Tag Archives: zinfandel

Zinfandel. A History

May is National BBQ month, and what better wine to go with BBQ than Zinfandel!  So with that, a little history of Zinfandel

Origin: Croatia
Hot Spot: California, Southern Italy
SynonymsPrimitivo, Plavac Mali

Zinfandel is often touted as the ideal grape for 4th of July BBQs and even Thanksgiving dinner as it is the quintessential “California” grape. So how did a grape variety from Croatia come to be known as the “California Varietal?” Wine grape historians (not their technical name but we’ll call them that) traced the variety back to the 1820s, when it was imported from an Austrian nursery and found a home somewhere on the east coast of the US.  About the time of the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s, Zinfandel found its way to the west coast.  By the late 1800s was the “it” grape, partly due to its productivity and sturdy constitution. Even during prohibition, Zinfandel remained popular for home winemakers, which is one reason you see such very old Zinfandel vines.

In the 1960s, researchers recognized that Zinfandel and Primitivo contained the same “grape” DNA. Then in 2001, researchers did some “fingerprinting” on a few old vines in Croatia. Turns out that Zinfandel is a version of an ancient grape called “Crljenak Kaštelanski.”  And yet, it is still known as the classic California grape. You may see some plantings in Australia and even Europe, but for the most part, Zinfandel has stayed true to its California base.

And what about White Zinfandel? Zinfandel is a red grape – always has been – but in the 1960s and 70s, Americans preferred white wine. So in 1972, Bob Trinchero launched what turned out to be one of the largest successes in the wine business. Using free run Zinfandel juice, with a little added sweetness and occasionally some more aromatic white varieties, White Zinfandel skyrocketed in popularity and sales.  The craze for this slightly sweet, lightly pink wine brought awareness to Zinfandel, even the original red kind. Advocates of the grape began to protect the vineyards, particularly the old vines from before prohibition.

Defining Traits: Big, bold, jammy, spicy, brambly
Depending on where it is grown, the age of the vines, and the methods of the winemaker, Zinfandel can vary in its flavor profile. It’s a sturdy grape, so its rare to find a “light-bodied” Zinfandel, but you’ll find a range of styles, from elegant to spicy to brawny to jammy. Typical characteristics include spice, jam, all sort of wild berry flavors, pepper, leather and sometimes a bit of oak notes.

So we raise or glass to the American grape from Croatia – To Zinfandel!

Tailgate Sipping

I admit, in my college days at an ACC school, I never drank wine at a tailgate. It wasn’t

An Auburn tailgate hosted by my cousin. The AU Pinterest board named it “Best Tailgate” last weekend!

even an option. My red solo cup was a watered down mix of bourbon and coke, just like everyone else. Now that I’m older, and more mature (I hope), I find that wine and football are a great match. Especially with all the fun tailgate foods that go with it. Some general wine tips on matching up vino and tailgates:

Screw cap wines – Grabbing a glass of wine should be easy, especially if you’re in a true tailgate situation parking lot. No need to dig out a corkscrew – plenty of delicious, refreshing, excellent value wine with screw cap closures around, perfect for the plastic cup in your hand.

Bubbly – A chilled bottle of bubbly is a perfect treat in early tailgate season, when the weather is still warm. I am particularly drawn to its ability to pair with anything salty, like all the chips and dip available. Cava is a delicious wine for the price, and we’re big fans of Jaume Serra Cristalino.

Albarino-  Crisp and clean, Albarino will go with any grilled seafood or seafood dip at the party. Favorites include the Burgans Albarino (great value at $14) and the Bodegas Fillaboa (also about $14).

Malbec – Step it up for the meat on the tailgate menu. Malbec is spicy and jammy, a great match for a mix of sweet and spicy foods. Easy to drink and many a great value. Check out Crios de Susana Balbo Malbec and Apaltagua Malbec.

Zinfandel – Zin is an all-season wine. Great in summer, ideal on the Thanksgiving table, and a perfect pick for a tailgate. Delicious to drink on its own well into the 3rd and 4th quarters. Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel is a definite favorite, though Bogle Old Vines Zinfandel is probably my favorite value.

No matter what you pick for your tailgates – beer, bourbon or wine – enjoy that general football season warmth – fall weather rolling in, funny-looking mascots, screaming at the television when you have absolutely no control of the outcome… Happy Tailgate Season!

The Zinfandel Grape

With #ZinFest by #ZAP fast approaching, I thought it appropriate to define the grape that we shall all celebrate this weekend: Zinfandel.

Zinfandel is known as the”California” grape, but is it? Eh, not really. When it comes to the US and to the New World of winemaking in general, Zinfandel is definitely a California grape. However, DNA testing (yes, they do this on grapes) has traced the origin of Zinfandel back to the Croatian variety, Crljenak Kaštelanski (I can’t pronounce it either). It is also the genetically identical to Primitivo, a grape variety grown in Southern Italy.

Zinfandel first found its way to California in the mid-1800s, and since then, has made a name for itself making big, fruit-forward wines, ranging in flavors and structure depending on where it is grown. It can be super intense and fruit forward, like blueberry jam rolling off the tongue, or it can be structured and spicy, like brambly raspberries off the vine. It is, in fact, a red grape, though in the 1980s you found it much more often in the pink form, known as “White Zinfandel.” The grape increases in flavor and intensity as the vines age and old-vine Zinfandels are quite unique and sought after.

Need more Zinfandel education? Get yourself to the Saturday Grand Tasting at the ZAP festival. We promise your head will be filled with more Zin knowledge, and your teeth will be stained purple.

Cheers!

ZAP 2011

Went to the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) grand tasting two weekends ago. This is the huge Zinfandel tasting that takes up 2 whole buildings in San Francisco's Fort Mason every year. Now this is an event which draws thousands of people and it can be a bit of a madhouse. There are so many producers showing that it can be hard to get a handle on which to taste. My strategy was to hit some of the ones I have liked in the past, yet try to taste some new ones as well. I tend to like the Russian River Valley and Mendocino and Napa Zins, along with the more restrained Dry Creek Valley producers. The reason is I like wines that have some acidity and balance to the fruit.

So I spent 4 hours there and here are some highlights, I won't bother describing the low points. From the wineries whom I am already familiar, I loved the whole Ridge lineup, in this case all 2009 Barrel samples. They were all good, but what really popped to me  was the Paganni Ranch, really fantastic. The fruit for that wine had a super zingy and blast of red fruits, but balanced.  Moving on to Ravenswood, I loved the barrel samples of the Old Hill and Teldeschi (year after year my favorites), these are cellar zins, which need a few years to combine the rather firm structure and loveley elegant and powerful fruit. On to Hartford where the Jolene's and Highwire were literally jumping out of the glass with their textbook Russian River character. Here we have high acidity and very vibrant brambly red fruits and spices. Over at Deloach the OFS was sprightly and again full of the RRV fruit I love so much, sadly they were not showing many of their smaller lot zins. Novy was  showing some gorgeous easy to drink wine. A producer whom I have never tasted before, Gamba really excited me with big yet balanced and wonderful wines. Seghesio as usual had some big boned yet wonderful wines. For me the Cortina and Home Ranch really rocked.  From Napa I loved the almost Claret like Chateau Montelena. Easton another producer whom I like showed a wonderful Shenandoah wine, and Claudia Springs rocked my world with all their lineup.  Another new to me producer was Bedrock, who had a wonderful wine and Gundlach Bundschu was showing some fine form as well.

Anyhow, there were actually many more who I enjoyed, and it seemed to me that many producers were pulling back from some of the port-like monsters.. although there were still many of these producers and they have many fans, just not me. I really feel that people who don't look that deeply into the world of zin are missing something, because they can be such joyful and exhuberant wines. Zap was great.

Zinfandel Fun Facts

As we are gearing up for BBQ season, I wanted to share some very cool facts about one of my favorite BBQ wines – Zinfandel.

 


- Though most often associated with California, Zinfandel is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grape, Crljenak Kaštelanski (don't ask me how to pronounce it) as well as Primitivo, a grape grown in Southern Italy.
- White Zinfandel, while made with the Zinfandel grape, is very different that the red wine. It is a blush, semi-sweet wine, made by removing the juice from the skins during fermentation and typically adding sugar.
- "Old vine" Zinfandel is particularly sought after as it intensifies the fruit and spice flavors of the grape.
- During prohibition, Zinfandel was popular among home winemakers and for making sacramental wine. Though it's proclivity to rot made it less popular for sending to the East Coast and it's popularity was local.
- Zinfandel is a sun-loving grape and can become very ripe on the vine, which, in turn, can lead to high alcohol levels.

 

The mix of sweet fruit and spice makes Zinfandel a perfect bottle for anything on the grill. We think, at least. So enjoy!