Tag Archives: white zinfandel

Grape of the Week: Zinfandel

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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.

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Zinfandel: The All-American Wine for the Fourth!

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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

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Can you Make White Wine out of Red Grapes?

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Question from Ericka: Someone told me that they make white wine out of red grapes. Is that true? 

Reply: Hi, Ericka. Thanks for writing! Yup – it’s true. However, the vast majority of white wine is made from “white” (they look green or yellow-green when they’re ripe, like the grapes you get at the grocery) varieties. 

Unfortunately, this is the wrong time of the year for me to show you that the juice of dark wine grapes is clear. All of the grapes are tiny and green right now. They’ll start changing color mid to late July. But, anyway, if you squeeze a dark grape you’ll see that the juice is just as clear as a tear drop almost every time (there’s a handful of dark grapes with red juice – they’re called teinturier varieties – best known is Alicante Bouschet). 

The most famous example of white wine made from red grapes is sparkling wine. Of the three traditional grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, two are dark. The grapes are harvested at a low sugar, compared to grapes for table wine, so there’s little chance that the color will begin to bleed from the skins to the juice. Then, the grape clusters are pressed (squeezed) extremely gently, to separate liquid from solid. Et voilà – very pale white juice ready to be converted to wine! Blanc de Blancs is all Chardonnay. Blanc de Noirs and Rosé are Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier.

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Is There More than One Kind of Zinfandel?

Question from Sarah: We were at a restaurant and I ordered a glass of Zinfandel. When the wine came it was dark red instead of pink. I decided to go ahead and try it and I didn’t like it at all. It was really bitter and not nice and sweet the way I like it. Luckily my boyfriend liked it okay. Is there more than one kind of Zinfandel? 

Reply: Hi, Sarah. Thanks for writing! I hope they suggested another wine you might enjoy. We don’t want to lose you as a wine lover! 

I guess you could say there’s more than one kind of Zinfandel. Zinfandel is the name of a grape with a dark, nearly black, skin and clear juice – almost every dark-skinned grape has colorless juice. This fact gives the grape great versatility. Depending upon how long the juice and grape skins are in contact, the winemaker can produce white, pink or red wine.

Making White Zinfandel
White Zinfandel, the wine you thought you had ordered, is, strangely enough, pink! Here’s how it works: The winemaker picks the whole cluster of Zinfandel and then runs it through a machine that removes the stems and breaks the grape skins open. Then he transfers this soupy mixture of juice and skins into a fermentation tank and waits awhile. 

At some point he’ll open a valve to see the color of the juice. When he sees something he likes, he drains all of the juice out of the tank and transfers it to another tank. This is very, very sweet juice – absolutely delicious!  Continue reading

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