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From my earliest wine drinking days I have always loved Zinfandel. Not all Zinfandels mind you, but those that are balanced and well-made from fruit grown in old and well- situated vineyards. Early on, the great Ridge Zinfandels (Geyserville, Jimsomare, Picchetti, Pagani, Lytton Springs, etc.) and Joe Swan were particular favorites. And, it was not always the case that everyone loved Zinfandel and still may be the case today. I say that because I am reminded of an incident from years ago. It was in the time when we did tastings for the old Underground. We would accumulate the wines we wanted to taste (Cabernets, Chardonnays, Bordeaux, etc.) Then we would send notices to our list of tasters as to the theme, time, location and cost. And after each tasting we would announce the theme of our next tasting. One night I announced that our next tasting would be Zinfandels. One of my wine buddies chimed in “Count me out! Who wants to drink that stuff?” I did and do, but different strokes for different folks!

Zinfandel is generally thought of as California’s own. However, its origins go back to vines that existed in Croatia and Italy in the 19th century. Vines arrived on the East Coast in the early 19th century. The name Zinfandel existed in various forms at that time and is of uncertain origin. The vines came to California during the time of the gold rush. In California,  Zinfandel was widely planted in field blends with other varieties. By the end of the 19th century, Zinfandel was well-established in California. The wines made from these vines were the basis of many of the jug wines that were made in the very early days before and after prohibition. During prohibition many of the old Zinfandel vineyards were taken out. As varietal bottlings evolved Zinfandel became popular and there were some 100% Zinfandels and some Zinfandels that were made of field blends with other grape varieties. Then came the late harvest craze of the 1960s when alcoholic, port-like Zinfandels became the rage. Fortunately this trend was short lived, but it created a terrible over supply of Zinfandel grapes. A lucky mistake at Sutter Home Winery in Napa resulted in “White Zinfandel” which became very popular with novice wine drinkers who liked their wine with some sweetness. That trend continues today and probably saved many old Zinfandel vines which today are producing grapes that go into some really terrific red wines.

Today Zinfandel is planted in over 10% of all California vineyards. It is also grown in 14 other states from Washington to New York as well as countries like Australia, Mexico, and South Africa. And, the Italian grape Primitivo was approved in Europe as the same as Zinfandel and is, therefore, eligible to be exported as Zinfandel. White Zinfandel accounts for nearly 10% of U.S. wine sales today by volume and has six times the sales of red Zinfandel. Most of the grapes used for White Zinfandel now come from California’s Central Valley.

Zinfandel is very versatile. The Zinfandel grape has a high sugar content which can be fermented to alcohol levels well above 15%.  However, for me, the best Zinfandels are rich and balanced. They exhibit ripe, but not overripe fruit. They also tend to have alcohol levels in the 14-15% range, but again the best ones are balanced by the purity of the fruit. I like Zinfandel with hearty foods like grilled meats. Also with cheese and other savory dishes such as pasta with spicy sauces. It is also a wine I serve at Thanksgiving along with Rosé and Cru Beaujolais. Zinfandel is a good match for the traditional savory Thanksgiving foods. And, just as we celebrate Thanksgiving for the founding of our country, it is nice to also celebrate with Zinfandel, which like our forefathers, came here and found a home.

Recently, I tasted two newly released 2009 Zinfandels — one from Napa and one from Sonoma. Both are really delicious. Along with the great 2009 Zinfandels from Ridge (click here [1] to read my recent article on Ridge containing notes on 7 different recently released 2009 Ridge Zinfandels),these are the best Zinfandels I have had recently. If you haven’t tried Zinfandel or haven’t had one in a while, I recommend that you try these wines. And, you just might want to buy some for Thanksgiving as well.

2009 Quivira Vineyards and Winery Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Sonoma California. This Zinfandel was made from estate grown grapes and grapes harvested from neighboring vineyards. Production totaled 2,363 cases. The wine is composed of 83% Zinfandel, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petite Sirah, 3% Syrah, and 2% Grenache. This somewhat unusual blend has produced a Zinfandel with balance, depth, and complexity. The wine has a dark color and a deep olallieberry perfume with hints of spice and a faintly briary, floral undertone. It has layers of olallieberry fruit and is supple and lush with a nice underlying complexity of spice and a tinge of chocolate accented by a faint briary, floral quality –- Outstanding. $203-yellow-stars

2009 Robert Craig Winery Howell Mountain Napa Valley California. Robert Craig Winery is best known for their outstanding line of vineyard designated Cabernet Sauvignons and their proprietary blend of Bordeaux varietals, Affinity. However, they also make a small quantity of Zinfandel which is sourced from the Black Sears Vineyard situated at the very top of Howell Mountain. This 2009 is a very elegantly crafted Zinfandel that is composed of 86% Zinfandel, 9% Petite Sirah, and 5% Syrah. The production totaled only 294 cases. The wine is dark in color and has a gorgeous perfume of blackberries and plums with hints of spice and a faint floral undertone. With lots of floral tinged fruit accented by hints of spice, vanilla, and a hint of cocoa, the wine is lush and rounded with a long finish –- Outstanding.  $50 3-yellow-stars



So there you are. Go ahead. Make it a Z day! And make sure you have some Z for T day!

In Vino Veritas,

John Tilson