Restaurant News & Reviews

What pairs well with zinfandel? Suggestions from local wine experts

Ali Rush Carscaden, owner of 15 Degrees C in Templeton, recommends complementing zinfandel with a cheese plate with nuts and salami.
Ali Rush Carscaden, owner of 15 Degrees C in Templeton, recommends complementing zinfandel with a cheese plate with nuts and salami.

The annual Zinfandel Weekend is set to be uncorked Friday through Sunday, with food and zin pairings showcased at many participating Paso Robles wineries. Here’s a closer look at the varietal, and at what some wine industry locals like to pair with their zinfandels. (For more information about the event, go to

Ali Rush Carscaden

Owner/certified sommelier | 15 Degrees C, Templeton

After working many years in the wine industry, Cal Poly grad Ali Rush Carscaden opened her 15 Degrees C wine shop in 2007. Named for the optimal temperature at which to store wine, the shop recently moved to bigger digs in downtown Templeton.

Are there foods that generally pair well with zinfandels?

“Zinfandel is a unique grape. A lot of people would describe it as ‘big,’ but it isn’t really overall; it has big characteristics.

“To me, zinfandel is big in fruit, which is why it does well in warm climates. ‘Fruit’ in wine has to do with sugar, and zinfandel tends to get very ripe, producing very full and sometimes even dried fruit characteristics.

“ ‘Ripeness’ also has to do with sugar content (the more sugar, the more alcohol), so warm weather zinfandel tends to be bigger and higher in alcohol (15 percent to 18 percent) than most wines.

“Zinfandel tends to have a lot of spice notes as well, including pepper, and those characteristics make it great with certain foods. My favorite pairings are barbecue (Southern-style, slathered in sauce), and slow-braised meats and stews whose hearty textures and flavors both hold up to and contrast with the wine’s bold fruit. Classically, people also pair zinfandel with chocolate, but I truly prefer bold cheeses like an aged blue.”

What are some of the best food-friendly zins from this county? And what characteristics make them food-friendly?

“J Dusi — very well balanced with fruit but maintaining acid and elegance. It is a little more versatile than a lot of zins.

“ZinAlley — old vines and dry farming make it concentrated and complex. This one needs a solid meal, so I think it is a good alternative to a cabernet for those meat lovers.”

What menu items at 15 Degrees C would go best with zin?

“A cheese plate with zin-friendly cheeses, nuts and a little local honey. Our barbecue pork panini would also be a winner.”

15 Degrees C is at 624 S. Main St., Templeton, 434-1554,

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Janell Dusi

Winemaker | J Dusi Wines, Paso Robles

The roots of Janell Dusi’s family date back to the 1920s, and she “was born and raised on the Dusi Vineyard where my grandfather Dante taught me the old-world Italian-style of winemaking.”

“My go-to, hands-down favorite pairing with my zinfandel is a traditional family recipe of polenta and stew. Rich and creamy polenta, topped with taleggio cheese that gets all melted together once you pour the hot beefy stew on top.

“I have both a slightly sweet and a savory pairing for my zinfandel port depending on time of day we are enjoying. Dark chocolate makes the most decadent pairing with the zinfandel port — on the savory side, a nice pungent cheese.”

Frank Nerelli

Winemaker | ZinAlley, Templeton

Frank and Connie Nerelli purchased their ZinAlley acreage from Frank’s uncle, Victor Pesenti, in the early 1970s. Frank represents the third generation of winemakers in his family, following after his father, Aldo Nerelli, and grandfather, Frank Pesenti.

“Osso bucco is my favorite. The gaminess really goes well with my zinfandel, but even wild salmon or lamb shank would be beautiful as well. The zin has acidity and spices that really offset everything nicely.”

Doug Beckett

Vintner | Peachy Canyon Winery, Paso Robles

Peachy Canyon Winery was established by Doug and Nancy Beckett in 1988, with premium zinfandel quickly emerging as the label’s flagship varietal.

“Our favorite is a barbecued flank steak that’s been marinated overnight in a resealable plastic bag, grilled rare, and then sliced into thin strips across the grain. You can also freeze the bag with the steak in the marinade for several months. Thaw completely, and then grill — the marinade really soaks in and is even better!”

Barbecued flank steak marinade

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup soy sauce
  • 6 tablespoons honey (or more, we like it really sweet)
  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 green onions chopped
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed or minced
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