Zinfandel—The All-American Red
Zinfandel - the All-American Red
Spicy and lusty Zinfandel is America's heritage red wine, and California winemakers are producing Zins that all the world craves.
Winemaker as rock star—this is what you find if you attend a ZAP event. As you approach a tasting table, you'll be hemmed in by dozens of Zinfandel enthusiasts, all wiggling their way toward the winemaker or other pourer behind the table. As you get closer, you see dozens of eager arms extended, wine glasses offered in supplication, and the pourer working at a rock 'n' roll pace to fill them all. It's a melee, a love fest. At some wine tastings this frenzy would be considered boorish, but at a ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) event, it's the gleefully accepted standard.
Zinfandel is often referred to as "America's heritage grape," and there is much of America in its history and in its character in the glass. It was came to prominence in California in the 1880s, popularized by immigrants from Italy, Germany and Switzerland. Now, more than a century later, the foresight and care of these winemakers still bear fruit.
California Zinfandels are brash wines—the big flavors and high alcohol tend to obscure the fact that the best of the best have a lot of depth and subtle undercurrents. I've found the flavors to be complex: Shimmering under the fruity surface of cherries, strawberries, plums and blackberries are tantalizing notes of pepper, spice, chocolate and herbs. It's a terrific food wine, especially if you're looking for alternatives to Cabernet Sauvignon to pair with big meat dishes. And the tannic structure in many of the finest wines suggests aging ability.
For this issue's special feature on America's heritage wine, Tasting Director Joe Czerwinski, Editor at Large Jeff Morgan and West Coast Editor Steve Heimoff sampled over 300 California Zinfandels. Sixty-nine wines received a score of 90 or higher. This is partially due, as in many other winemaking areas, to the fact that growers are managing the vineyards better and winemakers are refining their methods. But, as Jeff Morgan points out, the old way of presenting Zinfandel—in blends—was the wrong approach. Zin lends itself to the single-vineyard bottlings, not so much that each wine has a completely distinct character, but that each one is allowed to let its unique character shine. Many are named with typical American irreverence: You'll find such labels as Seven Deadly Zins, Voluptuous, Eye of the Dragon and Portrait of a Mutt.
This is a fun issue in other ways. In honor of Thanksgiving, Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, authors of such popular books as Becoming a Chef and Culinary Artistry, interviewed a number of wine and food professionals, as well as authors and executives, to get an idea of what dishes remind them of home and the holidays.
In our Pairings department, Karen Berman solves the problem of what to do with all those Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. She has ten suggestions to revive your turkey, from a stir-fry to sophisticated crepes to a sloppy Joe-like sandwich called a Sloppy Tom. There are plenty of wine suggestions as well because, as you know, the best wine pairings are not arrived at through the superficial look of red meat, fish, or white meat, but through a deeper understanding of a dish's spicing, sauces and accompaniments.
In the Proof Positive department, F. Paul Pacult examines the renaissance in American distilling that is taking place, primarily in California. America has long taken a back seat to countries with a long history of quality distilling—think of Scotland with whiskey, England with gin, Mexico with Tequila, and so on. But now distillers, by lowering production and taking greater care in their methods, are producing boutique vodkas, whiskies and many other spirits that are capturing the imaginations of spirits drinkers.
Once again, when Americans see a challenge, they go for it. And when they recognize a great red wine, they flock to it. Commit a Zin.