When someone mentions Zinfandel you probably think about the easy drinking off dry, blush or white Zinfandel style that party goers love to drink. These wines account for over ten percent of all wines purchased in the United States. However there is much more to the Zinfandel grape than this popular version and it has an interesting history to boot. Zinfandel can produce a deep dry, rich red that can be as complex as any world class red.
For years wine vineyard experts believed that the Zinfandel grape originated from Italy where it was known as Primivito, a grape cultivated in the south of Italy where it still makes good wine to this day. However DNA testing by world renowned vine expert Carole Meredith at the University of Davis in California, identified the vine origins to a very obscure vine from Croatia named Crljenak Kastelanski.
The vine was first transported in the Boston area in the States around 1820 where it flourished as a hot house grape that produced sweet table grapes for the local market. Locals later made these grapes into wine and discovered that these wines were quite good. The name of the Croatian grape became Black St. Peter, probably due to the fact English speaking American had a hard time pronouncing the original name (and who could blame them?).
A botanist named Osborne took these vines to California in 1857 during the gold rush and planted them in Napa. They proved to grow well and ripen early and became quite popular as a wine producing grape until 1920. Prohibition slowed down the wine industry considerably but at home wine making was not prohibited during this time and the Zinfandel vine survived as a popular grape.
During the years from 1933 to about 1974 the grape languished as a grape that produced everyday table wine. However the California wine industry began to create some world class wine in the mid seventies and looked to the Zinfandel grape as a possible candidate for quality wine.
Early pioneers such as Sutter Brook, who first produced the blush style, continued to research and improve the quality of Zinfandel. Today the grape is firmly established as the native red grape of California that can produce outstanding wines.
In cooler regions of California such as Somoma Valley, the wines exhibit red berry fruit, spice and a bright lively acidity. In warmer climates such as Amador and Paso Robles, rich black berry and round soft wines are prevalent.
So put away that Cab Sav and Shiraz and reach for a Zin next time you shopping at your local wine store.
Reviewed by: John Gerum of West Coast Wine Education