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30 Second Wine Tasting Tip:
Zinfandel: What's not to like?

The secret to the popularity of Zinfandel may simply be that it is easy to like. At its best, "Zin" offers up big, ripe blackberries and raspberries in an exuberant fruitiness that almost seems sweet.

Reflecting on a glass of Eos 1997 Paso Robles Zinfandel from California over dinner in a restaurant the other night, it occurred to me that Zin is a wine that even people who don't think they like wine can enjoy; yet it's interesting enough to please wine enthusiasts as well.

A big wine with a big personality, it's rarely described as "subtle" or "elegant," but even those of us who tend to favor wines in the European style find it hard to turn down a glass of Zinfandel.

A quick refresher on the grape: It's often called an "American" grape because it's predominantly grown in the United States, but Zin - like many American citizens - traces its roots to the Old World. Historians have found traces of Zinfandel as a table grape grown in the eastern U.S. well before the Civil War; it has been grown in California since Gold Rush days. But it clearly came from Europe, and for a long time, grape scientists believed Zin was a descendant of the Primitivo grape grown in Southern Italy. Further research and DNA studies now suggest that it's the other way around, though, and that Primitivo is probably the descendant of Zinfandel cuttings brought to Italy from the U.S. more than a century ago. DNA testing indicates that Croatia's Plavac Mali is another cousin. It seems likely, though, that the ancestor of Zinfandel originally grew somewhere in the Balkans.

Be that as it may, Zin's fame is spreading. Long available only in the U.S., it's now widely exported, and a number of Australian producers are growing it now with persuasive results.

There's really no wine quite like Zinfandel ... but make sure the wine in your glass is red. "White Zinfandel," a sweet, pink wine made by extracting the juice from Zinfandel grapes while limiting exposure to the color-bearing skins, simply doesn't successfully carry the big, ripe flavors of the real thing.

If you would like to comment on this week's subject, you're welcome to post a message on our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, Or write me at I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll respond to as many as I can and do my best to address specific questions. Please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.

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30 Second Tasting Notes:
An approachable Zinfandel
Burgess Burgess 1998 Russian River Valley Zinfandel ($18.99)
Very dark reddish purple, almost black, with typical Zinfandel aromas of blackberry jam with a slight sappy, stemmy note that's not unpleasant. Big and jammy berrylike fruit is shaped by lemony acidity in the flavor, which is a bit warm at 13.5% alcohol but not as stunningly alcoholic as some bigger Zins. (Sept. 22, 2001)

FOOD MATCH: Zin's natural companion is charcoal-grilled meat, but this fruity example went surprisingly well with a meatless alternative, a summer salad of wheat berries and walnuts in a light tomato vinaigrette, in which the sweet whole-grain flavors seemed to bring up the wine's already forward fruit.


Wine Lovers' Voting Booth:
Is it "rude" to jot tasting notes?
When dining out in formal settings or joining friends who don't share the intensity of our interest in wine, turning from the conversation to jot down detailed tasting notes may seem vaguely "geeky" or even outright rude.

But some of us just can't help it. How about you? Assuming that you normally keep written records of the wines you taste, this week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth asks, "when dining with friends who are not especially interested in wine, do you still take notes?" I hope you'll drop by the Voting Booth,, and let us know where you stand.

Wine Link: Andy's Scribblings
Andy's Scribblings is a weekly wine-and-drink E-mail newsletter in HTML format, offering an array of drink news and information - wine tasting notes, latest retailer offers, new ales, cocktail recipes, website links, competitions and more.

It is based in the UK and concentrates on UK/European retailers, but readership is worldwide. Newly added content includes an American site-watch section. The newsletter is sent out each weekend offering the freshest news and the most comprehensive tasting notes around. Signing up is easy from any page on the Website, Or contact Andrew Barrow by E-mail at

California Wine Club sale!
California Wine Club is "pulling the plug" on all case prices!

Wines up to 67% OFF!
Signature Series Wines up to 45% OFF!
Half, full and mixed cases okay!
Champagnes too!
Last Wine Sale before the Holidays!
The California Wine Club's Wine Sale gives you the chance to sample some of their past club selections! Order for yourself or send a gift.

Wine stock is limited and the wine will go fast. Order early by phone 1-800-777-4443, through the website at or E-mail at

This sale ends this coming Sunday, Sept. 30, and is available to consumers in areas where wine shipping to individuals is legally permitted. All prices are per bottle and F.O.B Ventura, Calif. Call (800) 777-4443 and guarantee your selections!

30 Second Administrivia
This free E-mail publication is distributed to subscribers every Monday, and our daily Wine Advisor Express is E-mailed Tuesday through Friday. Previous editions are archived at

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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

More time for wine?
You don't need to wait for Mondays to read about wine! Drop in any time at the Wine Lovers' Page,, where we add new tasting notes several times each week and frequently expand our selection of wine-appreciation articles, tips and tutorials. If you'd like to talk about wine online with fellow wine enthusiasts around the world, click to our interactive, international Wine Lovers' Discussion Group forums,

Vol. 3, No. 36, Sept. 24, 2001

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