This seventh-place ranking reflects only white zinfandel consumption. Red wines made from the same zinfandel do not have a category of their own in most consumption statistics. They are lumped in the all encompassing “other” category. Though zinfandel is zinfandel whether made into rosé/white zinfandel or hearty red wines.
So where does the wine from America’s third most-planted varietal end up? A large portion goes into bulk wines bottled in gallon jugs or boxes that carry names like Heritage Mountain Burgundy, Hearty Burgundy or just plain Burgundy made by the likes of Gallo, Almaden and Inglenook.
The last time I checked, Burgundy is a region in France known for making delicate wines of great finesse from pinot noir and chardonnay. The region is not known for hearty wines. Why some American producers continue to use the French name Burgundy for their hearty wines is puzzling.
Only a small percentage of America’s total zinfandel production ends up in varietally labeled zinfandel wines made from America’s oldest, and historically most prolific, varietal. These varietally labeled wines, many made from old vines, are big jammy, truly hearty wines whose labels boast of the varietal’s heritage.
Zinfandel likely first made its way to America in the 1830s when it was imported to East Coast nurserymen who subsequently sold cuttings to vineyardist for propagation.
Later cuttings were brought by Italian immigrants who came to strike it rich in the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. These Italian immigrants called the grape “primitivo.”
By the 1860s it was firmly established in California where it came to be called by its present name. Remarkably, some of these original zinfandel vines survived and their fruit, though somewhat limited, is prized for the intense flavor they impart to wines labeled “Old Vine.”
In 1993, through advances in DNA fingerprinting techniques, UC Davis professor Carole Meredith determined Italian primitivo and zinfandel are genetically the same grape. Later studies would track the grape’s origin to Croatia where it was called “Tribidrag,” known to the region at least since the 15th century.
As has been stated often in this column, America has no indigenous vinifera grape varieties. Our entire wine industry was built on imported vines, but when these imports reached America, especially zinfandel, they found a home where they thrive beyond what would have been the original vine importers ability to comprehend.
Zinfandels are ideal wines for this time of year. They are great accompaniments to hearty winter stews and smoked meats. Their flavors are characterized by jammy goodness tempered with spice, cedar and hints of vanilla. Try one of these hearty reds made from one of America’s most historical varietals.
2011 Poizin. $11.75 at Tyson’s Fine Wines and Things in Golden Springs. Perfect zinfandel for Halloween. The bottle is decorated with skull and cross bones. “A wine to die for,” says the maker sourced from one of the premium zinfandel growing areas, the Dry Creek region of Sonoma. A serious zinfandel in a fun package. Packed with jammy fruit. A wine of substance, but balanced.
Zen of Zin. $12.99 at Publix. From the famous Ravenswood Winery established by zin pioneer Joel Peterson. This in-your-face zin holds up admirably to pricier ones.
Joel Gott 2011 Zinfandel. In the $15 range at both Tyson’s and Publix. The Joel Gott label is known for providing exceptional wines at reasonable prices. Fruit for this 100 percent zinfandel was sourced from numerous appellations known to be friendly to zinfandel. Lots of jammy fruit on the approach with hints of pepper and vanillin. Pleasant.
The Zin. $17.99 at the Wine Cellar on Quintard. From the Consentino Winery. A jammy, spicy, easy-drinking zin.
Email Pat Kettles at email@example.com