Content for this column was contributed by members of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association. Each month, Livermore Valley wine country vintners highlight a grape varietal grown in our region. October's featured varietal is zinfandel. One of the oldest and most revered wines, zinfandel is known as a signature grape in California.

"The moderate climate of Livermore Valley is a great place for Zinfandel to thrive," says Karl Wente, a fifth-generation winemaker at Wente Vineyards. "Zinfandel differs from other grapes because of the range of sugar within the individual grapes in a single cluster ... thus the range of flavors and acidity."

The berries of the zinfandel vine ripen unevenly in large, tight clusters, making it tough to decide when to pick. However, many Livermore Valley growers and winemakers enjoy the challenge.

"I love the amazing character and balance produced when you combine the acidity from berries that are slightly underripe, big fruit from those perfectly ripe, and the tremendous depth and concentration of flavors from the more withered berries," says Dick Bartlett, owner of Charles R Vineyards.

"Livermore Valley Zinfandels are rich and soft with bold plum and cherry aromas," adds Bonnie Bartlett. "At Charles R, we add complexity and layers of flavor with barrel aging, which magnifies the fruit and brings out a well-balanced profile of pepper, berry and spice." Rhonda Wood of Wood Family Vineyards admits she has always had a love for Zinfandel. "There is something just wickedly zany about it," says Rhonda. "Zinfandel brings the spirit of California to the glass. It's made in many different styles according to the winemaker and the vineyard. A lighter style Zinfandel will have more raspberry flavors and a later ripening Zinfandel will have more blackberry notes." "Because Zinfandel often has a sweet taste, it goes well with sweet and spicy or sweet and savory foods -- as long as they are not sweeter than the wine," says Meredith Miles, winemaker at Fenestra Winery. "I like to have it with short ribs, glazed BBQ beef or roasted chicken or turkey with winter vegetables." John Concannon, a fourth-generation vintner at Concannon Vineyard, feels that "Zinfandel works with a variety of foods such as grilled sausages and meatballs. It is a great wine to serve for Italian pasta night, working best with tomato/basil based red sauces. It also pairs very nicely with barbecued ribs and is great for sipping while barbecuing."

Visitors will find Zinfandel at many Livermore Valley wineries. To learn more, visit www.LVwine.org or www.discovercaliforniawines.com.

Wine Country Events

  • Cuda Ridge Winemaker Dinner -- 6:30 to 9 p.m. Oct. 10 at El Sacromonte, 2062 First St. in Livermore; www.cudaridgewines.com. The cost is $100. Join Cuda Ridge Wines and El Sacromonte for a four-course winemaker dinner at this Latin-American steakhouse. Reception starts at 6:30 p.m. with dinner at 7. El Sacromonte is taking reservations at 925-371-1173.

  • Sunset at the Ridge -- 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 11 at Eagle Ridge Vineyard, 10017 Tesla Road in Livermore; www.eagleridgevineyard.com. The cost is $10. Join Eagle Ridge Vineyard and the Livermore High School Alumni Association to raise funds for a new score table for the large gym. The table will be used by the basketball, wrestling and volleyball teams. Spanky's will cater the event with food and drinks for purchase. Eagle Ridge wines will also be available for purchase. Don't miss the silent auction!