Zinfandel is American: Get used to it!
Encyclopedias have been written on the California wine scene - just make a quick search in cyber space or your local bookstore and you'll see what I mean. I am not about to rewrite the history of wine in California, but what I am going to do is point out a couple of quick facts. California is the largest wine producing state in the country, it is the home of the largest winery in the world and is also responsible for beginning the trend in the New World of naming wines after grapes - as opposed to the French, who name their wine after a geographic location (most of the time).
Now that we've established California as the Mecca of New World Wine, it's time to talk about the one grape that The Golden State can call its own - zinfandel. While studies have now shown that Zinfandel is in fact the Italian Primitivo grape, there is little Primitivo to be found outside Italy's Puglia region. Just like Tempranillo in Spain or Gruner Veltliner in Austria, Zinfandel is for all intents and purposes California's native grape. For all of you techno-wine geeks, you could debate this forever with each new DNA study that comes out, but that's a really lame waste of time in my opinion. Zinfandel is from California - accept it or stop reading!
and I Live in California
Zinfandel has taken a firm hold in the California wine industry because of its ability to produce huge yields. It is the most common black grape variety and can thrive in even the hottest vineyard sites. Zinfandel is the ultimate Rodney Dangerfield (No Respect!) grape because of its association with that awful tasting (sorry ladies) yet highly profitable wine known as White Zinfandel. White Zin is a "pink" wine made from Zinfandel grapes left in contact with the grape's skin for just a short time. Bob Trinchero from Sutter Home Winery started this fad in the early 1970's and made this wine into a HUGE commercial success. Many wineries make the lion's share of their profits from their White Zin sales. The winning formula? Simple: cheap grapes + huge yields + broad California designation (ever heard of a single vineyard White Zin?!) = gigantic money. Too bad you didn't think of that first - you'd have enough cash to fill an Olympic size swimming pool. I'm willing to bet that the majority of White Zinfandel consumers have no idea that Zinfandel is a red grape and capable of making monster wines that can knock your socks off. Don't believe me? Go to a Zinfandel tasting, and see for yourself!
To me, Zinfandel = fun. It is a versatile wine made in several styles ranging from light and fruity to rich and powerful. Typically Zins are high in alcohol, have a fruity nose (often termed brambleberry by corkdorks), have a velvety smooth texture that coats the palate and the best finish long with a blend of spice, fruit and pepper. Some of California's best Zinfandels are from Sonoma County and don't carry (yet) the hefty price tags of Napa's top Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Zinfandel is a classic match with barbecue - drop what you're doing and get yourself to the local barbecue pit (the best I've ever had is The Dinosaur Barbecue in Syracuse and Rochester, NY!) and see for yourself. Most people don't know the power of a real Zin, and that's too bad, because Zinfandel is a true All-American experience and a great wine to have fun with. 1997 has been written up as one of the best vintages for Zinfandel in recent years - look for them! However, a word of caution on the 1998's that are hitting the shelves- the growing season was difficult, and many wines didn't ripen properly, resulting in "green" tasting and dilute wines. There are exceptions to every rule, just be careful and choose a '97 over a '98!
TASTING NOTES - hey, give me a break - I'm not Robert Parker!
Baby Zins - lighter in style, lower in alcohol
1995 Gallo Frei Ranch Zinfandel - Sonoma County, CA: Big, intense, ripe red fruit on nose, light on palate, big tannins with a lingering fruit driven finish. An OK wine, a touch pricey. Look for the '97's.
1997 Clos Du Bois Zinfandel - Sonoma County, CA: Light, fruity nose, medium body and fruity palate, sweet berry fruit on finish. Well balanced, an exceptional value - can be found for just about $10 in most stores. This one was voted "best wine" at a recent blind Zin tasting I attended.
1996 Woodbridge Zinfandel - California: Deep red color, raspberry dominates the nose, sweet fruit on palate with a moderate finish. Simple wine but very pleasing, another great value wine. Woodbridge is a Mondavi owned label .
Monster Zins - these are the big boys, full bodied, rich and high alcohol
1996 Seghesio Old Vines Zinfandel - Sonoma County, CA: Big red fruit on nose, jammy and very smooth in texture, coats the entire palate, beautiful mix of tannins, fruit and spice. Complex and tasty - this is a fabulous wine. '97 should be just as good.
1997 Rombauer El Dorado Zinfandel - Napa Valley, CA: HUGE wine that gets right in your face and almost leaps out of the glass and dares you to take a sip. Loads of rich fruit and pepper - very smooth and complex. An awesome wine from a great producer - worth every penny (retails for about $20) and the search to find it.
1997 St. Francis Zinfandel Sonoma County Old Vines - Sonoma County, CA: Deep purple, almost opaque. Loads of dark fruit on the nose, a massive Zin with 16.1% alcohol. Vanilla, oak and a complex, spice driven finish make this one The Mother Of All Zins!! One of the best wines I've ever had. Consistently ends up on Wine Spectator's "Top 100 Wines of the Year" list (#39 in 1999). Fantastic value at about $20.
That's it - thanks for the visit. Please feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments, questions, and suggestions. Everyone gets a reply! All feedback is welcome and appreciated. Know someone that likes wine? Send 'em the link - I'd love to increase my circulation to double digits! See ya next time from the cellar and remember, wine is more fun than you think...
Gunerman writes "The Brat In The Cellar" twice per month for the Rochester, NY chapter of Wine Brats, found at www.ggw.org/winebrats/. Wine Brats is a national non-profit organization based in California. They are an active group of adult wine enthusiasts who are mostly young in age but absolutely young at heart. Wine Brats enjoy sharing their passion for wine with their peers and take pride in breaking down the cultural walls that for too long have mystified this beautiful beverage. Ultimately, as a non-profit organization, the Brats' purpose is to attract a whole new generation of adults to the wonders of life with wine. For more information, visit the national site at www.winebrats.org/.
Oct. 11, 2000