With the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) Festival only about a week away, let’s talk Zin!
For a long time we called Zinfandel “The California grape.” In fact, I still see references to Zin as a uniquely American or Californian wine. That, in spite of the fact that it doesn’t look like, taste like or have the growing habits of native-American varieties. Everything about it screams vinifera (vines of European origin) but no one could find its European counterpart. And, foolishly, because it didn’t appear to have the European pedigree, added on to the fact that its generosity of yield made it a staple for “jug reds”, it didn’t get much respect until recently.
Does it deserve respect? You betcha! If it isn’t truly a California grape, it’s certainly our heritage grape. This was the most popular wine variety in California in the late 1800s up until prohibition. Thank heavens for the industrious home winemakers and bootleggers during those thirteen years. Without them, most of the Zin would have been planted over to prunes or walnuts and we wouldn’t be able to enjoy all the wonderful old-vine Zins we take for granted today. And, thanks go to the White Zinfandel producers beginning in the 1970s, too. Same story. Without White Zin, most of those old vines would have been bulldozed decades ago, when red Zin fell out of favor. Today, Zinfandel is #4 on the list of top varieties planted in California, behind Merlot (#3), Cabernet (#2) and Chardonnay.
TIP! When you buy a California “field blend” Zinfandel is usually a major player, if not the lead player.
My brother-in-law was at the grocery store picking up some things for dinner and called to ask whether he should buy the Old Vine Zinfandel or the Primitivo – same brand. My answer was that if the price is the same, flip a coin, because Primitivo is another name for Zinfandel.
In 2002, DNA fingerprinting revealed that Zinfandel’s origins are in Croatia, of all places. They traced it back to a rare variety known as Crljenak Kaštelanski – try to pronounce that one after a few glasses of Zinfandel – or even before 😉
From Croatia it traveled to southern Italy, where they call it Primitivo. Most of it is found in Puglia, the heel of the boot. It also made its way to the east coast of the US as a table grape (for eating) and, eventually, to California where it became a wildly popular wine grape. It was the most planted variety in California prior to prohibition and it’s #3 today.
TRIVIA! In California we used many, many different names used for it – Black St. Peters, Zinfendal, Zeinfandall, Zenfenthal – before settling on Zinfandel. Continue reading
Will you look at the color and size of these things? I was taking one of my favorite walks, by a who knows how old vineyard, and spotted these crazy-looking, neon grapes.
Could it be that I’ve laid my eyes on Flame Tokay grapes, in person, for the first time of my life?
And look at the vine’s next-door neighbor. Nice, normal looking black clusters. Could be Zinfandel, Grenache, Carignan, Petite Sirah, Barbera, Alicante Bouchet… Who knows? It’s a field blend.
In the first wine boom in California (late 1800s) there was a great deal of Italian influence and many of the grower/producers were inclined to plant several compatible varieties all together. They’d harvest and vinify them all together, too, so the blend was pre-made.
Since different varieties ripen at different rates, they’d end up with less mature fruit in the mix, which would keep the acidity lively and very ripe fruit, too, for rich fruity flavor, and everything in between. And they knew that including a little Barbera in the vineyard would also bolster acidity, where if they wanted more structure, Petite Sirah was the go-to grape. This choir of different varietal aromas and flavors coming together provided a kind of instant complexity and natural balance. Continue reading
What’s an all-American wine to drink with your barbecued burgers today? Zinfandel, of course!
There really aren’t any main-stream, popular wines made from native American varieties. But, Zinfandel certainly deserves an honorary nod as the all-American grape because California is the place that made it’s name and made it so very beloved by pizza-hounds world wide! Or, if not all American, you can say at least our heritage grape.
TRIVIA! Did you know that Zinfandel was the most widely planted grape in California before prohibition? Yup! The fave by far!
TRIVIA x2! If is wasn’t for the very enterprising bootleggers and thirsty home winemakers, during prohibition, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy old-vine Zin today! At least here in the Napa Valley, it would have been bulldozed and planted over to prunes and walnuts, the preferred replacement crops. Not so good for tourism, eh?
We used to call Zinfandel the “California grape” because we couldn’t find it planted anywhere else, ie Europe. But viticulturists and ampelographers always knew it had to have come from Europe originally. It just doesn’t have the appearance or growing habits of native American varieties. Continue reading
Speaking of Zinfandel, I hope to see y’all at the ZAP Grand Tasting this Saturday, the 29th! ZAP is short for “Zinfandel Advocates and Producers” and this annual tasting is what many people look forward to as the greatest tasing event of the year! The President of ZAP told me that Primitivo and Zin-based field blends will be allowed this year! Yum! BE THERE!
Send me your wine question and I’ll get back to you in a jiffy!
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Did you know that the term “old vine” isn’t regulated in the US? And, in Europe, the regulations vary by region and are generally pretty loose. It’s smart to ask “How old is old?” when you buy! Cheers!
Write to me with your wine-related question and I’ll get back to you in a jiffy!