentle introduction of oak. I just hope they have some left when I get to Mendocino County next year.