Simply Divine

Liven up the dog days this year with a fruitful red wine as unique as the story behind its name.

Rutherford Ranch’s Rhiannon is a lush ripe blend bursting with the flavors of the orchard and the berry patch. Rutherford has offered this signature blend since 2004, although the mix changes with each vintage; last decade’s ho-hum Cabernet-Merlot meritage has evolved these past two releases into an interesting melding of Barbera and Zinfandel, bolstered by Syrah or Petite Sirah.

The 2010 Rhiannon carries a fresh cherry-berry aroma, followed by flavors of red cherry, raspberry and blackberry, layered with toasted vanilla and plum undertones. A balance of silky tannins and low acidity give it a long, smooth finish. This easy-drinking proprietary blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and Barbera packs plenty of fruit without sweetness.

The 2011 vintage boasts the bright taste of cranberry and boysenberry with French vanilla and toasted oak spice. Petite Sirah dominates the 2011 blend with 10 percent Barbera and 9 percent Zinfandel. Bright acidity accents the fruit as medium tannins linger in the finish.

Pair either of these Rhiannon vintages with everyday summertime grill fare or enjoy as a solo sip. It also pairs well with Italian pastas, sausage, pizza, chili and wild game.

Barbera gives this blend its unique fruit characteristics, complementing the jamminess of Zinfandel. Structure and heft come from the blend base of Syrah or Petite Sirah. Barbera is an ancient Italian grape that produces medium-bodied fruity wines; it takes on rich plum and spice notes after oak barrel aging. The grape was introduced to Central California vineyards in the 1880s as an early effort to improve wine quality in the state.

Rhiannon is one of seven wine labels in the Rutherford Wine Co. portfolio. Headquartered in Napa Valley’s Rutherford District, the company began when brothers Marko and Theo Zaninovich acquired the Round Hill Winery in 2000. The family now sources from a far-flung collection of sustainable vineyards in Napa, Monterey, North and Central Coasts, Lodi and the Central Valley. The New York International Wine Competition named Rutherford “Family-Owned Winery of the Year” in 2012.

The wine’s name is an homage to the Welsh heritage of the Zaninovich family, whose ancestors emigrated from Wales in the late 1800s. Celtic mythology buffs — and Fleetwood Mac fans — know Rhiannon was a goddess who married the human king of Wales. When their infant son was kidnapped by Rhiannon’s rejected suitor, the queen was framed for infanticide and forced to sit at the castle gate wearing a horse collar and carry visitors on her back as she proclaimed her alleged crime. She bore her punishment without complaint for seven years, until her son was found safe and sound. Restored to the throne, Rhiannon forgave her accusers. She remains a symbol of inspiration and steadfastness whose name means “great queen.”