Z is for Zinfandel

Tasting two new favorite California zinfandels

From my earliest wine drinking days I have always loved zinfandel. Not all zinfandels, mind you, but those that are balanced and well-made from fruit grown in old and well-situated vineyards.

Zinfandel is generally thought of as California’s own. However, its origins go back to vines that existed in Croatia and Italy in the 1800s. Vines arrived on the East Coast in the early 19th century, at which point the name zinfandel existed in various forms and is of uncertain origin. The vines arrived in California during the time of the gold rush, where zinfandel was widely planted in field blends with other varieties. The wines made from these vines were the basis of many of the jug wines produced in the very early days before and after Prohibition.

As varietal bottlings evolved and the grape became popular, 100 percent zinfandels and some that were made of field blends with other grape varieties became more prevelant. Then came the late-harvest craze of the 1960s, when alcoholic, port-like zinfandels became the rage. Fortunately this trend was short-lived, but it created a terrible oversupply of zinfandel grapes. A lucky mistake at Sutter Home Winery in Napa resulted in “white zinfandel” which became very popular with novice wine drinkers who liked their wine with some sweetness. That trend continued and is likely responsible for saving many old zinfandel vines, which today are producing grapes that go into some really terrific red wines.