Zinfandel, the darling of American wine drinkers, long thought to be native to these soils, was recently discovered to be a descendant of Croatia’s Crljenak Kaštelanski vine. Incredibly, this discovery was made in 2001 little more than a decade ago by researchers from California’s UC Davis. The history of the search for Zinfandel’s roots goes back a few more decades to the 1960’s. It was then that another PHD from UC Davis discovered that Italy’s Primitivo grape was genetically identical to the Zinfandel grown here in the United States.
The primary difference being that the Primitivo grown in Manduria on the southern tip of Italy’s heel lends itself to more black fruit and spice characters than do the American zinfandel. The 2007 Felline Primitivo from Manduria for $14.99, with its inky almost black core and aromas of figs and dense black fruit followed by solid black fruit and plums on the palate is an excellent example of what this grape can do in Italy. I highly recommend this wine to anyone looking for a deeper understanding of the Zinfandel varietal, not to mention a joyride for your palate.
Moving back to Americas west coast in sunny California our story continues. Zinfandel and the producer Ravenswood have become almost synonymous. And for good reason, their devotion to the motto, “no wimpy wines” has lead to a level of quality that has become the industry standard. The 2009 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel from Ravenswood is a perfect introduction to central California Zins for only $10.99. It greets you with the signature plum and spice notes on the nose followed by sweet plum and berries on the palate. It’s a lovely wine and a great representative of Lodi Zinfandel from an excellent producer that won’t break the bank.
Sonoma’s Alexander Valley long known for its excellent Chardonnay and Cabernets is also home to some excellent and complex Zinfandels. One such is the 2010 La Storia by Trentadue winery for $19.99. This wine has an excellent balance of tart red and black fruits mellowed by time spent in oak barrels which leave the wine round and pleasing. It will pair well with grilled red meats, especially with some sweet barbeque sauce. Speaking of wine producing valleys in California one cannot omit the famed Napa Valley. Though most well known for its Cabernet Sauvignons, the soils of the Mayacamas Mountains in the eastern part of Napa are excellent for well balanced and dare I say elegant zinfandel. Storybook Mountain Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel for $32.99 is an excellent example of what this vine can produce given a more temperate climate. It is noticeably toned down in comparison to those grown in other parts of the world and it delivers a smooth rounded experience with light red fruit and oak which mesh together to create an excellent dinner companion.
Moving south to Paso Robles we have the 2010 Ridge ‘Paso Robles’ Zinfandel for $26.99. Ridge sources its grapes from Dusi Ranch which is one of the oldest vineyards in Paso Robles to be planted entirely to Zinfandel. Generally the warmest climate of those I have mentioned produced in this vintage a rather more focused wine. With a nose of cherry, red fruit and spice, followed by a firm palate with good acidity and well integrated tannins which accentuate the red fruit characters of the wine.
There is no shortage of Zinfandels to try and regions to explore. So if you’re tired of the same old Zins try something new and expand your horizons, take a trip off the beaten path with a wine from one of the more undiscovered places.
Bill A., Beltramo’s Wine Consultant