• Two Thumbs Way Up
• Rich aromas of candied apple, cedar, mocha, ripe black cherries, new leather and violets. This elegant wine has flavors of dark chocolate, mocha, sour cherry, cranberry and black pepper with delicate notes of dry herbs and tea.
Zinfandel. Is it red? Is it “white”? Is it high in alcohol? Is it a jar of jam? Is it spicy? Is it an American grape? Is it the immigrant descendent of the Croatian grape crlijenak kastelansk?
The answer to all questions is an enigmatic yes.
Big, bold red zinfandel comes from the same grape as the pinkish, slightly sweet version. The difference is that the clear juice inside a zinfandel grape comes into brief contact with its outer skin, giving white zin its characteristic pink hue. This is the same grape skin that lends all the peppery spiciness to red zinfandel wine.
High in alcohol? In most cases, emphatically yes. Zinfandel ripens unevenly, which means some grapes are completely ripe and ready, while others on the same bunch are barely halfway developed. As we wait for the poky grapes sufficiently ripen, the early ripening grapes gain a ton of sugar. More sugar equals more alcohol during fermentation. The overripe grapes lend a jammy, prune quality to zinfandel’s taste profile.
Centuries ago, crlijenak kastelansk mutated into zinfandel and into primativo. Primativo found a home in southern Italy. Zinfandel found its way, likely through English botany enthusiasts, across the Atlantic and eventually to the West Coast. Italian immigrants embraced the grape once they arrived in northern California in the late 1800s.
Zinfandel is not widely cultivated outside the United States, but we have embraced this ragamuffin fruit like the many millions of other European immigrants looking for a place to call home.
All this washed over me the other day as I tasted through several zinfandels from Amador County, home to some of the earliest zinfandel plantings. I was particularly tickled by the finesse of the zin from Terra d’Oro’s Deaver Vineyard, which has vines planted during the Ulysses S. Grant administration.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a wine consultant for Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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