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Readin goes her eplease. Readin goes her eplease. Readin goes her eplease. Readin goes her eplease.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Consider the following contrasting items: glazed doughnut or whole grain bagel, ground beef or filet mignon, Smart Car or Mercedes limousine, white zinfandel or red zinfandel.
The zinfandel grape is intriguing because it can be transformed into an innocuous, saccharine pink wine or a full-throttle red wine with powerful flavors and robust alcohol. While white zinfandel is often dismissed by the wine cognoscenti as insipid dreck, it can serve as a gateway into the fascinating world of wine. It is human nature to like sweet things, so it is only natural that some people are put off by the mouth-puckering tannins in dry red wine. White zinfandel outsells red four to one.
The evolutions of the two styles of wine are interesting. Zinfandel was first planted in California by European immigrants. In 1948, John and Mario Trinchero purchased the Sutter Home Winery, which had been closed since Prohibition. In the beginning they sold their wine and grapes to other wineries. In 1968, Mario’s son Bob tried a red zinfandel made from grapes grown in the old gold rush country of the Amador foothills, and he was so impressed that he started producing a red zinfandel. Before long, Sutter Home, in St. Helena, was considered one of the best red zinfandels.
Like most red grapes, zinfandel has clear juice, and the wine gains its color by being fermented with the skins. In 1972, Bob Trinchero bled off 550 gallons of freshly pressed clear zinfandel juice to increase concentration in the remaining batch of red. A Sacramento retailer offered to buy it and suggested the name Oeil de Perdrix, French for Eye of the Partridge. Trinchero fermented the wine fully dry, leaving no sweetness and aged it in oak barrels. When Trinchero asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to approve the wine name, they required that it be in English, so Trinchero submitted the name White Zinfandel. Trinchero sold 272 cases that year.
In 1975, Trinchero put 1,000 gallons of zinfandel juice in a 1,200-gallon tank, and he needed to top it off so the excess air space would not oxidize the wine. He added 200 gallons of juice from California’s indigenous mission grape. The wine refused to ferment past a sugar content of 2 percent and turned pink. Trinchero tasted the wine and believed it would sell, so he went ahead and bottled it. The sales went viral. By 1980, 34,000 cases of Sutter Home White Zinfandel were sold, and today more than 10 million cases are sold annually. Sutter Home is the sixth largest winery in the United States.
Today, novice wine drinkers buy white zinfandel for its light, fresh, sweet quality. The wine is inexpensive and quick to make because expensive oak barrels are not used.
By contrast, red zinfandel is a completely different animal. Vintners source their grapes from ancient gnarled vines that grow in torrid climes, yielding intense, extremely ripe grapes that produce heady wines with alcohol content up to 16 percent and above. White zinfandel, by comparison, usually weighs in around 10 percent because not all of the sugar is fermented into alcohol.
With the red, entire grapes are crushed and the resulting must is fermented so that as much color and substance are extracted from the skins as possible. It is often aged in oak barrels to add complexity. The finished wine is bold and spicy, pairing well with hearty foods such as barbecue, burgers and pizza.
I am not going to denigrate white zinfandel drinkers because I hope they will graduate to more complex and intriguing red wines.
Gordon’s picks for red zinfandel
*Prices and availability may vary
Sutter Home Red Zinfandel 2010
St Helena, Calif.
The folks who made white zinfandel famous still make red. This one displays a bright cordovan color and pleasant aromas of cherry liqueur and spices. The wine is soft and grapey on the palate, finishing with soft mild tannins. The wine is not complex, but if you currently drink white zin and you want to advance to red, give this a try. Serve with buffalo chicken wings. 13.5 percent ABV. $6.50
Cline Ancient Vine Zinfandel 2010
The vines that produce the grapes for this bold wine were planted in the Lodi and Oakley area by Italian and Portuguese settlers 80 to 100 years ago. These gnarled vines are dry farmed, producing super ripe, concentrated grapes. Bitter stems are removed and the finished wine rests in American oak barrels for six months. The wine displays a deep crimson color and bright raspberry aromas. Zingy raspberry liqueur flavors saturate the palate, finishing with a touch of tobacco. Serve with grilled burgers. 15 percent ABV. $17
Peirano Estates the Immortal Zin 2010
Giacomo Peirano was lured from Italy to California by the gold rush in 1879. After a fortune did not pan out he opened a mercantile store and planted zinfandel cuttings brought over from Italy. Today Peirano’s descendants maintain vineyards in Lodi that are up to 113 years old. The grapes are gently crushed and fermented, then aged in French oak for a year. The wine has a deep red color and heady tobacco and red fruit aromas. The palate shimmers with notes of cinnamon and clove and is soft on the finish. Serve with a hearty roast beef. Great value. 14.8 percent ABV. $11
Marietta Old Vine Red Lot No. 56
Consistently rated as a great value, this hearty red blend features zinfandel with a dollop of syrah and other reds thrown in to deepen the color. The wine displays an opaque purple red color and aromas of black cherries, pepper and saddle leather. It coats the palate with opulent blackberry flavors and spicy notes and finishes with soft tannins. Why not try it with pizza? 13.5 percent ABV. $15
Plungerhead Old Vine Zinfandel 2009
No corkscrew? No problem! This wine is sealed with an innovative closure known as a zork, so once the spiral plastic ring is easily peeled away the plastic stopper can be removed by hand. Most of the grapes come from 30- to 60-year-old vines. The wine displays a medium cordovan color and aromas of brambles, blackberries and cedar. The palate displays rich red fruit flavors accentuated by spice and black pepper. Serve with barbecue and sweet potato fries. Note: The zork makes a great stopper for future leftover wine. 14.9 percent ABV. $12
Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel California 2010
Ravenswood is considered one of the best zinfandel producers in the business, and this wine shows why. Opaque red in color, the wine shows heady aromas of blackberries and earth and luscious deep red fruit tones on the palate. Mild tannins and herb flavors linger on the finish. Serve with herb roasted chicken. 13.5 percent ABV. $11
Gordon Kendall’s monthly column on wine and spirits runs in Wednesday’s Extra.
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