It’s one o’clock in the morning. Pinot’s party is in full swing. Pinot Gris has switched the vibe with some mellow acoustic soul, and Merlot has had enough glasses of bubbly to feel encouraged to approach the object of his desire. He has been trying to find the right words to use to approach her. “Excuse me Miss Sultry, you’re aroma called me from across the room, I just HAD to get closer to you.” Or “Gorgeous Lady Zin, loving you could never be a sin.” There she is, holding her position by the baby grand, microphone in one hand, her other pretty bejeweled hand playing with the stem of a glass filled with something white, something chilled. She’s having a chat with Viognier and Syrah, he’s thinking about how to interrupt gracefully. The off-white silk dress clinging to her full bodied curves makes his heart race, and when she smiles, her pearly whites look as though their floating in the darkness like the grin of the Cheshire cat. “Brown sugar mama, blackberry baby love, I want you in my life.”
Although discovered to be the same as the Primitivo grape cultivated in Apulia, Italy (the heel of the boot), and a close relative of a grape from Croatia called Plavac Mali, Zinfandel is indisputably an American original. Up until 1998 it was the most planted grape in California. Many are familiar with the pink pop known as White Zinfandel, the rosé “blush” which is produced in copious amounts and invariably sells for less than $8 a bottle – bubblegum in a glass! The variety was taken for granted for the most part until the 1960’s, when a handful of winemakers, most notably Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards on the Montebello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, made the red version an icon by producing single vineyard Zinfandels and Zin-dominated blends. There is even a thriving trade organization to promote the variety called ZAP – Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. They sponsor research in Zinfandel Vines and host events for consumers and trade every year. Those who fall in love with Zin are captivated for all time!
Here’s an amazing tasting note from Certified Sommelier Countess Rose Perry (Follow her @VinoCaPisco on Twitter), self-proclaimed Zinfandel expert (her words), for Hunt Cellars Rocket Man Zinfandel:
Appearance – Deep Amethyst, almost opaque
Nose – Violets, twizzlers and brown sugar-coated tea rose
Palate – Fleshy, meaty, jammy & extremely Marilyn Monroe type full bodied, flavors of blackberry jam, white pepper crusted ripened strawberries, clove, spiced grape jelly
Conclusions – LOVE IT!
This should give you an idea of what a typical Zinfandel can bring into your life – the goody goody goods, all day. Definitely for an American palate, kids who grew up on these flavors can skip the pink stuff and go straight for the red!
In truth, Zinfandel is divine as a solo act (a few back up singers can enhance the blend, but she doesn’t need accompaniment beyond that). Nonetheless, I pressed our Countess Rose, who agrees about drinking her Zin unadulterated, but suggested a Jarlsberg grilled cheese on brioche or green Cerignola olives with old vine versions.
Attack 2 Zins this weekend, one on the high end of the market if you can, and one for under $20. Top Zinfandels are worth the bucks, but you will have to shell out upwards of $60 a bottle for Ridge, Turley, Rosenblum, A. Rafanelli and the like, that Hunt Cellars Rocket Man included. These wineries are Zin temples, where homage is paid in the form of hand selection of grapes from old vines and painstaking blending and aging. There is, nonetheless, enough good juice (even from some old vines) on the lower end to go around, since it is such a ubiquitous and highly productive vine. One of my faves is Gnarly Head Old Vines Zinfandel, which retails for less than $13 a bottle and is delicious for the price. You’ll find Zinfandel based blends containing Petite Sirah, Grenache, Carignan, and other Syrah-compatible varieties. It turns out Merlot doesn’t end up in her mix – she’s too much woman for him!
*Old Zinfandel Vine planted in 1925 Courtesy of my Facebook Friend, Wine Trick