ZINFANDEL – A California Original
Well, for those of you that know wines, you are going, Hey – that’s not right, Zinfandel didn’t originate in California. Yes, that is correct, in fact Zinfandel is thought to be originally from Croatia. However, with its abundance of vineyard acreage (over 50,000 reported as of 2003) in California, many think of the red grape varietal as being an original product of the Golden State. You know a Zinfandal..California Original. But its actual roots have been confirmed to be from Croatia with early pioneers of the wine industry bringing it to California. But very interestingly, Zinfandel was well know on America’s East Coast in the early 1800s. With the Gold Rush it was brought west and by the mid 1800s was being grown in Sonoma and Napa Valleys. In Italy, the Italian varietal Primitivo is Zinfandel, with many believing that it may have been brought there from the US. Other appellations in California that are known for great Zinfandels include the Sierra Foothills AVA as well as north and south Central Coast.
In California, it wasn’t until the mid 1990s however that Zin fanaticism had grown — to have a greater number of acreage dedicated to this red varietal over the more popular Cabernet Sauvignon in certain AVAs that grow Zinfandel well. In Sonoma County, some of these areas are Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Rockpile AVAs. Sonoma Valley is known for some of its Old Vine Zin vineyards where there are still some producing vines from the late 1800s. Some of the most noteworthy are the Zinfandels from Dry Creek Valley with many wineries earning national and international reputations for producing high quality award winning wines.
The flavors and aromas that come through from this usually big, bold, spicy red are predominately red juicy, jammy dark black cherry, raspberry, strawberry, blueberry and blackberry. Cranberry, and even raison and fig can come through as well. Depending on the style — some Zins are in the realm of being much higher priced than what is commonly thought of for this varietal; those wines may demonstrate a liberal use of new French Oak. With that comes the cinnamon, vanilla and caramel profiles associated with new French oak. Typical of this grape varietal is an oak profile that that uses more neutral barrels and used or new American Oak which can produce aromas of coconut and dill.
As a Dry wine, there is often some perceptible RS (residual sugar) that the ripe fruit flavor component of Zinfandel can produce. Tannins are usually in check and not too overpowering (the astringent quality of reds) and acid is usually moderate as well.
To describe its earth components, a Dry Creek Zinfandel’s typical profile may be of slightly tilled dirt or potting soil, and in terms of spice, black pepper often shines through. This warm climate loving varietal can be high alcohol — with levels over 15 and even 16%. In some cases there are wineries moving away from such high alcohol levels. These are all decisions that are made by the winemaker as he or she is determining time to harvest and what they want their end product to look like — just one of the multitude of choices that create the individuality of the wines we drink. Speaking of Harvest…It is September and it’s going on in a vineyard near you! A very exciting time happening right now in Sonoma County as we speak! This is a subject for another Blog – so stay tuned!
Back to the grape varietal Zinfandel, did anyone say absolutely great with Barbecue? Well, it is — the flavor compliments between the two are fantastic. The spicy rich sauce needs something bold to stand up to its flavor profile and a great Zinfandel will do just that. Grilled meats including game like venison can be a great pairing as well particularly with a big, chewy Zinfandel. Pizzas and rich pasta sauces, burgers and all kinds of picnic foods can pair beautifully. There are a multitude of styles of Zin however and some more refined and elegant, while others that are very big and bold. Decisions about your pairings should be based on individual characteristics. In general, these are some of the rules of the road with a Zin pairing. As I already said, an ideal pairing with barbecue, also with other strongly flavored foods which include some of our favorite ethnic foods like Mexican or Indian — one very important caveat however is to watch out for too spicy. Too much heat…and higher tannic and alcohol wines can be a bad combination; mildly spicy particularly with a juicy, fruity slightly chilled young Zin is heaven on earth – Too much fire…and well not so good! Cheeses, depending on the level of RS quality to the wine can pair with different types of cheeses. With a dryer Zin, bold cheeses like Cheddar and Gouda are both great pairings. With higher RS and a more sweet character Zinfandel you can go to even creamier or blue cheeses. Delicious!
Hope you have enjoyed our discussion today about Zinfandel. This varietal is a wonderful gem and gift of nature that we have in abundance in Sonoma Wine Country! Sit back and enjoy a bottle this evening — hmmm, think I will as well.