Zinfandel, America’s Heritage Grape, Has Many Stories to Tell

Zinfandel is an incredibly versatile grape at both ends of its life. In the ground Zinfandel vines thrive in a myriad of conditions and soil types. When well-made Zinfandel is consumed it works terrifically with a really wide array of flavors, making it among other things a great Thanksgiving Wine. 

Pinot Noir gets a bit more press as a single vineyard and clone specific darling, but taste a few examples of Zinfandel from distinct places side by side and you’ll see that the differences can be even more apparent.  Along with some other journalists and winemakers I took part in a twitter chat and we sampled 4 different Zinfandels. When I posed the site diversity question Scott Harvey Wines assistant Winemaker Mollie readily agreed, “I completely agree that Zinfandel can show diversity and complexity. It is a great varietal to tell unique stories of place and vintage!”

Age is another factor that can have a great effect on Zinfandel Vines. Over time they produce less quantity, but what is grown has a tendency to have increased depth, intensity and individual character. Two of the wines sampled were from vineyards dating to the late 1800’s and the differences in not only site, but age of those vines showed.

Bottom line when it’s treated with appropriate care Zinfandel is a fascinating grape. It also happens that winemakers and wine lovers who pray at the altar of Zinfandel lovers are often willing to have more fun than those that focus most of their attention on other grapes. So yes Zinfandel is delicious, food friendly, distinct, and fun!

Artezin 2016 Mendocino County Zinfandel ($18)

This Old Vines Zinfandel also has Petite Sirah (14%), and Carignan (2%) blended in. Hailing from Mendocino County this Zin from Artezin is a textbook of what Mendocino brings to Zinfandel: Tons of proportionate red-leaning berry fruit, lots of spice, a dusting of cocoa and an impressive finish. Firm acid which is part of the lovely structure is also a key element. Widely available at under $20 this is a true bargain. Winemaker Randle Johnson is a true Zin Master and this offering is exhibit A of his prowess.

Berryessa Gap 2016 Zinfandel ($22)

Hailing from Yolo County this offering is 100% Zinfandel. This wine was part of a different Twitter Chat, one that I took part in with the producer earlier in the week, but it’s an impressive wine and more than worth including here. It leads with strawberry jam on the nose. The palate shows off darker fruit and tons of spice. Bits of tea and a dusting of cocoa are evident on the back. This Zin is so fresh and relatively light in body. It will pair with an astoundingly wide array of foods.

Dry Creek Vineyard 2016 DCV2 Estate Zinfandel ($42)

Dry Creek Vineyard planted the Four Clones Vineyard right outside their winery in 2009. Four clones of Zinfandel were planted along with some Petite Sirah. The vines are head pruned and dry farmed the way people planted and tended vines in years gone by. Oodles of dark fruit emerge from the nose.  A finely woven spice component complements the dark fruit flavors that drive the palate. Lots of earth and bits of bramble are prominent on the long finish. Firm tannins and racy acid form an incredible backbone. It’s delicious now but it wants 5 more years of bottle age and it’ll really sing you a song.

Scott Harvey Wines 2016 Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel ($49)

Hailing from Amador County in the Sierra Foothills this offering is planted in well-draining granite soils. It’s also certified as the oldest vineyard in America. The wine has small amounts of Syrah and Petite Sirah blended in. Dark floral aromas emerge first. Flavors of Mission fig and black raspberry follow.  The long finish shows off wisps of roasted chicory. The acid, depth and persistence here really steal the show.

DeLoach Vineyards 2015 Riebli Valley Vineyards ($50)

This vineyard has been farmed organically for more than 100 years. A small amount of Petite Sirah is planted within the vineyard as well. This wine shows the intensity and depth that would be expected from Zin vines planted in the late 1800's. This singular Zin leads with black cherry aromas and finishes with sour black fruit. A fierce vein of acid assures its mouthwatering nature. This is a fascinating wine that really changed in the glass over a short period of time.