Almost all zinfandel, and certainly the best, is grown in California.
Even if the latest information would suggest its true origins are in Croatia, zinfandel remains California's signature grape much the same as pinotage is to South Africa, malbec to Argentina, or sauvignon blanc is to New Zealand.
How the vines travelled to California, and were transformed into modern-day zinfandel, is anybody's guess, but the results are not. Wine drinkers have a passion and an affinity for zinfandel they seldom display for other grapes. Zinfandel may have had its feathers ruffled in the rush to shiraz, but the grape with the friendly demeanour remains a California cult classic.
Proof of zinfandel's staying power occurs every year in late January when hundreds of aficionados gather in San Francisco at what amounts to be a state-of-the-union tasting at the Fort Mason Centre put on by members of the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP).
This year marks the 15th anniversary of the annual ZAP tasting and on Jan. 28, participants will rub shoulders, sip wine, and chat with an amazing 275 producers.
Zinfandel has been aptly described as a comfortable old pair of shoes, or akin to sitting in your favourite armchair. For me, zinfandel is all about soft texture, low tannin and an easy-sipping style with the proviso that high alcohol can be an issue from sample to sample.
What attracts consumers to zin are its bright aromatic berry fruit flavours, reminiscent of cinnamon, black cherries, plums and the spicy clove all wrapped up into a warm, sleek, smooth jacket.
Even better, zinfandel can be enjoyed with a variety of foods. Chicken, duck, sausage and any combination with pasta come quickly to mind along with a variety of hard and soft cheeses. Today we look at six, best-value zins in the market that easily deliver a whack of flavour for the price.
The Painter Bridge Zinfandel 2004 is built for barbecued foods. Look for fruity blackberry and cherry cola aromas with flecks of pepper. The entry is soft and round with prune plum, cedar bark and spicy, blackberry flavours. Its fun flavours and easy-drinking style will make fast work of grilled ribs and chicken.
The Pepperwood Grove Zinfandel 2003 is a super value. Look for blackberry, black cherry jam aromas flecked with meaty, licorice, pepper and cedar bark. Again, the entry is soft and warm with cedar-y, spicy, peppery, black cherry, and gamey flavours. The finish is warm and rustic. Perfect for grilled flank steak, or tomato-based pasta dishes.
I had a chance to revisit the Kenwood Yulupa Zinfandel 2002 and I can honestly say fifteen months of bottle time has really helped to develop the wine (and most others young reds for that matter). It's mature now with attractive peppery, spicy, blackberry and chocolate, saddle leather aromas. The textures are supple; the flavours a mix of pepper, black raspberry jam, chocolate, earth flavours flecked with orange peel. Perfect for current drinking.
If you ever encounter an old, head-pruned zinfandel vine, you might describe it as gnarly. Hence the Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin 2004 from Lodi. Look for that cedar bark, chocolate, prune, black cherry aromas and a soft round, slightly dry entry. The fruit is a mix of peppery, mocha, licorice flavours. The finish is dry and slightly tannic. Solid if a bit boring.
The Kendall-Jackson Zinfandel Vintner's Reserve 2002 is a workmanlike, solid zinfandel that belies it price. Winemaker Randy Ullom has upped the ante here with plush, balanced, jammy flavours flecked with spice, and just a touch of sweetness. Love the balance and the no-heat, no-hard tannin finish. Its 65 per cent Mendocino fruit.
7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel 2003 from Lodi, California exhibits more of the big rich, warm, hearty style of Zinfandel. Look for smoky, resiny, briar, cedar bark notes on the nose streaked with chocolate, blackberry and saddle leather. Soft, smooth and round, it has a delicious black cherry jam, chocolate and vanilla flavours. Enjoy now with ribs or flank steak.
ZINS THAT ZAP
PAINTER BRIDGE ZINFANDEL 2004, CALIF.
Remarks: Easy drinking, solid, fruity barbeque wine. Good value and flavours.
PEPPERWOOD GROVE ZINFANDEL 2003, CALIF.
Remarks: Spicy, peppery, chunky winter red. Good value.
KENWOOD YULUPA ZINFANDEL 2002, CALIF.
Remarks: Supple warm textures with black raspberry, chocolate, earth and orange peel flavours.
GNARLY HEAD OLD VINE ZIN 2004, LODI, CALIFORNIA
Remarks: Cedar bark, pepper, mocha, resiny, licorice flavours.
KENDALL-JACKSON ZINFANDEL VINTNER'S RESERVE 2002, CALIFORNIA
Remarks: Plush balanced, jammy flavours flecked with spice and just a touch of sweetness.
7 DEADLY ZINS ZINFANDEL 2003, LODI, CALIFORNIA
Remarks: A hearty peppery, smoky, zin for cold, damp rainy days.