I was fortunate to share a meal with Mike Dashe -- and several of his wines -- some seven or so years ago. A mutual friend arranged the little soiree here in New York City and introduced me to these lovely wines that highlight the luscious fruit of old vine Zinfandel, but manage to avoid the worst excesses that usually accompany the breed: excessive alcohol, over-ripe pruny flavors, and flabbiness.

The fact that these wines show such poise and definition should come as no surprise; Mike learned a thing or two during his stint at Ridge Vineyards, as assistant winemaker to Paul Draper, no less. The wines Mike produces today share much with the famed Ridge Zins. They may no longer be called Zinfandel, but Geyserville and Lytton Springs will always be Zins to me.

What to expect: Zinfandel

Zinfandel is considered America's own great, indigenous grape, even though its origins lay on the Adriatic coast. Planted throughout California and the Pacific Northwest, Zinfandel is at its best in warm regions with cooler temperatures during harvest. The wines can range from off-dry Rosés (White Zinfandel) and light, bistro-styled wines to big, rich powerful wines - even luscious wines for dessert bottlings. The flavors range from plummy to raspberry, although deep blackberry fruit and brambly spice tones are most common.