Tag Archives: Zinfandel

Grape of the Week: Zinfandel

Zin_ucd

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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Zippy Zins at the ZAP Festival!

Zaplogoredwithzap1

I love Zinfandel. Sometimes I get into a space where nothing else will do. In spite of all the complaints about its being high octane and sometimes sweet, I just love that bright mouthful of berries.

I just check the alcohol before I buy and avoid those brands that have been boozy or sweet in the past. We’ll take a good look at Zin before the ZAP festival, which starts on the 31st and goes through February 2nd.

ZAP, by the way, is short for “Zinfandel Advocates and Producers” and this annual tasting is what many people look forward to as the greatest tasting event of the year. If you live in the Bay Area or plan to be in the area at the end of the month the ZAP festival can be a wonderful, if somewhat dangerous, diversion and a chance to try some really fine Zins you haven’t tasted before. 

Dangerous, because more of us will go to the Grand Tasting, on Saturday the 2nd, than any other event and there are a bazillion wineries represented there. It takes some serious self control to prevent it from morphing into a Zin blowout that results in equally serious cotton mouth and monster headache later on.    Continue reading

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How to Select Red Wine

Malbec_ucdavis

malbec, UC Davis

Question from Lindsay: Everytime I go to the store to buy wine for a gift or a party, I’m overwhelmed by the choices.  I know there are Merlots, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and a few other types, but I have absolutely no idea what the difference between all of them are.  To me, they are all red. Can you give a brief overview of the general differences. 

Reply: Hi, Lindsay. Thanks for writing! This is another good question that lots of other people have. A few weeks ago I decided to write about a different grape variety every week, so soon there will be fairly detailed info on the most popular varieties available on the blog. Just do a search by variety. In the meantime, a broad-brush stroke for these reds is a great idea and will be this week’s grape(s) of the week 😉

Disclaimer 😉

Characteristics vary, a little or a lot, depending upon where the wine is grown and how it was made.
Here we go:

Cabernet Sauvignon:

Weight: Full bodied – big – substantial. And deeply colored. If you’re not sure what I mean by weight, you might compare it to the way milk feels on your palate: Light bodied = skim milk; Medium bodied = whole milk; Full-bodied = cream.

Flavor profile: Black fruit such as blackberry, black cherry, black currant; it may show earth, cedar, bell pepper, green olive or any number of other descriptors, depending, again, on where it’s grown and how the wine is made. When the winemaker chooses new barrels for aging the wood may add vanilla, spice, smoke, grilled bread, mocha, nutty character or a sense of toastiness.

Pucker factor (Tannin): Very noticeable. Tannin runs around your mouth seeking out protein and then clings to it. That’s what accounts for the drying, gripping sensation. Cab has thick skins and the skins are the source of the color and most of the tannin. 

Merlot:
If you sometimes think you’re drinking Merlot and it turns out to be a Cab – or vice versa – there’s a good reason. These grapes are similar. Take Cabernet back a notch and it begins to look more like Merlot.

Weight: Medium to full bodied

Flavor profile: Merlot often shows red fruit intermingled with black: Currant, black cherry, plum, violet, herb-like, earthy; Oak will add some of the woody characteristics described for the Cab.

Pucker factor: Usually noticeable, but softer than Cab. Merlot can leave a fleshy impression where Cabernet comes off as more structured. Continue reading

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Today’s Wine Word: Primitivo

Primitivo

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

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Zinfandel: The All-American Wine for the Fourth!

Zin_ucd

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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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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Get Zap’d!

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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