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America’s heritage wine: red zinfandel

WoW
"When I consider pairing a wine with turkey, lamb, ham, pork or barbecued meats complimented by herbs and spices, roasted onions, tomato, spiced apple and selected flavored hard cheeses, the “Classic American” red wine zinfandel is a top choice." Photos by Wayne Crawford

Wayne On Wine
By Wayne Crawford

  Wayne Crawford
  Wayne Crawford

The Wall Street Journal article by Mark Schatzker, “Best Diet is Deliciousness,” referred to this line in his new book, “The Dorito Effect”: “The surprising new truth about food and flavor … based on a 2006 Denmark study ‘found that Danish shoppers who purchased wine also brought healthier options across the board—olives, fruits and vegetables, spices and tea – instead of ketchup, chips, soda or precooked meals.’” He adds the good health of wine drinkers “may not be due to some artery-cleansing compound in grape skins; it may be because those who like the taste of wine also like the taste of healthier food.”  

Schatzker’s article reinforces my belief: Wine is enjoyed best with great food and, if it is healthy, all the better. I haven’t given up on port with Stilton blue cheese, Champagne and popcorn or zinfandel with pizza.

When I consider pairing a wine with turkey, lamb, ham, pork or barbecued meats complimented by herbs and spices, roasted onions, tomato, spiced apple and selected flavored hard cheeses, the “Classic American” red wine zinfandel is a top choice. When aged in oak, the dark berry flavors of blackberry, plum, blueberry and raspberry—complimented by vanilla, coffee and cinnamon—are enticing.

Worldwide, there are 70,000-plus acres planted with zinfandel; the center for production is the 48,000-plus in California. The epicenter is Sonoma County with its old-vine vineyards and great “zin” wineries, like Ravenswood, Seghesio Family Vineyards, Cline Cellars, Carlisle Winery & Vineyards, and Bella Vineyards & Wine Cave. Many of these produce zinfandel on 100-year-old vines.

The acidity and tannins are medium in zinfandel, but the high sugar content make this wine higher in alcohol, leading to a bolder, full-bodied red wine, often deep-purple in color. Like many wines, there are variances in production styles, from bold and dark, high in alcohol to a more supple zinfandel—best expressed by Nalle Winery—that pairs exceptionally well with lighter foods.

Zinfandel has become America’s red wine, since its rebirth from ancient roots in Croatia. Today, zinfandel is America’s heritage wine and is supported by Zinfandel Advocates & Producers or “ZAP,” zinfandel.org. Annually, University of California Davis (UC Davis), the leading wine school in the United States, invites a great “zin” winemaker to produce wines from his heritage zinfandel grapes. In the Big Canoe Wine Group’s blind-tasting for this article, we were fortunate to recommend highly the 2006 production.

The UC Davis efforts to improve the rootstock supporting red zinfandel began in 1995 at its Oakville Research Station, Napa Valley. Supported by ZAP, the idea was to establish a Heritage Vineyard Project to collect rootstock from selected California vineyards. The criteria included vines had to be older than 60 years, show small berries in loose clusters and be visually free of red leaf symptoms and indication for corky bark viruses.

Over the years, 90 selections were made to form the basis for the current research to provide virus-free zinfandel. The legacy for zinfandel growers to produce wine only will improve, based on this research.

The Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tasted 10 zinfandel wines, ranging from 2005 to 2013. Not surprisingly, the Sonoma wines showed very well.

‘Wines drinking well now’
Seghesio 2007 Zinfandel, $24. Aromas of raspberries and blueberries, with hints of spice, give this wine a rich berry taste that includes a touch of oak and soft tannins. It closes with a long, smooth finish. Best Buy.

UC Davis The Heritage Vineyard 2006, Oakville, Calif., $26. The winemaker for this vintage is Dr. Bernard Seps, who specializes in zinfandel at Storybook Winery. Ruby-garnet in color with raspberry, fresh berry and red fruit aromas and hints of spice, overall the wine is medium-bodied with smooth tannins. Highly Recommended.

Carlisle 2009 Zinfandel Montafi Ranch Russian River Valley, Santa Rosa Calif., $50. Produced from vines planted in 1926, this wine is 89 percent zinfandel and 11 percent mixed black varieties, including alicante bouschet, grand noir, petite sirah and peloursin. Medium-dark to opaque ruby-purple, it offers dark fruit aromas dominated with hints of spice. On the palate, it is medium-full to full-bodied, with flavors of blackberry and anise complemented by smooth tannins and a long finish. Highly Recommended.

Other wines to consider Ravenswood Dickerson Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, $30.99; Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2013, $18.99; Alexander Valley Vineyards Sin Zin Zinfandel 2012, $15.99; Michael David Winery 7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel 2012, $14.99; Ravenswood Big River Zinfandel 2011, $26.99; and Dashe Dry Creek Zinfandel 2012, $22.99.

‘Drink what you like’

In my next article, the focus is on summer wines to enjoy around the pool, on a picnic or while relaxing on the porch: Think crisp white wine, rose and sparklers.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators, American Wine Society and French Wine Society.


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