Zinfandel is a misunderstood grape, largely because of its many incarnations including the “wine-snob” frowned upon (but super high volume) White Zinfandel. Many beginning wine drinkers may pass it up simply because they don’t know how good it can be (I was one of those a long time ago). But Zinfandel in its best form creates rich, heavy, distinctive red wines that are fun to throw in the mix for a change of pace now and then.
Zinfandel typically has notes of super ripe fruit, lots of red fruit and berries; full bodied and big in the mouth with a distinctive finish that you will begin to instantly recognize as you dive in. You see a lot of wine critics refer to Zinfandel as “jammy.” Zinfandel goes great with everything from hamburgers to BBQ ribs to Thanksgiving dinner.
California has emerged as the leading producer of Zinfandel and it grows in many different areas of the state, and it grows well. You will see references to “old vine” Zinfandel and Gnarly vines, because they grow so radically.
Amador County is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and is widely regarded for its Zinfandel. The climate is hot during the day and cool at night, which helps the grapes to ripen up nicely. A couple names to note from Amador: Four Vines “The Maverick” ($20 and I love this wine), Sobon Estate ($14) and Montevina ($7-20).
Another big area in northern Sonoma is Dry Creek Valley, which I also mentioned for its Merlot and Cabernet. Dry Creek Valley is recognized for having some of the most popular Zinfandel in the state, and benefits from its cool, foggy climate not far from the Coast. Ridge ($25-50) is one of my favorite Zinfandels from Dry Creek Valley. Coppola Wines offers a nice Dry Creek Zin for around $20. And keep an eye out for Seghesio Zins, another worthwhile taste, starting at around $20 and going up from there.
Lodi is a little further inland, but produces excellent Zins and this is where you see a lot of the “old vine Zinfandel.” Lodi is a great place to go for value since you can score nice Zins from here under $20. Look for 7 Deadly Zins ($12) and Ravenswood Old Vine ($12). And as you go further up market, you can find fantastic Lodi Zins in the $25 range that taste like they cost $50.
Zinfandel is also grown in Italy where it is known as Primitivo. Next time you run across one of these bottles in the store you’ll know what grape it is, and you may see Italian blends that include Primitivo. Most Primitivo is grown in the Puglia area of Italy.
Your Zinfandel Check List:
– Amador County Zinfandel
– Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel
– Lodi Zinfandel
– Italian Primitivo
Fast Fact: Zinfandel is genetically the same as the Croatian grape Crljenak Kaštelanski (pronounced sirl-yen-ack kastelanski). Order one of those at a restaurant if you really want to sound fancy.