Categorized | Red Wine

Wine 101-Zinfandel

 

zinfandel Wine 101 Zinfandel

About Zinfandel

 

One could easily argue that Zinfandel is the grape most emblematic of California winemaking. While the other varietals that have achieved great success in California will invariably have their virtues compared to their Old World equivalents, Zinfandel has no such challengers. The grape is genetically equivalent to the Primitivo grape, grown in Puglia, Italy. But unlike Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, or Syrah (to name a few examples), Primitivo does not cast a long shadow. And this independence from old traditions has allowed California winemakers to craft Zinfandels on their own terms.

Furthermore, Zinfandel benefits from having more significant plantings of old wines than any other grape grown in California. First planted in the state by Italian immigrants in the late 1800s, many of these Zinfandel vines were fortuitously situated in sandy soil. When the Phylooxera epidemic destroyed grape vines across California (not to mention France), these Zinfandel plantings survived, for the pest does not survive in sandy soils.

All of these old vines might have been pulled out at a later date were it not for another lucky development: the surprising popularity of White Zinfandel. Rising sales for this semi-dry blush wine provided an incentive for vineyard owners to leave these vines in place, rather than selling the vineyards for other purposes or replanting with noble varieties.

Then, in the 1980s and early 1990s, winemakers, led by Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards and Joel Peterson of Ravenswood Vineyards, discovered that these old vines, especially when kept to low yields, could produce deeply concentrated, powerful and complex wines. The top Zinfandels continue to be single-vineyard designated wines, as different old-vine growing sites lend differing characteristics to the finished product.

More generally, the variety loves heat and does extremely well in warmer viticultural areas like Dry Creek, Alexander Valley, Contra Costa, Lodi, and Amador. Styles range from terrifically ripe, jammy, highly alcoholic examples, to more structured, claret-style Zinfandel. The bold flavors and spiciness in classic Zinfandels pair especially well with grilled meats and barbeque. Zinfandel remains a great value among California wines, with complexity and concentration that is rare for the price. In addition to Ravenswood and Ridge, we also appreciate wines from Turley Wine Cellars and Carol Shelton Wines.

We do occasionally find Primitivo wines from Puglia, in Italy’s south, that are compelling, more for their earthiness than for the bold, jammy fruits that mark California Zinfandel. Look for the label "Primitivo di Manduria" for the best expressions of the grape in Italy.

Snapshot:

Recommended Growing Regions: Sonoma Valley, Paso Robles, Contra Costa, Mendocino, Sierra Foothills (California)
Flavor Profile: Bold, assertive red wines often showing jammy fruits and impressively high alcohol
Food Pairings: Grilled meats and barbeque
Other Notes: Primitivo from Italy is genetically equivalent; these wines will be similar, but more understated and earthy.

3 Responses to “Wine 101-Zinfandel”

  1. mary says:

    Man, you are a good writer. Your article is so amazing. You ought to do it for money

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