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The Zinfandel Grape


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About Zinfandel

(Synonyms: Black St. Peters, Crljenak Kaštelanski, Gioia Del Colle, Locale, Morellone, Plavac Veliki, Primaticcio, Primativo, Primitivo, Primitivo Di Gioia, Primitivo Nero, Taranto, Uva Della Pergola, Uva Di Corato, Zeinfandall, Zenfendal, Zinfandal, Zinfardel, Zinfardell, Zinfindal, Zinfindel, ZPC)

Background

Map showing California’s wine regions

Zinfandel is a red-wine grape originating in the Puglia region of southern Italy, where it was and is known as “Primitivo” (and possibly it was grown in Croatia even before that); but its fame arose from its development in California, where its ultimate source was long a much-debated mystery till recently modern DNA identification pinned that source down.

Zin (as it is often called) is probably vinifed in as wide variety of styles as any grape out there: it can range from bland, mild jug wines to huge, powerful tannic monsters to sweet dessert wines, and everywhere in between. (And that is not even to speak of that abomination known as “White Zinfandel”, and not speak of it is what we will do.)

Though Primitivo is now not as obscure as it was before its identification with Zinfandel, for all practical purposes Zins are a California product. Certain regions in California have become associated with certain styles of Zin, though of course that can only be a rough guide. Here they are more or less as Wikipedia recounts them:


Italian Primitivo may now be lawfully labelled as Zinfandel in both Europe and the U.S. Some Italian vintners choose to do so to make their wines more recognizeable, while others retain the old name hoping to sell on its “Old World” aura. Most Italian bottlings remain rustic high-alcohol versions, though some makers now use oak aging to emulate American Zin styling. (Curiously, though, in America the label must be one or the other: makers cannot put both names on the same bottle, leading to such nonsenses as a bottle specifying that its contents are a “Zinfandel-Primitivo blend”.)

High alcohol is not an artifact of Italian winemaking: it is natural to the grape. Many California Zins are quite high in alcohol (often to a greater extent thatn the label shows, as there is more legal slack in that number than is commonly realized); numbers like 15% or even (though rarely so labelled—winemakers are allowed +/- 1.5% leeway, which is a lot) 16% are not uncommon. Consequently, many Zins will taste as “hot”. Nonetheless, most serious makers seem to feel that vinifying for lower alcohol tends to lose the nature of the grape (and terroir), and they hold that the tannins and other flavor elements make the wines quite drinkable even at such levels.

As you see, it is hard to generalize about the nature of Zinfandel wines, but broadly speaking, one expects a full-bodied, assertive wine tasting deeply of dark red fruit (notably cherry) and with a good deal of “oomph”. There are lighter-weight versions as well, but Zin is rarely (if ever) a wine of delicacy or subtlety.

Because Zin is so popular (and such a good-selling wine), there is an awful lot of mediocre Zinfandel out there. Little or none is actually awful, but “Zin” is now like “Chard” or “Cab”, a mass product that the lesser makers would like buyers to think of as fungible. More than ordinary care is wanted in selecting Zins to drink.

Factoid: Zinfandel represents about 10% of all wine consumption in the U.S., but the dire white goop outsells real Zin by about 6:1. Sigh.

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Some Descriptions of Zinfandel Wines

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Some Zinfandels to Try

(About this list.)

Seghesio Zinfandel
(This is their basic Zin, not any of their “named” Zin bottlings.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
  (Beware offerings of 375-ml. splits.)



Rabble Zinfandel
Mossfire

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
  (CellarTracker has two separate listings for this wine.)
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



1000 Stories “Bourbon-Barrel-Aged”Zinfandel

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Quivira Zinfandel
(They make many Zins: this is their basic bottling.)

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
  (CellarTracker has two separate listings for this wine.)
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks



Dry Creek “Heritage Vines” Zinfandel

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker review pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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For a Splurge

You wouldn't go wrong with any of Carlisle’s Zinfandels, but we finally opted (mainly on its having a very slightly lower price than the several other like-rated Carlisle Zins) for the Carlisle “Montafi Ranch” Zinfandel (Russian River Valley).

• This wine’s Wine Searcher “Tasting Notes” page.
• This wine’s CellarTracker pages.
• Retail offers of this wine listed by Wine Searcher
• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks

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This page was last modified on Thursday, 16 January 2020, at 11:17 pm Pacific Time.