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California Zinfandel and Its Success

California Zinfandel and Its Success


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Zinfandel, it’s no secret that I’ve carried on a long and intimate relationship with you. There is so much you have to offer. Sometimes you're a bit rough and tumble, edgy, even dangerous, while other times you’re coy or playful. But you’re always there for me, with joyous fruit, classic bramble notes and structure, allowing for early consumption, affording a certain modicum of age-worthiness, and pairing well with a broad and diverse range of dishes.

Well, let’s say you’re almost always there for me. For years, in fact, zinfandel and I had a bit of a falling out. When alcohols reach higher than 16 percent, things just don’t go smoothly for zin and me. Yes, it might garner a lot of points, and more than its fair share of attention, but to me zinfandel is, among other things, a hedonist’s wine. And in that light, its first responsibility is to provide pleasure to the drinker. As much as I might be impressed with a massive, dense monster of a zinfandel, in all honesty I don’t find that style pleasurable.

Fortunately for all of us, zinfandel has undergone a renaissance of late; not only have the wines become more expressive of variety and place, but the places themselves have become better appreciated. This is due in large part to the the founders of the Historic Vineyard Society, a nonprofit organization established to promote, protect and preserve the historic vineyards of California. It’s worth checking out their site, and thanking them every chance you get for the work they’re doing in furthering the understanding of how very special these old vineyards are — and how unique the wines they produce can be.

This reassessment of these special vineyards has led many winemakers to a better understanding of the terroir of great plots of old vine zinfandel, and what treasures they are. There is no longer a single model built on the "more is better" philosophy that did considerable damage to the California wine industry over the past two decades (and whose after effects we still endure). In its place has been born an effort to express something unique in each wine. More than even with cabernet, which to my palate remains plagued with a monotony born of a perfect model, zinfandel expresses terroir.

The idea is simple: since many, if not most, of these zinfandel vineyards are in fact field blends to one degree or another, they shouldn’t express themselves in the same way. Yes, there are a group of markers that one specific region might share, but there is no reason adjacent vineyards should taste the same. Freed from trying to capture an ideal — the quintessential Napa Valley zinfandel for example — means that winemakers can be more responsive to and better shepherds of the unique traits that each vineyard affords them.

Click here to learn more about the vintages of Zinfandel in California.

— Gregory Del Piaz, Snooth


21 Amazing Zinfandels to Buy Right Now

America&rsquos quintessential grape variety has a rocky reputation, but here are some standout Zinfandels to look for.

Zinfandel has baggage. All wine does, but with Zinfandel, it’s not uncommon to hear people discuss America’s quintessential grape variety in overly broad terms: super-ripe, overtly fruit-focused, high-octane. 

And while there are certainly plenty of Zins out there that fit that description, the category is far broader than that, with wines of serious nuance, complexity, and stylistic variation.

“Yes, that characterization of Zinfandel as super-ripe, etc. is unfortunate indeed. The reality is far more complex,” said Joel Peterson, the influential “Godfather of Zinfandel” who founded Ravenswood in 1976 and now makes exceptional wines under his new label, Once and Future. “In actuality, Zinfandel has gone [through] a number of style changes in its history. In the �s and early �s, it was considered a solid table wine [and] usually between 12 and 13.5% [alcohol]. It may have been the most consumed red wine in California, frequently in jug. Then,” he said, “late in the 1960s, people discovered uber-ripe Amador wines with alcohols that occasionally approached 17% and were frequently port-like with residual sugar. These wines made a brief splash with the press and the cognoscenti, but they did not age well and created a backlash against this stye of wine, that seems to have stuck to the image of the grape.”

These days, however, California Zinfandel is far more approachable, and the best of them are produced in a style that, according to Peterson, highlights “good fruit and spice without… jammy-ness [and have] lovely acid balance.” He points to producers like Bedrock, Biale, Ridge, his own Once and Future wines, and Storybook Mountain, as exemplifying this shift.

Rebecca Robinson, Executive Director of ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, stressed both the versatility of Zinfandel as well as its ability to convey a sense of terroir with delicious clarity. “Zinfandel does indeed display a wide range of versatility and can be grown throughout the wine regions of California,” she explained. “That’s why Zinfandels from Mendocino County can display distinct raspberry-cherry character, while Amador Zinfandels can feature black pepper and anise. Over the past eight years or so, there has definitely been a return to balance in Zinfandel winemaking. And, of course, there are consumers who embrace the bolder side of Zinfandel.”

For a real sense of Zinfandel’s relationship with a particular terroir, Robinson suggests focusing on single-vineyard bottlings. “ZAP conducted a survey last year, and of the over 1,400 vineyards producing Zinfandel in California, there were 460 single vineyard designates classified. There are also multiple wineries producing single vineyard wines from the same vineyard, demonstrating the quality reputation of these grapes.” 

 Over the course of tasting several dozen Zinfandels for this article, I was struck by the amazing diversity of styles among them all, the excellent value of even the most expressive single-vineyard bottlings, and the ability of my favorites among them to remain balanced and energetic at a broad range of alcohol percentages.

Here are 21 of my favorites, listed alphabetically.

2018 Alquimista Cellars Jessie’s Grove Ancient Vine Zinfandel Lodi ($57)

From vines of more than 130 years old, this is generous, meaty, and spicy, with acid-zipped and concentrated flavors of plums and brambly berries that resolve on a distinctly savory note. Primarily Zinfandel, with Carignane, Flame Tokay, Black Prince, Mission, and Malvasia Bianca.

2017 Andis Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel Sierra Foothills ($45)

The Zin here comes from a vineyard planted in 1869 (way back in the Grant administration!) and drips with spiced cherry and cherry pit, dried oregano, and thyme aromas that transition to a sappy palate that is almost Port-like in its richness and concentration yet about so much more than just ripe fruit: This is savory as well, with licorice and deeply toasted fennel seeds, and plenty of energy to the blackberries, cassis, and blueberries, with hints of vanilla-tinged cookie dough on the finish.

2015 Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves Maple Vineyards Annie’s Block Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley ($55)

The early stages of maturity are just starting to shine through on the nose, with hints of butterscotch, cedar, tobacco, and apricots leading to a palate of sweet fruit, nicely concentrated yet not overwhelming, with cherry pastry crème, graham cracker pie crust, and a mix of mountain berries, cherries, and currants. There’s a hint of rosemary on the finish, as well as the suggestion of orange oils and chocolate-enrobed espresso beans.


Why You Should Start Drinking White Zinfandel

White Zinfandel is the Paris Hilton of wine: cheap, intolerably stupid, yet somehow still fashionable and newsworthy years after her reality show was cancelled.

Like the child of hotel billionaires, this pink vinous equivalent was also an afterthought. In 1972, in an oft-forgotten sliver of Northern California known as Amador County, Sutter Home created their first “White Zinfandel” when they separated some fermenting grape juice from what would become a red Zinfandel wine. The end result was the sickly-sweet, light pink wine known for sending shudders down the spines of most wine lovers and smiles to box-toting grannies and bottle blondes everywhere.

Do I dare pose the question, does White Zinfandel deserve its gag-worthy reputation? Could the Paris Hiltons and Franzias actually have more to offer the world, especially as rosé sales in the United States continue to climb?

This Is The Last Corkscrew You’ll Ever Buy

First, let’s take a look at how White Zin landed at the bottom of wine’s proverbial barrel:
The process used for making White Zinfandel, known as the saignee or bleeding method, has been common both inside and outside of the United States for a long time. Essentially, the process concentrates red wines by removing some of the pink juice and allowing the remaining wine more contact with color-inducing grape skins. Because the process is so easy to perform, it rendered most pink wines convenient accounts receivable for wineries and afterthoughts to winemakers. Not exactly a recipe for quality, quaffable wines.

As demand skyrocketed for inexpensive White Zinfandel after Sutter Home introduced its accidental stunner, wineries realized it was more profitable to use cheap grapes from undesirable locales like the California desert AKA Central Valley instead of utilizing higher quality Napa or Amador fruit. The introduction of bag-in-box packaging in the late ‘70s was another cost eliminator, and another step down for White Zin and its reputation.

Next in the ‘80s, White Zinfandel became the go-to mixer for wine spritzers and bad sangria, and its inherent sweetness–which initially attracted drinkers used to soda or fruity cocktails–made it stand out as a wine designed for underage drinking and tacky blondes instead of adults.

Connoisseurs go farther than simply disliking White Zin–they look down on it the way a Pulitzer Prize-winning chemist looks at Paris when she says “That’s hot,” and knows she’s never used a thermometer.

But in many ways, the sweet pink plonk doesn’t deserve such a bad rap since, it could be argued, it was the gateway to America’s current rosé renaissance. As of 2014, rosé imports were up for the 9th straight year, and American rosé is starting to match or dominate imports on wine store shelves.

Partly, the rise comes from producers targeting the “snobs” or “connoisseurs” who so powerfully shun White Zinfandel in favor of dry rosés. These vintners started growing grapes specifically for rosé wines in the early ‘90s, usually picking them earlier to retain refreshing levels of acid and the bright fruit flavors that come from red grapes.

Yet despite the rise in rosé consumption, White Zin still has a huge stigma, and many Zinfandel rosés–dry or otherwise–have simply been labeled rosé or vin gris to avoid alienating consumers. ‘

But now, as temperatures rise and a new vintage of rosés flood the market, those same folks who would only use Sutter Home bottles as bowling pins are diving into the ‘White Zinfandel’ game wholeheartedly. California’s iconic Turley Wine Cellars was one of the first to start taking White Zinfandel back from its sweet reputation in 2011. Since then, Turley has produced a beautiful wine from Napa Valley grapes that’s still surprisingly affordable ($22). The 2011 sold out in two hours, despite its “White Zin” label, and subsequent vintages have sold nearly as quickly. The 2014 White Zinfandel is bright and fruity on the nose with great strawberry tones, and completely dry. As winemaker Tegan Passalaqua says, “It’s what the French simply call rosé.”

Similarly, Berkeley’s Broc Cellars, produces a dry, bright crimson rosé with fruit from Sonoma that also places “White Zinfandel” squarely on the label ($24).

It’s with that attitude that American winemakers are taking a serious bite into the rosé business, traditionally dominated by bulk producers and Provence. With White Zin still accounting for 10% of all wine in America as of 2006, I’d wager a decent slice of their success comes not in spite of White Zinfandel, but because of it and the renaissance it created.


Sonoma California Wine Tours For Zinfandel Lovers

When it comes to Zinfandel, Americans are just plain crazy about both the red and white versions, making it the third most crushed grape varietal in the U.S., right behind Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. When it comes to growing and bottling zins, California is king, so whether you love a nice refreshing glass of slightly sweet White Zinfandel on a hot summer day, or you prefer the intensely fruity, spicy red versions there’s something for everyone in California. With good weather all year long, anytime of the year is a good time to tour some of the best places in the world for growing this American favorite.

Originally an obscure Croatian grape varietal, Zinfandel came to America early in the 19th century. It’s grown in many of California’s grape growing regions from the Cucamonga Valley in the far south to the northern border with Oregon. From any major California city, you can be enjoying a Zinfandel experience in wine country in no time.

Although the Zinfandel grape has been around for a long time, White Zinfandel didn’t come into existence until the 1970s. Sutter Home Family Vineyard in Napa Valley is widely credited with creating what became known as “blush wine” when they made a rosé of Zinfandel but stopped fermentation a bit early to ensure it had a touch of residual sugar. Today, inexpensive white zin far outsells its pricier red counterparts and tends to be produced by large wineries like Beringer and Sutter Home.

When it comes to red zins, there are a wide range of styles, quality and price. They tend to have high alcohol content and when very ripe, make good desert wines with a flavor profile somewhat like Port. Three of the top California regions for red zins are Amador County in the Sierra Foothills, Sonoma County and Paso Robles.

Amador County is the ideal spot to spend a few days checking out California Gold Rush country and sipping hearty red zins, while still only an hour away from the city of Sacramento. Tasting rooms here are mostly small family businesses where you can often talk to the winemaker, pet the family dog and enjoy a picnic lunch. And yes, you can still pan for gold and see traces of the rustic Wild West atmosphere that inspired writers like Mark Twain.

In Sonoma County there are many good micro-climates for Zinfandel including the Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile areas. Make the town of Healdsburg your starting point for a driving tour of numerous outstanding zin producers. If fine-dining is on your agenda this is also the perfect destination to experience some of northern California’s best cuisine.

If your California vacation plans take you to the Central Coast region, be sure to stop in Paso Robles to taste Zinfandels and Zinfandel-based red blends that will knock your socks off. Although wine has been made in the area for a long time, the winemaking focus began to shift away from inexpensive wines to high-quality boutique wines in the 1980’s and today some of the most exciting wines in California are made in Paso Robles.

When you head for sunny California, a good Zinfandel wine tasting tour is never very far away. Sample a few on your next visit and you’ll know why the American love affair with Zinfandel is likely to remain a lasting one.


Zinfandel: California's heritage grape

Zinfandel, hailed as California&rsquos heritage grape is a quintessentially American phenomenon. It&rsquos zesty, rugged and loud, challenging to rear, a lover of barbecue. California Zins can be spicy and peppery, and often feature bright, juicy fruits like blueberry, raspberry and plum. The wines are often described as &ldquobrambly&rdquo &mdash meaning its fruit flavors taste wild and prickly, lacking the vanilla-edged polish you might find in varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon.

In true American style, Zin has been known to get too rowdy: For many years, most of the California Zin on the market was either jammy and boozy, or semi-sweet and pink. Today, the picture couldn&rsquot be more different. Quality-minded wineries are producing Zinfandels that rival the state&rsquos best Cabernets regarding seriousness and ageability &mdash and meanwhile express, somehow, the California frontier spirit better than that grape ever could.

Even white Zinfandel &mdash the off-dry rose accidentally created by Bob Trinchero at Sutter Home &mdash is now being made more thoughtfully, with some Zin producers putting out dry, structured versions of that pink wine. While White Zin is still hugely popular across America, it&rsquos no longer the face of California Zinfandel, and that&rsquos a good thing.

The Zinfandel grape is difficult to grow, a notoriously uneven ripener. But Zinfandel vines also learn to self-regulate as they get older, which is why California&rsquos oldest surviving vines produce some of its most compelling wines. There are likely more 100-year-old plantings of Zin still in the ground here than of any other grape variety, and if you get a chance to taste wine made from those centenarian vines &mdash or, better yet, walk through a vineyard &mdash pay particular attention.

Although Zin made its reputation on these shores, the grape, like many Americans, is an immigrant. Originally from Croatia, where it&rsquos known as Tribidrag, it&rsquos a clone of the Primitivo grape, from southern Italy&rsquos Puglia region. For the discovery of Zinfandel&rsquos genetic origins, we have Carole Meredith, professor emerita at U.C. Davis, to thank. With encouragement from Napa Valley&rsquos most famous Croatian, Mike Grgich, Meredith mapped the genetic profiles of many different grape varieties along the Dalmatian coast (whose Plavac Mali grape had at one time been thought, mistakenly, identical to Zinfandel) until she found an exact match in Tribidrag. Today, Meredith and her husband Steve Lagier make an excellent Zinfandel, labeled Tribidrag, from their vineyard on Mt. Veeder.

Major California regions:
Lodi Sierra Foothills Contra Costa County Paso Robles Sonoma County, especially the Dry Creek Valley sub-AVA Napa Valley, especially the mountains.

Characteristic flavors:
Spice, pepper, wild berries, blueberry, raspberry, boysenberry


Rosé vs. White Zinfandel

Rosé and white Zinfandel are made by extremely similar methods. Winemaking is a complex craft that requires much more explanation than is practical to dive into here. For our purposes, you really just need to know that rosé is most often produced by allowing red grape skins to ferment with wine for just a few hours. Many red wines, in contrast, ferment for several weeks. Since rosé’s contact with the grape skins is shorter, its color is lighter.

Rosé can be made from any red grape, but white Zin is made from—you guessed it—Zinfandel grapes.

As far as flavor goes, white Zinfandel is generally sweeter, pinker, and less complex that many rosé varieties. Rosé can be dry or sweet. It can also range in color from blush to bright red.


In Zinfandel, Brawn Wins Out

Wine School, a monthly column, invites you to drink wine with Eric Asimov. In each installment, Mr. Asimov chooses a type of wine for you to try at home. After a month, Mr. Asimov posts his reaction to the wine and addresses readers’ thoughts and questions. June’s assignment was Riesling. July’s assignment was Zinfandel Mr. Asimov shares his thoughts on this wine below.

In wine as in all fields, people are drawn toward what they like. Personal taste is a rich, compelling and mysterious force, which must always be respected even if it cannot be entirely explained. Its vagaries are displayed prominently in any discussion of zinfandel, a wine that seems to have a powerful polarizing effect.

Welcome back to Wine School, where each month we choose a particular wine to explore and then reconvene four weeks later to share impressions and insights. The idea is to drink that wine with consideration, in a natural setting with food, friends or family. By paying careful attention to the wine in an atmosphere that emphasizes curiosity and pleasure, the hope is to achieve a greater sense of ease and confidence and a better understanding of our own tastes. If you already feel comfortable, Wine School is an opportunity to reconsider your assumptions, sharpen your observations and share your thoughts.

The subject here is zinfandel, a wine that cries out for re-examination given the entrenched opinions that so many people seem to have about it. No wonder. Zinfandel nowadays is most often a big, potent wine with the sort of forceful personality that practically requires consumers to take a stand. You either love it or leave it.

I’m afraid I’m one of those people who largely has left it, though I once loved it. As I became entranced with wine as a graduate student in the early 1980s, zinfandel was one of my favorites. It was fruity, which was easy to understand, yet leavened with an underlying spiciness, which made it interesting enough to return to again and again.

Over the years, though, zinfandel and I took different paths. The prevailing style of zinfandel seemed to get bigger and weightier, with alcohol levels climbing to overwhelming heights, 16 percent or more, and flavors often seeming jammy and baked. I was heading in the opposite direction, more taken with subtle, nuanced wines that were made to complement food at the table rather than to impress with a sip. Zinfandel, in my mind, had become like port, something to nurse after the meal or pour over the ice cream.

Tastes change. The more different wines we drink, the more our preferences develop and the more important it is to retain open minds. Otherwise, we risk becoming narrow and intolerant, confusing personal preferences with merit. That’s what I believe, at least. The focus on zinfandel last month obliged me to test those beliefs.

Certainly, zinfandel has its fans. “I love a big, powerful zinfandel,” Ken Elmer of Northampton, Mass., wrote. “I’ll leave the nuance thing to other wines.”

Other readers shared my concern, especially at this time of year. “It was easy for me to skip this month’s lesson,” Bauskern of New England wrote. “I cringed at the thought of drinking ‘big’ or ‘powerful’ zinfandels, as some readers described them, in the heat of the summer.”

Ken in Baltimore wrote: “Zinfandel? In July? I’ll return to this in November.”

I understand the reflex seasonal response that many people have, but I don’t necessarily agree. I could understand the notion of drinking nothing but light-bodied whites and gentle reds in summer if I were eating only delicate foods. But isn’t the summer grilling season, too? Aren’t people at least occasionally cooking thick steaks, sauce-glazed ribs and burgers? Conversely, do we only drink heavy reds in the cold? Isn’t the winter prime oyster season? In this air-conditioned age, when people carry sweaters to restaurants even on the hottest days, seasonality means less than it once did.

The grape best known as zinfandel and most identified with California actually originated in Croatia, where it was first known as tribidrag. It traveled to the United States early in the 19th century and flourished in California later in the 1800s when it was planted extensively.

Some of those vineyards are now among the oldest in North America, having survived Prohibition, Depression and phylloxera, the vine-killing aphid that ravaged grapes of European origin. Vineyards like these are American treasures, and organizations like the Historic Vineyard Society are working to preserve them.

Though many of these vineyards are known for their zinfandel, they are not necessarily 100 percent zinfandel. In addition to zinfandel, they may include petite sirah, carignan, alicante bouchet and sometimes grapes that have not been identified. One of these older vineyards, Lytton Estate in the Dry Creek Valley, was a source for one of our three recommended wines, the 2011 Ridge Lytton Springs. The grapes, mostly zinfandel with some petite sirah and carignan, came from vines 50 to 110 years old.

Image

What does the age of a vineyard have to do with the wine? As the vines pass middle age, the yields tend to decline and the grapes become smaller and more concentrated. Assuming the vineyard is planted in a good place, the wines may become more intense and complex. Sadly, terms like “old vines,” or “vieilles vignes” in French, have little definition or legal meaning when used on bottles. They are often abused by marketers, which makes the documentation work by groups like the Historic Vineyard Society so important.

These old zinfandel vineyards can be found all over California, from the Sierra Foothills to Sonoma, Napa and Contra Costa counties, to Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande and even to Baja California, testifying not only to the popularity of zinfandel among early viticulturalists but to its ability to succeed in different sorts of terroir.

What to Cook Right Now

Sam Sifton has menu suggestions for the coming days. There are thousands of ideas for what to cook waiting for you on New York Times Cooking.

    • Do not miss Yotam Ottolenghi’s incredible soba noodles with ginger broth and crunchy ginger. for fungi is a treat, and it pairs beautifully with fried snapper with Creole sauce.
    • Try Ali Slagle’s salad pizza with white beans, arugula and pickled peppers, inspired by a California Pizza Kitchen classic.
    • Alexa Weibel’s modern take on macaroni salad, enlivened by lemon and herbs, pairs really nicely with oven-fried chicken.
    • A dollop of burrata does the heavy lifting in Sarah Copeland’s simple recipe for spaghetti with garlic-chile oil.

    Of the three recommended zinfandels, two, the 2011 Ridge and the 2012 Dashe, came from the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma. The third, the 2012 Juvenile from Turley, is labeled California because it is made from young vines from several appellations.

    For me, the three wines could not have been more different. The Turley was pure, with waves of raspberry flavor tuned with laserlike precision. It was dense and mouth-filling, but not heavy. Nor was it baked or jammy. But (and this is a big but) I just did not want to drink this wine. Instead of an aftertaste that inspired a next sip, it left a hot feeling in my mouth, and it seemed to overwhelm the flavor of my dinner, seared skirt steak.

    It was, in fact, 15.5 percent alcohol, and though it bothered me, it didn’t deter others. “It was inviting with a fruit-forward start and supple spices that follow,” wrote Howard Weintraub of Harrison, N.Y. “It paired well with a seared veal chop done on the grill.”

    Harley Mazuk of Boyds, Md., said the Turley “invites not only the next sip but the next gulp.”

    I found the other two wines more agreeable. The Dashe was smooth and deliciously juicy, with an intriguing spiciness. It did have a touch of heat as well, but not enough to deter me from another glass.

    Best of all was the Ridge. It was beautifully balanced without heat, though, at 14.4 percent, it had virtually the same alcohol content as the Dashe. It was spicy, earthy and herbal, more complex than the other wines, and a bit tannic, too. Still, these were big wines, and I found myself more conscious of their size and power than I would have preferred.

    While I liked the wines well enough, it was not a transformative experience. I will confess, I appreciate the beauty of zinfandel in other, smaller-scale wines, like Dashe’s Les Enfants Terrible, which is made almost like a cru Beaujolais, and Broc Cellars Vine Starr zinfandel, which is made in a lighter, more vibrant style, at 12.7 percent. It’s worth pointing out that zinfandel is not big by definition. Ridge’s 1975 Lytton Springs was a mere 11.7 percent, and by one recent authoritative report was drinking beautifully this year.

    Still, I was happy to see that some readers were converted. “This is the first zinfandel I’ve drank in decades,” said Seancpa of Pleasant Mount, Pa. “It’s been an eye-opener.” Schap329 of Richmond, Va., likened the Ridge to a “majestic gothic cathedral,” adding, “Zinfandel just redeemed itself for me.”

    Some readers took me to task for recommending young wines, pointing out that zinfandel ages well and reaches its peak around 5 to 10 years. Point well taken, though, as with Bordeaux and riesling, it’s not easy to buy well-aged wines. If we are going to share the drinking experience, we’re going to have to settle for youth.

    In the end, differences of taste and opinion are beneficial. It assures a diversity of wines, which ought to make everybody happy. That, after all, is the goal.

    Previously in Wine School .

    In July, readers were assigned to investigate Zinfandel. You can join the conversation about this wine by finding the wines and answering the questions that Eric Asimov poses below.

    Until now, we’ve explored Old World classics: Bordeaux, Beaujolais, Sancerre, dry German riesling. This month, we shift to a New World original: zinfandel.

    No, zinfandel is not an American grape. As with the vast majority of world-class wines, its origin is Old World. If you want to read about it in “Wine Grapes,” the authoritative encyclopedia by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, you are advised to look under “tribidrag,” as it’s called in Croatia, zinfandel’s birthplace.

    Such rigid taxonomy may provoke eye-rolling among practical-minded Americans, who rightly note that whatever recognition is due tribidrag is a result of the grape’s having traveled to California and become known worldwide as zinfandel. Tribidrag also has another moniker, primitivo, as it’s called in the Puglia region of Italy.

    In California, zinfandel has had moments of wide embrace and others of dismissal. Its dominant stylistic expression seems to vary by decade and has ranged from clear, taut and spicy to extravagant, huge and syrupy.

    I’ll admit I’ve had my own struggles with zinfandel. I’m not a fan of the blockbuster style that was in vogue in the first decade of this century. But as with so many wines, a stylistic shift has occurred with zinfandel, with more producers gravitating toward fresher, nuanced wines.

    The three zinfandels I suggest you look for this month more or less encompass the range of styles:

    Dashe Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2012, $21

    Turley California Zinfandel Juvenile 2012, $30

    Ridge Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs 2011, $35

    Dashe gravitates toward the fresher style, while at one time Turley epitomized the extravagant style, though its wines, while still big, have become livelier and more precise. Ridge is consistently right down the middle, as it has been for decades. Comparing the three would be particularly rewarding.

    As always, not everybody will be able to find these examples. Each of these three producers makes more than a few zinfandel cuvées. The others are fine, too, and as an alternative you might consider wines from Nalle, Frog’s Leap, Ravenswood, Sky, Porter Creek, Bedrock, Green & Red, Broc Cellars, Limerick Lane, Rafanelli, Outpost, Quivira, Seghesio and Neyers.

    Zinfandel will complement burgers, barbecued ribs and other robust meats. It will also go well with grilled sausages, pizza, even eggplant Parmesan, although you may have more difficulty finding good matches with the bigger styles.

    Temperature is important: If the wine is too warm, especially in the summer, it will be flaccid and fatiguing. You don’t want to serve it icy cold, just cool, after maybe 20 minutes in the fridge.


    Edgewood Estate Winery

    The factual history that Edgewood Estate Winery possesses is one that many Napa Valley wineries would give their eyeteeth to own even a portion of. The history is also a reminder that many winery operations are quite cyclical in nature and at this point in its evolution, Edgewood Estate is well back on the road to vinous competition and even superiority.

    It all began back in 1873 with William Peterson, a successful New England sea captain, who departed New England’s harsh winters and settled into a more tranquil existence in Northern California. He immediately purchased a 40-plus acre parcel in Napa Valley that is the site of today’s Edgewood Estate Winery. It is recorded that the vineyards began bearing fruit in 1879 and by 1885, the fully operational Peterson Winery produced a total of 11,350 cases, quite a respectable number for that period of time.

    Unfortunately, a series of personal and professional tragedies befell Peterson until he was finally forced to sell his winery. History records that in 1891, William Peterson sold the winery and its contents to Robert Bergfeld for a sum of 6,000 gold coin. It is also noted that phylloxera had destroyed most of the existing vineyards at the winery. In fact, a total of over 15,000 acres were destroyed in Northern California during the phylloxera outbreak of that period. Bergfeld worked and developed the winery for the next fifteen years until the catastrophic earthquake of 1906 forced him to close its operation.

    Historical accuracy jumps a bit until 1910 when the winery was again sold, this time to a Theodore Gier. Gier was already active in the Napa Wine business and had already built two existing wineries. In 1904 he constructed a winery on Spring Mountain that is today’s Keenan Winery, and a year later, built a small stone winery which is the modern day Hess Collection Winery. Gier operated the expansive business (he had wine holdings as far away as the Livermore Valley) for a decade until he sold his entire Napa Valley operations to O.J. LeBaron of neighboring Healdsburg in Sonoma County.

    Next came Prohibition and its death-like consequences for many wineries. LeBaron’s enterprise suffered the same fate as most of his neighbors. The winery finally emerged again in 1933 as the Mt. Helena and Calistoga Wine Company. The company was a giant of its time and produced over 500,000 gallons of wine.

    A year later, the economic condition facing independent growers propelled Charles Forni to organize the Napa Valley Cooperative and in 1935, the Co-op purchased the winery. Forni was a decisive force in Napa Valley for the next fifty years until his death in 1986, a few months short of his 100th birthday. He was responsible for the Co-op he founded rise to the status of largest wine facility in the Napa Valley. As early as 1937, some 8,500 tons were consigned for crushing at the winery, estimated to be around 40% of the entire grape production in Napa.

    By 1967, the Napa Valley Co-op was producing around 2,500,000 gallons annually, and was at the height of its success. Forni was ever active in matters affecting the wine industry and was one of the original four founding fathers of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, which controls the policy stance for many of today’s Napa Valley wineries.

    Edgewood Estate bought the property in 1994 and embarked on an immediate course to restore the property to its original usage and statue. An incredible restoration and renovation project is still under way under the direction of Founder/President Jeff O’ Neill. O’Neill is dedicated to preserving the winery’s natural heritage and has insured that the original winery remains intact in its original location. At some point, Edgewood hopes to be able to open the site to the general public.

    Another interesting historical artifact is the original architecture of the 1885 winery that today resides in the middle of Edgewood’s barrel warehouse. This ghost winery is extremely well preserved and available to visitors who know how to ask for the privilege of seeing the original workplace.

    Chances are the Edgewood Estate personnel will show you the old winery without many fanfares. They are justifiably proud of their place in the history of Napa Valley and are willing to share it with you.

    Gold Medal Wine Club is proud to offer Edgewood Estate’s wines to our members in much the same spirit. We know you will enjoy this month’s Gold Medal Wine Club's selections from Edgewood Estate.

    Each and every wine selected for our six different Wine Clubs meets our strict guidelines for quality and rating criteria. Each wine is handcrafted by an authentic, small-production boutique winery with a compelling story to tell like the one above. Since our first Gold Wine Club shipment in 1992, we have added five more impressive Wine Clubs to choose from—each a showcase for highly-rated, sought-after wines you can enjoy as a Gold Medal, wine of the month club member.

    Jeff O&rsquo Neill - Wine Industry visionary

    Practically everyone associated with Jeff O&rsquo Neill is firmly convinced he is a visionary in the strictest sense of the word. At 44, he is the Founder/President of Edgewood Estates, and is purposefully positioning his winery to compete with the top wineries in Napa Valley.

    O&rsquoNeill grew up in neighboring Marin County (Kentfield to be exact) and discovered his interest in wine while he was an underclassman at the University of the Pacific. First, he found that he enjoyed drinking wine and later helped pay his college bills by selling wine on a door to door basis. It&rsquos also possible the inspiration for his efforts started a bit earlier in his family. In the post-Prohibition era around 1936, his Armenian grandfather originated a wine cooperative in the small Central Valley town of Cutler, CA and began producing wine. Jeff remembers the stories around his house when he was young and agrees that such an earlier historical influence made his decision to enter the wine business all the easier.

    Today, Jeff O&rsquoNeill is determined to turn Edgewood Estates into a world class production facility and at the same time insure that the higher segment of the buying public takes note of its flagship brand. O&rsquo Neill carefully selects the fruit that is used for each wine.

    &lsquoBecause the former company was a co-op and therefore has many sources of grapes, we felt it necessary to develop a system for what we bought. Even though most of the fruit was really high quality, we were only able to buy from a small percentage of our former growers,” he confided. &lsquoThat decision represents our dedication to be the best of the best, and we&rsquove managed to stick to it so far.”

    The entire process of restoring/building Edgewood Estates has been a labor of love for O&rsquo Neill. He first decided to move and then transplant some sixty sycamore trees that were scattered about the property and now make up a picturesque alley to the winery. Next came a second assessment to turn another section of the property that served as a lawn into its former usage as vineyard rows. Through it all, Jeff O&rsquo Neill has doggedly kept Edgewood Estates heading in an upward direction. He is convinced that the moves he is making with regard to the physical plant will make it one of the real showcase facilities in Napa.

    Fifteen acres at Edgewood Estates are planted in mostly Bordeaux varietals with Cabernet Sauvignon serving as the predominant type. The total production runs at an annual rate of just over 12,000 cases, a level O&rsquoNeill feels perfectly suits his operation at this stage of its development.

    &lsquoThe hardest thing to find in Napa is sources of truly top class grapes,” he added. &lsquoMost of the great vineyards are already under long term contract to other wineries, and it&rsquos practically impossible to make a quality statement without great fruit as a basis for your wines.”

    Another seven acres will be planted this year, a fact that will maximize the property from a growing perspective. Jeff O&rsquoNeill intends to continue his search for superior independent growers, and will grow Edgewood Estates as the occasions arise.

    He points with pride that Edgewood Estate wines are sold worldwide (some 30 countries) and fully realizes that his wines are each a handsell. He also realizes the thin air in Napa his competition enjoys and that fact doesn&rsquot phase him one bit.

    He points with great pride at his Estate-bottled Meritage blend that is aptly called Tradition. It is grown and produced (about 250 cases annually) exclusively at the winery and sells in the range of $35 - $45 per bottle.

    &lsquoWe at Edgewood want to grow and produce the finest red grapes in the entire valley,” O&rsquoNeill offered. &lsquoWe are fortunate to have the resources and determination to see our plan through to its natural fruition. We saw this entire project as an opportunity that was untapped and decided to do something about it.”

    Napa Valley insiders have watched the transformation of the Edgewood property and the development of its wines. There are few that doubt the project is destined for success.


    The History Of California’s Zinfandel Wines

    For many of us, winter means a blazing fireplace and Sunday stews. For those of us planning to be in warmer climates, it’s time for a jacket and maybe a brisk walk in the morning. No matter where you live, winter is the season to move to heartier red wines.

    Jeff Perlegos (Courtesy: Lodi Win by Stephanie Russo)

    There’s probably no other grape variety as American as zinfandel, a European grape variety introduced in the West Coast during the Gold Rush of the mid 19 th century. A prolific grape of murky origin, zinfandel vineyards baked in California’s hot sun and produced a lot of grapes for jug wines. They served the home winemaker quite well during Prohibition when eager amateur winemakers preferred zinfandel because it was the earliest to ripen.

    Not only did zinfandel survive 13 years of this failed era, but its vineyards were largely spared the 1990s’ phylloxera scourge that decimated vineyards planted with old world varieties. Thus, many of the existing zinfandel vineyards, grown on St. George rootstock, are more than 100 years old.

    Today, vineyards planted with St. George rootstock in the 1920s continue to thrive in places like Lodi, where sandy soil acted as an irritant to the bedeviling root louse. Old vines have reduced vigor as they age, but the grapes are often intense. These vines look more like trees – known as “lodi ladders” — because they were planted by arborists instead of viticulturists.

    Kevin Phillips of Phillips Farms grows grapes on the historic Bechthold Vineyard, first planted in 1886. He said of old vines, “When it’s said and done, they’re a pain in the ass. But I adore them. They just require a lot more care.”

    Zinfandel Advocates and Producers is on a quest to bring attention and preservation to these legendary zinfandel vineyards.

    The value of getting the last breath from withering vines may be more about pride than it is about producing superior wine. Those winemakers with whom we recently spoke admitted that it would grieve them to abandon a vineyard established by pioneers.

    Robert Biale, owner and president of Robert Biale Vineyards in Napa Valley, said he is part preservationist. He draws grapes from the R.W. Moore Vineyard which was planted by a seafarer in 1905.

    “Zinfandel has such a long, deep history – more than cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. We’re just lucky to have this kind of urgency to keep them in the ground,” he said.

    Coaxing old, gnarly grape vines to produce fruit each year is akin to coaxing an old dog to chase a ball. The desire isn’t there, but a little encouragement goes a long way. Each vine has its own personality, so it is incumbent on experienced hands to patiently care for it. That’s why you won’t find single-vineyard zinfandels in the portfolios of large commercial producers who look for bigger yields.

    Why bother with these vines? Old zinfandel vines produce wine of great concentration and suppleness. Every time we taste one of these giants, we taste terroir, history and, of course, layers of beautiful fruit.

    These single-vineyard zinfandels are very different from one another but their intensity puts them above the pack. They are very special.

    Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr, MoreAboutWine, posted on SouthFloridaReporter.com, Jan. 11, 2021

    Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr have been writing a weekly wine column for more than 30 years. Additional Wine reviews on MoreAboutWine

    All photos are randomly selected and do not indicate any preferred wine. Listed prices are subject to change


    The Tangled Tale of Zinfandel

    Jammy. Brambly. Bold. These are descriptors often used when talking about Zinfandel, a California grape with a tempestuous past, but a possibly promising future.

    Zinfandel&rsquos history dates back to the 1830s on the East Coast and continued to move west, where it landed in California around 1850. Prohibition drove it to the brink of commercial extinction, and it wasn&rsquot until the 1970s when it started to regain its footing in California&rsquos wine industry. Its old, gnarly vines produced low yields of fruit, but it was strong enough to (accidentally) create one of the most popular wines of the 1980s and &rsquo90s. Until 1998, Zinfandel was California&rsquos most widely planted grape, producing wines that were dry, fruit-forward, hefty on the palate, a little sweet, and often high in alcohol. Due to what now can be viewed as overzealous experimentation, Zinfandel was quickly outdone by its popular half-sibling, White Zinfandel, and acquired the reputation as a cheap, sweet blush wine with a relatively low alcohol content. As a result, the true star&rsquos light began to dim, and Zinfandel became guilty by association.

    According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture&rsquos 2019 Preliminary Grape Crush Report, Zinfandel remains the third most popular varietal among California wines, totaling 8.4 percent of the state&rsquos total crush volume in 2019. Additionally, winemakers aren&rsquot only producing styles that are textbook Zin expressions&mdashwith big, bold, black and red fruit flavors, and peppery and herbal notes&mdashbut there are also styles that are lighter, less aggressive on the palate, and blended versions where the grape plays leading and supporting roles.

    Zinfandel is misunderstood and nuanced with subtleties that can speak to any wine drinker willing to listen. Part of the lingering aversion to Zinfandel among some consumers isn&rsquot because it tastes tart, astringent, or overly sweet, or that it doesn&rsquot pair well with foods beyond barbecue and burgers&mdashbut because there hasn&rsquot been enough knowledge shared on a broader scale about its true depth, complexity, and distinctiveness.

    Cara Patricia, sommelier and co-founder of DECANTsf, a wine shop and bar in San Francisco, finds that customers who ask for Zinfandel tend to be older, and they frequently ask for the same producers. &ldquoWhen people often think about Zinfandel, they&rsquore thinking about something that&rsquos really jammy, maybe high in alcohol, and something that shouldn&rsquot cost a lot of money,&rdquo she says. &ldquoAnd that&rsquos kind of to the detriment of modern and premium producers. Zinfandel is kind of like Chardonnay where people only think it comes in one style&mdashbut it doesn&rsquot. In our shop, we like to show the different sides of it.&rdquo

    While it can be grown throughout California&rsquos winemaking regions, Lodi, in the Central Valley, has been the self-proclaimed capital of Zinfandel for many years. According to the California Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2018, San Joaquin was California&rsquos top county for Zinfandel acreage, tallying an impressive 17,098 acres. There, the Mediterranean-style climate has warm days and cool evenings, and with help from the cool breezes of the San Joaquin and Sacramento River deltas, Lodi has been able to maintain old vines dating back to the late 1880s that are still yielding high-quality fruit. The sandy loam soils in Lodi also help to enhance the flavor of the wines when they end up in the bottle.

    But before figuring out Zinfandel&rsquos present, it&rsquos important to look at its past, and to ask, how did Zinfandel&rsquos story get so tangled? And how can wine drinkers grow to love it again?

    Zinfandel should be considered among California&rsquos crown jewels&mdashbut it&rsquos often counted out as a grape variety because of its perceived taste. That&rsquos no fault of winemakers&mdashZinfandel is a variety that grows unevenly. Zinfandel vines aren&rsquot like more typical vines that grow vertically out of the ground with breezy canopies, producing massive bunches of fruit. Instead, Zinfandel&rsquos vines are short, with stumpy trunks and branches that grow out in many directions. On the bunch, some of its thin-skinned, delicate grapes may be ready for harvest, while others may be underripe and hard, or even dried-out raisins. Sending mixed clusters like this into the winery to be crushed and pressed can ultimately give off what The Wine Bible author Karen MacNeil calls a &ldquosweet and sour sauce&rdquo taste.

    A byproduct of Zinfandel&rsquos identity&mdashthe free-run juice&mdashhas given many wine consumers a false impression of the grape over the years. White Zinfandel, the blush pink, sweet wine, was actually an accident made by Sutter Home winemaker Bob Trinchero in 1972. As the story goes, Trinchero would use runoff juice from Zinfandel he had made to create a drier wine and label it &ldquoWhite Zinfandel.&rdquo One day, a batch of White Zin didn&rsquot fully ferment, and the result was a wine with low alcohol and high sugar content. It became an overnight sensation that took the &rsquo80s and &rsquo90s by storm, which kept old Zinfandel vines hard at work but didn&rsquot give them the shine they deserved.

    For Lydia Richards, senior account executive and wine specialist at Colangelo & Partners Public Relations, it was Sutter Home&rsquos White Zin that cemented her idea of Zinfandel being a wine that was only pink, affordable, and simple. As she studied to become a sommelier, however, this perception began to shift. &ldquoThe deeper I delved into my courses, as well as tastings, the more I became fascinated with what true Zinfandel wine could really be,&rdquo she says. &ldquoLearning about it being the same grape variety as Primitivo completely changed my perception and made me appreciate its long history as a premier, quality grape for wine production.&rdquo

    Often referred to as Zinfandel&rsquos identical twin from Italy, Primitivo comes from the same DNA of the Croatian grape known as crljenak kastelanski. This was discovered and confirmed in the early 2000s, and it allowed scientists to identify the distinct differences between the three grapes. Primitivo, with its own unique characteristics, can make dry and sweet Italian wines and also be used as a blending grape.

    &ldquoZinfandel is like any other famous grape. It comes in so many different style, and you really need to keep tasting to figure out what style really speaks to you.&rdquo &mdashCara Patricia

    Aaron Cherny, co-founder of the wine company Source & Sink, left his finance career in Chicago in 2017 to make wine in California&rsquos Sonoma County. When he and co-founder Rande Feldman decided to start Source & Sink, they wanted to express the uniqueness of the California wine heritage that was best represented with grape varieties planted pre-Prohibition. &ldquoThe Source & Sink Zinfandel represents the diversity of topography, soils, and exposure at Kimberly Vineyard in Sonoma County,&rdquo Cherny says. &ldquoAt this site, we have three different sections of vine age: one from 1906, one from the 1970s, and the other planted in the mid-1990s. Within each block we see vines that yield fruit with a range of large and small clusters and berries, resulting in a wine that is more concentrated with only 12 to 13 percent, [a] lower alcohol.&rdquo

    While a little bit of hang time can help Zinfandel, Cherny says too much oak and overripeness through late harvesting can take away some of the grape&rsquos inherent beauty. &ldquoIt can make for formulaic, boring wines that are overly boozy and taste like imitation vanilla,&rdquo he says.

    In his 2003 book Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine, Charles E. Sullivan took on the challenge of uncovering the mystery of this grape variety. Over the course of almost 200 pages, Sullivan explores Zinfandel&rsquos history from the 1870s to the dawn of the new millennium. What was initially meant to be a table grape found its way into vineyards across California and then produced impressive wines. The big questions for even Sullivan are the vines, their age, and how after so much time they can still produce concentrated fruit.

    For many winemakers, cracking this particular code of the Zinfandel mystery is something that doesn&rsquot happen overnight. When Chrissy Wittmann, director of winemaking at The Prisoner Wine Company, started working with the brand in 2016, she didn&rsquot have much experience with the variety, but she was fascinated by its complexity. &ldquoIt&rsquos hard to grow Zinfandel grapes, and hard to make wine from Zin depending on the desired style,&rdquo she says. &ldquoI&rsquod always heard what a pain, but I had no idea until I started making wines from many different Zin vineyards. I can say it can be extremely difficult, but I could not be happier to have the chance.&rdquo

    Wittmann describes The Prisoner&rsquos expression of Zinfandel as an ode to the old-vine vineyards, ultimate grape maturity, and terroir. Sourcing fruit from Dry Creek, Lodi, and Mendocino, Wittmann and her team were able to capture each vineyard&rsquos distinctive climate, and terroir plays a huge role in the quality and character of the bottle. &ldquoOur method of blending a Zinfandel base with small amounts of Petite Sirah and Syrah makes Saldo a truly unique expression of Zinfandel. With very hot days and cool nights from the delta breeze, Zins from Lodi tend to be rich and ripe, with softer tannins,&rdquo she says. &ldquoFrom Mendocino, where there are rocky, volcanic soils and some of our vineyards sit up in higher elevation, there&rsquos a larger tannin structure with extra spice. Dry Creek in Sonoma County has some red, gravelly, well-drained soils that make for stressful growing conditions and concentrated Zinfandel.&rdquo

    As winemakers get more creative with bringing forth various expressions of Zinfandel, wine drinkers should be encouraged not to limit their thinking when it comes to the unique heritage grape, but to embrace it for all that it&rsquos worth. Producers like Bodkin Wines, Monte Rio, Day Wines, and Las Jaras are getting creative with Zinfandel and going beyond the traditional expressions that may turn consumers off from even pursuing the grape variety. &ldquoWhile there are plenty of consumers who enjoy bold, intensely dark fruit Zins with black pepper and baking spices, there are very different, unique, lighter expressions being made,&rdquo says Lydia Richards of Colangelo. &ldquoThat&rsquos certainly a missed opportunity in terms of bringing the variety forth to a wider range of wine-loving consumers looking to try something new and exciting.&rdquo

    Another missed opportunity could be not taking risks on pairing Zinfandel with the right foods. Language makes a big difference in ensuring that consumers are aware of what&rsquos in a bottle before they decide to purchase it. &ldquoIt&rsquos a misapprehension that Zinfandel is a winter wine, since it pairs perfectly with a classic pot roast or hearty lamb dish,&rdquo says Wittmann. &ldquoWhile this is true, it&rsquos actually a perfect year-round wine.&rdquo

    At her San Francisco shop, Cara Patricia believes there should be more discussions about the different styles of Zinfandel that can be big and bold, easy-drinking, or experimental and unusual. &ldquoZinfandel is like any other famous grape,&rdquo she says. &ldquoIt comes in so many different styles, and you really need to keep tasting to figure out what style really speaks to you.&rdquo


    Learn About Zinfandel, Both Red & White

    Zinfandel is synonymous with California wine. The red variety is planted in more than 10 percent of all Californian vineyards and is an influential player in the state’s wine industry. California’s hot and dry climate creates big, bold flavors along with some of the highest alcohol content of any red wine on the market (between 14 and 17 percent).

    Zinfandel In 60 Seconds

    • Zinfandel produces full-bodied, robust red wines. In the United States, it’s also known for the semi-sweet rosé, White Zinfandel.
    • A key component in Californian red blends, Zinfandel adds concentrated and juicy fruit flavors. Varietal Zinfandel is most commonly found in regions such as Lodi.
    • Lodi, in Central California, is known to have some of the country’s oldest Zinfandel vines, some of which are more than 100 years old.
    • Zinfandel flavors are determined by the ripeness of the grapes at harvest time. Red berry flavors dominate in wines from slightly cooler areas while black fruit and spice are more prevalent in wines from warmer regions.

    The Origins of Zinfandel

    The true origin of Zinfandel was relatively unknown until recently. When Zinfandel began to be planted widely throughout California in the mid-1800s, it was generally accepted that it was a grape indigenous to the U.S. The vines thrived in the California climate, and many believed the grape must have existed in the region all along. It wasn’t until the 1960s when a professor from U.C. Davis traveled to Italy and noticed similarities between Primitivo grapes and Zinfandel grapes that people began to question the grape’s origins.

    Following the professor’s trip, many concluded that Primitivo was the connection to the iconic California Zinfandel, and that was that. As DNA testing became more advanced, scientists eventually discovered that the grape didn’t originate in Italy at all. Instead, it was found that the grape was born in Croatia.

    With the discovery of the grape’s true origin came theories on how it made its way to California. Between 1820 and 1829, a horticulturist in Long Island received shipments of grape vines from the Imperial Nursery in Vienna, Austria. It is believed that the Zinfandel vines were included in those shipments. From this point, the vine made its way across the country during the California Gold Rush, and the rest is history.

    California Zinfandel

    Zinfandel is grown in several areas across California such as Napa Valley, parts of Sonoma (including Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley), and Lodi. The grape has a tendency to ripen unevenly, with raisined and under-ripe grapes often found on the same bunch. For versions destined to be red wine, the grapes that are more ripe produce concentrated, juicy, and brambly flavors of raspberry, blackberry and plum, in addition to subtle herbaceous qualities, such as licorice and sweet tobacco.

    Old Vine Zinfandel, often from Lodi, is known to be even bigger in flavor and more intense than younger counterparts. Considered to be a more premium version of the wine, Old Vine Zinfandel typically commands a higher price.

    The grapes grown to make White Zinfandel come from California’s Central Valley and are grown specifically to make the semi-sweet, pink wine. White Zinfandel first became famous in the mid-1970s after the demand for white wine exceeded the availability of white grapes. So, producers started making white wine by using red grapes. With minimum skin contact and by stopping the fermentation before all the sugar is converted to alcohol, the infamous sweet wine was born. Today, White Zinfandel has fallen largely out of fashion with consumers. However, its approachable and easy-drinking profile makes it a mainstay on grocery store shelves and accounts for nearly 10 percent of wine sales across the country.

    Italian “Zinfandel,” aka Primitivo

    In Italy, Zinfandel is known as Primitivo. Its home is in Puglia, which lies in south-eastern Italy. Also known as the “heel” of the country, the Puglian coast runs along the Adriatic Sea. Here, the hot climate produces high-yielding, fruity versions of the wine. High-quality versions are produced when yields are controlled. It’s not uncommon to find Primitivo blended with Negroamaro, another grape that’s native to the region.

    Foods To Pair With Zinfandel

    The best food pairing is dependent on the style of Zinfandel you choose to drink. Fresh and fruity white Zinfandel tastes best with dishes that have lean protein, like chicken or pork, especially when doused in a tomato-based sauce. Medium-bodied versions, which have greater complexity and layers of spice (both peppery and baking) go great with marinated lamb chops or grilled sausage. Full-bodied Zinfandel that is robust with concentrated flavors is best with heavier dishes such as a roast vegetable pasta medley or ribs off the BBQ.


    Watch the video: The Beginning of Zinfandel in California with Joel Peterson


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