So what do you know about Zinfandel? Yes, it’s the same grape that made that pink wine back in the day that no one admits to drinking. Actually, we should be thankful for those pink wines as they are the reason that all of the Zinfandel vines were not dug up long ago. Because the vines were saved to make that seemingly ubiquitous pink wine, today we have some wonderful, old Zinfandel vines that are capable of making some rich and intense wines.
Once thought to be indigenous to California, genetic testing has determined that Zinfandel originated in Croatia where it’s known as Crljenak Kastelanski and is also identical to southern Italy’s Primitivo grape. So even though Zinfandel isn’t California’s own, the style of wine produced there is unlike any other. With an ability to thrive in warm climates, Zinfandel grapes trend to be high sugar which often results in high alcohol wines. Other times the wines are left with a hint of residual sugar. The bold, full-bodied wines are known for their jammy red and black fruits, licorice, spice, and sometimes herbaceous flavors. California Zinfandel tends to be easy-drinking with smooth tannins and is typically great on its own as well as with a variety of foods. That ripe, sweet fruit makes it a classic match with BBQ. I also love it with a burger and pizza. And cheese. Oh, and Tex-Mex. And…OK, with lots of things.
And since we are celebrating National Zinfandel Day, here are a few Zinfandels that are quintessentially California and are sure to please.
2016 Artezin Mendocino County Zinfandel* ~$18
Sustainably grown and crafted of 84% Zinfandel, 14% Petite Sirah, and 2% Carignan, this is classic California Zin. In fact, Artezin calls it a Zinny Zin and it will certainly appeal to those who enjoy the signature California style. Medium to full bodied with classic baked red jammy fruits and some baking spice, this is a great weeknight wine and even fun for hanging out on the patio. The lush, ripe cherry and smooth tannins just beg for pizza.
2014 Artezin Collins Vineyard Russian River Valley Zinfandel* ~$36
Using grapes from 80+ year old vines, this Zin which is comprised of 96% Zinfandel and 4% Carignan, offers up juicy black fruits, smokiness, earth, and spice. Full bodied with expressive and smooth tannins that provide structure, this one is much more concentrated and complex than it’s Mendocino sibling. But the ripe fruit still persists. This one could be drank now or held for a few years (if you can wait). I could totally go steak or burger with this one.
2015 Boneshaker Lodi Zinfandel ~$16
I’ve drank a great deal of Dry Creek Zins, but am just now getting into Lodi. Not sure what took so long, but I’m happy to be at the party. Comprised of 81% Zinfandel, 13% Petite Sirah, and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon this one offers up blackberry, dried plum, chocolate and a smidge of spice and smoke. Like velvet in the mouth but with some surprising structure as well, this is heady stuff and what Lodi Zin is all about. Pizza, lasagna and other red sauces are calling your name with this one. And you can’t beat the quality price ratio here.
2014 Klinker Brick Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel ~$18
Still keeping my Lodi game strong. This 100% Zin is blend of 16 different vineyard blocks of old vine zinfandel vineyards with an average age of 86 years. Ripe blue and black fruits, black pepper, and some cedar and leather make for a nicely complex wine. Amazing at this price point. Rich tannins and soft, plump mouthfeel, it just coats your mouth with juicy fruit. There’s a hint of sweetness that would make this shine with some smoky Texas BBQ.
2014 Limerick Lane Russian River Zinfandel ~$40
The winery’s flagship estate wine is a study in restraint. The wine is primarily Zinfandel, but there are other grapes interplanted in the Zin field blend, including Peloursin, Négrette, and Petite Sirah. While the hallmark red fruits are present, cinnamon, leather, meaty, beefy, and herbaceous notes are also present. And pepper. Prominent pepper. Quite noticeable acidity and “something” that sort of reminds me of Syrah. Perhaps it’s that the tannins are much more noticeable. A long lingering finish ensures that this will stay embedded in the brain for a while. I’m so intrigued by this wine.
2013 Robert Craig Black Sears Vineyard Howell Mountain Zinfandel ~$60
When I saw this wine, I bought the few that were available and I haven’t been sorry. Of course when I think of Howell Mountain, I think of bold, pricey Cabernet Sauvignon. But at the very top of the mountain, some 2,500 feet above the valley floor is the Black Sears Vineyard which produced Zinfandel as well as a few other varieties. Black fruit, earthiness, baking spice, and white pepper quickly remind me that this is not Cab Sauv. Power and elegance exist cohesively in the wine which shows off its undeniable terroir with some traces of minerality. This was not a jammy, fruity Zin by any stretch. It’s restrained, has nice acidity, and would pair nicely with braised meat rather than red sauces or BBQ. I hope I can hold my last bottle for another year or so to see it continually evolve.
Have any favorite Zinfandels? I would love to hear about them.