Tag Archives: zinfandel

The Wayward Zin has come home…

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What did Zinfandel really want to be? Before the late 1960’s, California was all about cheap dessert wines- White Port, Tokay, Sauternes (skid road sweet wines). Only a handful of producers made varietal wines and they were largely limited to Chardonnay (then called Pinot Chardonnay) and Cabernet Sauvignon. When the first varietal revolution began in the late 1960’s, Zinfandel was in the mix. Ridge Vineyards produced their first Geyserville in 1966. Then Zinfandel took a strange turn and White Zinfandel, a semi-sweet blush wine took center stage. In the next varietal revolution (circa 1973), Zinfandel regained its position as an ultra-premium varietal and high quality producers introduced some of America’s greatest Zinfandels ever. The class of 1973 was remarkable and clearly put the varietal on the map. But its place in the world marketplace was met with mixed results. Old World fans and many in the restaurant trade decried the high alcohol of the wines (pushing 16%) and the world returned to the tried and true: Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. These were classic red wine varietals that would never become high octane monsters. Zinfandel was pushing its power and ripeness and bringing in a little heat along with it.

At the most recent ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) week, this past January, the organization put on the Zinfandel Experience to show the world Zinfandel as it is today and where it is going in the future. I participated in a trade/media and consumer event at ZAP, tasted over 120 wines (many more than once), spoke with vintners and consumers. The playing field has changed. The wines, though high in alcohol, were balanced and delicious. Vintners were passionate about producing wines that tasted great and were true to their AVA’s (American Viticultural Area). Upscale consumers were excited and enjoying the wines. On the trade/media panel I commented that alcohol should not influence you either way on how you will or not like a wine, it is all about balance and how it tastes. As I talked with the public, they were passionate, coherent and thrilled at the state of Zinfandel today.

I enjoyed so many wines at the tastings. Here are three in my top group that are available at Wine.com. The easy and super-rich ’12 Cline Ancient Vines is a perfect match with grilled pork ribs – but make sure the sauce is not too spicy. The sophisticated and red-fruited ’12 Ravenswood Dickerson calls for oven baked roast pork, with a savory red wine reduction sauce. The classic and brambly ’12 Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine will pair well with a rosemary-accented leg of lamb. It is time to recognize that Zinfandel has come home and is waiting to pair with a fine meal with family and friends.

Kicking off California Wine Month with Zin!

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Though Zinfandel is often called the “California grape,” its origins are slightly further away. Where is origin of Zinfandel? In 2000, Carole Meredith, co-proprietor of Lagier-Meredith and American grape geneticist, published findings that suggested Croatia was the origin of this varietal.  Before this, many in the industry believed Zinfandel was possibly a descendant of Primitivo, the Southern Italian grape. It’s true that Zinfandel and Primitivo are related, but they are both clones of Crljenak,  a native variety of Croatia.

Zinfandel has become “California’s own.” Since the early 1970’s the state’s wineries have produced some of the world’s finest red wines from our beloved Zinfandel. While the research continues, it is clear that California producers have made a stake in the Zinfandel sweepstakes. Whether it is called Primitivo or Crljenak Kaštelanski, California Zinfandel is the prize that is finding itself more often at the dinner table.

“The name Zinfandel was first used in 1832 and established a separate identity for the grape and one unique to America.” (Source: Zinfandel, Producers and Advocates, April 2002). It was not until the early 1970’s that Zinfandel emerged to become the superstar varietal that it is today. Ushered into the limelight by the 1968 Sutter Home Deaver Ranch, a flood of marquee players from the outstanding class of 1973 Chateau Montelena, Ridge Geyserville, Dry Creek Vineyard and others changed the varietal’s place in history forever. Zinfandel was now becoming one of the prizes on the runway.

I drink Zin all the time. My favorite match is pairing it with grilled pork chops. Pork tenderloin with a wine sauce reduction has been one another go to combination. But the ever popular grilled steak with fries works well too. Celebrate 10th Annual California Wine Month and pop the cork on the delicious 2012 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel. The golden state, family and friends will be happy you did.

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!