Zin is In
Zinfandel delivers great flavor at a reasonable price; part of the enjoyment is in the sneaking suspicion that you're getting away with something.
Whether winter finds you in rainy Napa Valley, snowy New York or curled up by a fire in a ski resort in Utah, there is very little that warms the heart, soothes the soul and dazzles the palate as much as a luscious glass of rich and spicy Zinfandel. Why has this American varietal exploded on the international scene, inspiring such passion in its admirers? For this simple reason: it's difficult to find any other red wine that delivers so much flavor without breaking the bank.
Sure, there are the single vineyard Zinfandel blockbusters packed with high alcohol punch that can run into the $40-$50 range, but there are some pretty spectacular Zinfandels that are readily available for $15 to $25. This combination of availability, quality and value is difficult to find. Over the last few years many Zins have taken on "underground" cult status, akin to the antithesis of mainstream Cabernet Sauvignon. Reinforcing this image is the considerable bohemian turnout at the now-legendary ZAP festival in San Francisco, which has become one of the hottest tickets in town. (ZAP is Zinfandel Advocates and Producers; you can check out their website at http://www.zinfandel.org)
But whether you're a bohemian or a mainstreamer or, like most people, you resist the very idea of being stereotyped in that way, my guess is that you take deep satisfaction in a discovery, a bargain. Which do you enjoy more: a $50 bottle that was given to you, or a bottle that you purchased yourself for $10 that tastes like a $50 bottle? It's a sneaky sort of pleasure, isn't it? It's like you outsmarted your local wine merchant, or cheated the heavens in some benign way. It's a victimless crime, but a steal nonetheless.
A good bottle of Zinfandel can have that effect. The sense of discovery lies in the fact that there are so many ways this versatile grape can be handled. This is the core of Paul Gregutt's rather dramatic story on Zin in this issue—dramatic in the sense that Zin was all-but-abandoned in the 1970s, when the focus of winemakers and consumers zoomed directly, and fixedly, on Cabernet and Chardonnay. Many of the old vines were in danger of being uprooted and discarded, until savvy winemakers (Draper, Peterson, Seps) and an agricultural college (University of California at Davis) acted to preserve the vines.
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Zinfandel, of course, is not the only place to look for a quality wine at a fair price. It is no exaggeration to say that we went halfway around the globe to find more such discoveries. In this issue's article on Australia, we speak with prominent winemakers there about the distinctive winemaking style that is emerging Down Under, producing well-priced wines in many categories. In the same spirit of wanderlust, we visit Scotland for a trip that must be a fantasy for fans of Scotch whisky: a tour of prominent distillers in the Edinburgh and Glasgow areas, the north country and some of the island groups. Here, you can taste your favorite spirit at its source and soak up the incomparable countryside of Scotland at the same time. As anyone who's toured a winery or distillery will tell you, sampling a cherished wine or spirit on the site where it's made forms a curious bond, just as if you do business over the phone for years and finally meet that person. The nature of your appreciation changes.
-Adam M. Strum