Zinfandel is a variety of red grape planted all over California. According to Wikipedia, DNA fingerprinting has revealed that it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grape crljenak kaštelanski as well as tribidrag, a primitivo variety traditionally grown in Puglia, Italy. It found its way to the United States in the mid-19th century, where it has typically produced a robust red wine, although semi-sweet, blush-style white zinfandel has six times more sales. Red berry fruit flavors like raspberry predominate in cooler areas, whereas blackberry, anise, and pepper notes are more common in warmer climes.
Joseph W. Osborne may have made the first wine from zinfandel in California around 1850. Planting boomed and by the end of the 19th century it was the most widespread variety in the state. These old vines are now treasured for the production of premium red but many were ripped up during Prohibition. Zinfandel sank into obscurity as most was blended into undistinguished fortified wines. By the middle of the 20th century the origins of California zinfandel had been forgotten.
It is often true that juice blended from various regions can produce a consistently excellent product, and the Ravenswood Zinfandel Old Vine is a good example. This one is bold and spicy, with bold notes of cinnamon, allspice, red cherry, celery seed, and sage.
Moving on to wines from specific parts of California, Clos La Chance’s Zinfandel Estate, in this case from the Central Coast, brings red cherry and green tea aromas that lead to dark plum, red licorice, and more spice on the lengthy, smooth finish. Heading over to Contra Costa County, the Cline Zinfandel Bridgehead is much less bold but very clearly defined, with individual elements of baking spice, black cherry, and caramel. Red plum and brioche toast round out an impressive, well-built wine.
The Lodi region in the heart of zinfandel country produces a ton of terrific zins. The Seven Deadly Zins version is bold and beautiful, with cranberry, white raisin, and red licorice predominating up front. Cedar bark, black licorice, and black plums round out a very long finish.
Also from Lodi, The Mettler Family Vineyards Zinfandel Epicenter 2010 shows deep, dark prune at first, followed by black licorice and a hint of dolce de leche. Finally, Michael-David Winery’s Zinfandel Earthquake allows baked blackberry and crust aromas to mingle with huckleberry, fresh sage, and licorice on the lengthy palate.
While Zinfandel is often thought of as California’s red grape it is also grown in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Oklahoma. Its widespread popularity has contributed to criticism of it as a colonizer that takes over at the expense of native grape varieties. Nonetheless, there is much to celebrate in this iconic American grape.
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Ravenswood Zinfandel Old Vine 2010 (California, U.S.A.) $10
Clos La Chance Zinfandel Estate 2010 (Central Coast, California) $16
Cline Zinfandel Bridgehead 2010 (Contra Costa, California) $27
Seven Deadly Zins Zinfandel 2010 (Lodi, California) $15
Mettler Family Vineyards Zinfandel Epicenter 2010 (Lodi, California) $20
Michael-David Winery Zinfandel Earthquake 2011 (Lodi, California) $30