• Lorelei Helmke

Zinfully Delicious

Zinfandel has risen to become known as “America’s Grape.” Perhaps because America, particularly California is the only place Zinfandel is (or zinfandal) is cultivated on a large scale. It is a European black grape variety with exotic dark fruit flavors and enticing aromas. These aromas and flavors vary according to where the grape actually grows. It is bottled as a single varietal as well as blended with other grapes to produce such acclaimed wines as Orin Swift’s Prisoner and a majority of Ridge wines.

As we near Halloween, you will begin to see more zinfandel and zinfandel blends hit the shelves. Autumn is a prefect time of year for red zinfandel; it is bold and fruity, easily approachable. Many wineries produce wines with forboaddiqg packaging like Bogel’s Phantom and 7 Deadly Zins. It works well, zinfandel is a dark wine, perfect for a darker time of year.

Zinfandel also happens to be the one red wine that truly pairs with our traditional Thanksgiving Day feast. Zinfandel’s fruit forward nature along with its spice compliments the turkey and cranberry flavors we gather around. Besides, it’s only fitting that we drink a wine grown in America with our American celebration.

We know cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and chardonnay - they are pedigreed varieties that came from France. What about Zinfandel? Why do we grow it here while none of the other major wine regions do?

Zinfandel - A brief history

Zinfandel has been cultivated in California since the mid 1800s. It was a very important crop during the gold rush as it was the perfect variety for those who made their own wine. It grew easily in California and because it matured with high levels of sugar, it made palatable wine even in the hands not so talented winemakers. Fortunately, during prohibition, zinfandel kept on producing wine in the hands of those who dared to make their own wine.

The varietal itself was thought to have been from Hungary, engineered by viticultural pioneer Agoston Haraszthy and related to the Croatian grape variety plavac mali. This is not the case. In the early 1990s, DNA fingerprinting identified it as the same variety grown in Puglia, Italy, (the helot the boot) primitivo; not related to plavac mali at all. Early California viticulturists had identified it as “Black St. Peters” grown in New England. No one can say where is actually came from. We don’t know if we received it from Italy, or we exported it to them. Zinfandel is a grape variety without a documented past. America adopted it as its own - America’s Grape.

Fast-Forward to 2015

This summer I had the opportunity to attend a wine dinner in Lahina, Maui, at Mic Fleetwood’s restaurant in which zinfandel was the featured variety. It had been a while since I had experienced zinfandel’s intoxicating flavors; the dinner reinvigorated my love America’s Grape. The wines presented were all from Turley Vineyards. It was impressive to taste the differences in the zinfandels grown in the different regions of California. Then again, I am always amazed at how the earth shines through wine. The earth gives to every plant that grows in its soil; grapes made into wine illuminate the minerals and terroir they were grown in.

Zinfandel grows in almost every viticultural region (AVA) in California. I have chosen four designations to tell you about. Zinfandel can be lighter is style and easily approachable, dark and heavy with lots of complexity and tannins or anything in between.

Alexander Valley

Located in the North North East of Sonoma County, Alexander Valley is home to some to a number of old zinfandel vines. It is not uncommon to find zinfandel vines that are approaching 100 years of age. As the vines get older, the grapes it produces get smaller, compacting the flavors and aromas. Any bottle labeled “Old Vines” will have more structure and deeper, richer flavors. Alexander Valley produces zinfandel that is aromatic and fruity, most of which are easily approachable and a good choice for novice red wine drinkers. Ridge Geyserville is an excellent choice.

Paso Robles

Inside San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles is a series of rolling grasslands in a decidedly hot region. It benefits from the cooling breezes of the Pacific Ocean. Here, zinfandel is often dry-farmed in the traditional Italian methods. Dry-farming forces the vine to put all of its energy into the production of fruit, creating loads of complexity in the juice. The fruit is softer and very approachable. Turley produces a wonderful zinfandel from this region along with Rosenblum and Peachy Canyon.

Lodi

South of Sacramento, Lodi sits on land higher than the delta below with soils that have washed down from the Sierras. Rolling hills of clay and volcanic soils produce wines with dark red fruit flavors and hints of tea and spice. Lodi has been producing zinfandel since the gold rush, so it comes as no surprise the one will find many old vine zinfandels from this region. Lodi has only recently began to be acknowledged as a premier AVA. Check out McCay Cellars, Mettler Family and Fields Family zinfandels.

Amador County

Just north of the Sierra Foothills, lies Amador County. Like Lodi, the miners who populated that region during the mid 1800s had zindandel, so there are may old vine zinfandel vineyards around. The soils are a mixture of volcanic and granitic. This produces a distinctively different style of zinfandel. These wines tend to be well-structured with secondary and tertiary flavors. Unlike other regions, Amador County zinfandels will often exhibit aromas of graphite and bacon fat along with granitic tannins. Turley Cellars winery is located in Amador County. Other great producers include, C.G.DiArie, Amador Cellars and Renwood.

We don’t know exactly where zinfandel came from, or how it got here, but I’m glad it’s here. Zinfandel has been a part of our country’s history for more than 150 years. We adopted this now, iconic grape, as our own.

Personally, I am looking forward to autumn, the cooler winds and turning of leaves. I already see pumpkin decor for sale and have started planning for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Zinfandel will definitely be there!

CHEERS!

Lorelei J. Helmke

Zinfandel has risen to become known as “America’s Grape.” Perhaps because America, particularly California is the only place Zinfandel is (or zinfandal) is cultivated on a large scale. It is a European black grape variety with exotic dark fruit flavors and enticing aromas. These aromas and flavors vary according to where the grape actually grows. It is bottled as a single varietal as well as blended with other grapes to produce such acclaimed wines as Orin Swift’s Prisoner and a majority of Ridge wines.

As we near Halloween, you will begin to see more zinfandel and zinfandel blends hit the shelves. Autumn is a prefect time of year for red zinfandel; it is bold and fruity, easily approachable. Many wineries produce wines with forboaddiqg packaging like Bogel’s Phantom and 7 Deadly Zins. It works well, zinfandel is a dark wine, perfect for a darker time of year.

Zinfandel also happens to be the one red wine that truly pairs with our traditional Thanksgiving Day feast. Zinfandel’s fruit forward nature along with its spice compliments the turkey and cranberry flavors we gather around. Besides, it’s only fitting that we drink a wine grown in America with our American celebration.

We know cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and chardonnay - they are pedigreed varieties that came from France. What about Zinfandel? Why do we grow it here while none of the other major wine regions do?

Zinfandel - A brief history

Zinfandel has been cultivated in California since the mid 1800s. It was a very important crop during the gold rush as it was the perfect variety for those who made their own wine. It grew easily in California and because it matured with high levels of sugar, it made palatable wine even in the hands not so talented winemakers. Fortunately, during prohibition, zinfandel kept on producing wine in the hands of those who dared to make their own wine.

The varietal itself was thought to have been from Hungary, engineered by viticultural pioneer Agoston Haraszthy and related to the Croatian grape variety plavac mali. This is not the case. In the early 1990s, DNA fingerprinting identified it as the same variety grown in Puglia, Italy, (the helot the boot) primitivo; not related to plavac mali at all. Early California viticulturists had identified it as “Black St. Peters” grown in New England. No one can say where is actually came from. We don’t know if we received it from Italy, or we exported it to them. Zinfandel is a grape variety without a documented past. America adopted it as its own - America’s Grape.

Fast-Forward to 2015

This summer I had the opportunity to attend a wine dinner in Lahina, Maui, at Mic Fleetwood’s restaurant in which zinfandel was the featured variety. It had been a while since I had experienced zinfandel’s intoxicating flavors; the dinner reinvigorated my love America’s Grape. The wines presented were all from Turley Vineyards. It was impressive to taste the differences in the zinfandels grown in the different regions of California. Then again, I am always amazed at how the earth shines through wine. The earth gives to every plant that grows in its soil; grapes made into wine illuminate the minerals and terroir they were grown in.

Zinfandel grows in almost every viticultural region (AVA) in California. I have chosen four designations to tell you about. Zinfandel can be lighter is style and easily approachable, dark and heavy with lots of complexity and tannins or anything in between.

Alexander Valley

Located in the North North East of Sonoma County, Alexander Valley is home to some to a number of old zinfandel vines. It is not uncommon to find zinfandel vines that are approaching 100 years of age. As the vines get older, the grapes it produces get smaller, compacting the flavors and aromas. Any bottle labeled “Old Vines” will have more structure and deeper, richer flavors. Alexander Valley produces zinfandel that is aromatic and fruity, most of which are easily approachable and a good choice for novice red wine drinkers. Ridge Geyserville is an excellent choice.

Paso Robles

Inside San Luis Obispo County, Paso Robles is a series of rolling grasslands in a decidedly hot region. It benefits from the cooling breezes of the Pacific Ocean. Here, zinfandel is often dry-farmed in the traditional Italian methods. Dry-farming forces the vine to put all of its energy into the production of fruit, creating loads of complexity in the juice. The fruit is softer and very approachable. Turley produces a wonderful zinfandel from this region along with Rosenblum and Peachy Canyon.

Lodi

South of Sacramento, Lodi sits on land higher than the delta below with soils that have washed down from the Sierras. Rolling hills of clay and volcanic soils produce wines with dark red fruit flavors and hints of tea and spice. Lodi has been producing zinfandel since the gold rush, so it comes as no surprise the one will find many old vine zinfandels from this region. Lodi has only recently began to be acknowledged as a premier AVA. Check out McCay Cellars, Mettler Family and Fields Family zinfandels.

Amador County

Just north of the Sierra Foothills, lies Amador County. Like Lodi, the miners who populated that region during the mid 1800s had zindandel, so there are may old vine zinfandel vineyards around. The soils are a mixture of volcanic and granitic. This produces a distinctively different style of zinfandel. These wines tend to be well-structured with secondary and tertiary flavors. Unlike other regions, Amador County zinfandels will often exhibit aromas of graphite and bacon fat along with granitic tannins. Turley Cellars winery is located in Amador County. Other great producers include, C.G.DiArie, Amador Cellars and Renwood.

We don’t know exactly where zinfandel came from, or how it got here, but I’m glad it’s here. Zinfandel has been a part of our country’s history for more than 150 years. We adopted this now, iconic grape, as our own.

Personally, I am looking forward to autumn, the cooler winds and turning of leaves. I already see pumpkin decor for sale and have started planning for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Zinfandel will definitely be there!

CHEERS!

Lorelei J. Helmke


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