by Mike Dunne, Special to the Sacramento Bee
The proprietary name "ratZINger" rang a bell, but not until I turned the bottle around and read the back label did I realize that the wine indeed is named for Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, better known these days as Pope Benedict XVI.
As texters might say, OMG! Who would dare exploit in such a whimsical and commercial way the name of the red-shoed pontif?
That would be Tim Busch, who with his wife Steph owns Trinitas Cellars, a wing of their posh Meritage Resort & Spa at the southern reaches of Napa Valley.
Tim Busch is an Orange County entrepreneur long active in Catholic matters. He donates generously to church programs, he collects religious icons, and when he founded the winery in 2000 he chose the Latin term for "trinity" for his brand, which also produces a white wine called "Psalms" and a rose called "Rose'ary."
The Pope appears delighted with this devotion, including the unorthodox practice of naming a wine for him, says Busch. On pilgrimages to the Vatican, the couple has presented the Pope with bottles of their wines, including the "ratZINger," which received a notable papal blessing. On that occasion, recalls Busch, the Pope paused while taking his leave from an audience of about 100 people to ask an aide to retrieve the bottle, the only gift of several that day that he took to his apartment.
"It's probably still there on a shelf," says Busch, noting that this Pope isn't known to consume much wine.
Maybe he's letting it age, though right now it's a readily agreeable zinfandel, dry and lean, with suggestions of fresh raspberries seasoned with a dash of peppery spice. Though the grapes that went into the "ratZINger" were off Lodi vines more than 100 years old, the wine doesn't display Lodi's frequently chewy tannins, dense weightiness and high alcohol.
That vineyard, incidentally, is at risk. It's both infected with the fungal disease eutypa dieback and faced with potential residential development, notes Busch. If the Pope likes the wine, however, the vineyard just might have a prayer.
Busch is donating all profits from the sale of the wine, an anticipated $50,000, to the Papal Foundation, which funds seminaries, convents and schools in eastern European and Third World countries.
By the numbers: 13.9 percent alcohol, 1,927 cases, $18.
Context: Busch says he wants his winemaker, Kevin Mills, to make wines that can be drunk alone, as aperitifs, and the "ratZINger" has the fruit so it can, though it isn't sweet and plump like many cocktail wines. It also has the structure and persistence to accompany beefy winter stews, short ribs, steaks, and pizzas loaded "with everything."
Availability: Trinitas wines are available at The Market at Pavilions, Nugget Markets and Corti Brothers, but call first to confirm that the "ratZINger" specifically is in stock. The wine also is sold at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, 2545 West Turner Road, Lodi, open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.