This is how it goes, someone asks what kind of wine to bring to a barbecue and the answer is beer …. or Zinfandel. Now, there are a few other wines that we could creatively pair with barbecue, but Red Zinfandel is, hands-down, the California wine of choice. Why? How? Read on...
What to expect from a California Red Zinfandel
Dark ruby red color, but not as dark a Cabernet or Merlot. Depending on age, the edges can feather (gradual color fade out). The more feathering the older the wine.
Red Berry, ripe plum, & black fruits – with spices, herbs, and pepper notes
Flavors of black ripe fruits (blackberry, raspberry, boysenberry & cherry) and spices (black pepper, cloves, anise, cinnamon & herbs). There will be good acidity. A high-quality Zinfandel will also have medium to high tannins. The tannins are the key to better quality Zinfandel as they bring balance to the big fruit flavors and acidity. Almost all Zinfandels have big fruit flavors, but cool weather or well-tended Zinfandel will balance that with moderate to high acidity and tannin.
The big fruit favor is our first impression with Zinfandel. We assume that the big fruit flavor will stand up to caramelized, spicy, or smokey meals That is true, but the acidity is what really makes Zinfandel a wonderful bbq pairing. The acidity will cleanse the palate and allow the fruity notes to take center stage. This lively acidity also sparks our taste buds which makes the next bite of food extra enjoyable. Often, in wine-speak, acidy is referred to as the life-of-a-wine and Zinfandel really showcases this.
Zinfandel as a grape has a special place in our California hearts. For a long time, it was thought to be a native grape. While we know differently now, it might as well be. Some quick stats:
Zinfandel is almost exclusively grown in California.
In 2016 it was grown in 45 of the 58 California wine counties.
Zinfandel is the third-leading wine grape variety in California.
10% of all wine grapes grown in California are Zinfandel.
Zinfandel was introduced to California during the Gold Rush. Its DNA matches Italy’s Primitivo and Croatia’s Crijenak Kastelanski (the most-likely originator). Zinfandel and Primitivo have matching DNA, but are not the same. Both are very good wines, but they are very different. Variations in vine vigor, cluster size, cultivation, water practices and wine-making differentiate Zinfandel from its genetic relatives. In other words, when the vines got to California they found a unique home and they made a unique wine.
Even in production Zinfandel is all about California. In 2017 there were 71,000 acres of Zinfandel planted worldwide, 50,000 acres in California and 20,000 in Puglia Italy. That sounds like a lot of great barbeque wine, but 85% of the California Zinfandel production is devoted to White Zinfandel – a.k.a. “Blush.”
Blush is basically a Rosé wine from Zinfandel grapes. The name Blush comes from a 1970 marketing campaign to convince wine buyers, who where shunning Rosé, that “Blush” was something new. It worked. “Blush” was and still is a marketing success. “Blush” is often the first wine anyone tries. It is low in alcohol (9-10%), it is low in calories, it is cheap, and it tastes sweet.
Wine snobs hate "Blush." It is not complex, it has no lively acidity and it is more like a wine cooler than a wine. Plus, all these grapes could have been used to make red Zinfandel.
Some other fun facts about Zinfandel. It is very water friendly. Once established it does very well being 'dry-farmed' (the practice of relying only on natural rainfall for growing grapes). Many high-end producers dry farm to improve the quality of yield.
Zinfandel fields look distinctive. Zinfandel grows deep roots which allow for a sturdy truck. Most Zinfandel is “head-pruned.” No rows, no stakes, no wire supports, just the vines (see image here). In the winter a field of Zinfandel looks like acres of woody claws reaching up from soil. Some of the best Zinfandel vines can live and produce for over 100 years.
We had a red Zinfandel on our tasting this month. It has been in the Shop before and is made a reappearance in the clean-up spot of last week's tasting line up.
2014 Edmeades Zinfandel – Mendocino County, CA
77% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah & 8% Syrah – From the Coastal Mountains of Mendocino County.
TASTING NOTES: Warm and intense aromas of cinnamon and cloves. Those spices give way to aromas of blackberries, currants, and sage. The texture is round, and the fruit expression is concentrated and lush. Soft tannins accentuate the richness of the wine, while pleasant acidity keeps it fresh on the finish.
We hope to see you soon.
If per chance you said, "beer" as your answer to the opening question, then come in and check out some of our lighter beers. We have a wonderful Pilsner right now, the "Amwolf" from Eagle Rock Brewery, that would fit the bill nicely for those bigger, richer meals.
National Agricultural Statistics Service (2007-04-13). "Grape Acreage Reports". USDA. Retrieved 2007-12-17.
Jancis Robinson, "The Great Grapevine" in The Financial Times, October 12th, 2012