It’s winter. It’s cold. The wind is howling. Time for a wine that is anything but wimpy.


          Which means it’s time for a Zinfandel, one of the wine world’s least appreciated reds. Zinfandels not only lack the cachet of the priciest California Cabernets, but are too often overlooked as everyday wines in favor of Merlots. Which is too bad, because Zinfandels (not to be confused with the pinkish, sweetish white Zinfandel) are wonderful food wines that provide terrific value.


          They are dry (often very dry), with spicy, brambly and dark berry flavors that pair with red meats (wintry stews and Beef Burgundies, for instance), barbecue, and spaghetti and meat sauce. Consider the following (and serve at room temperature):


          • Cline Zinfandel 2000 ($9). One of a handful of excellent, popularly priced Zinfandels. The Cline isn’t quite as beefy as more expensive bottles, which makes it a good wine for people unfamiliar with the grape.


          Lake Sonoma Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 1999 ($15). An excellent value, featuring more fruit and less spice than comparably priced wines. It’s heartier than the Cline, but still not overwhelmingly dry.


          • Ridge Coastal 1999 ($19). Ridge is one of the two or three best Zinfandel producers in the world, which makes this about as much a bargain as a $19 wine can be. Technically, it’s not a Zinfandel; it’s a mix of mostly Italian red grapes that is just one-fifth Zinfandel. But this is so tasty, who’s going to quibble about proportions?