I’m struggling to kick this story off. I want to say Zinfandel is the All-American wine, and I can make a very strong case for that statement. But, for me I still would prefer to give than moniker to Norton, because in my heart, that wine is THE All-American wine.
However, Zinfandel has been an American wine since the 1820’s, about the same time Norton was first being developed and grown for wine production. The oldest Zinfandel vines in the world are here in America, accounting for about 12% of wine production in the United States. So, if Zinfandel is not the All-American Wine, then how about we call it the Horatio Alger of wine, an immigrant kid becomes great success story?
Like just about everything in America, Zinfandel arrived in States as an immigrant, from a nursery in Vienna to a nursery in Boston. By 1835, Zinfandel was a popular table grape being grown in nearly every corner of the Northeastern United States. Massachusetts still grows and produces Zinfandel grapes and wine. Then they tax it to death.
The roots (pardon the pun) of Zinfandel go back to Croatia, where it is known as Crijenak Kastelanski, a name guaranteed not to lead to commercial success. In the 1700’s, the grape had moved to the heal of Italy where today it enjoys great success under the name of Primitivo. Primitivo in Italian means primitive, a label most likely given to the grape because it ripens early. I’ve also been told it means, first life, most likely for the same reason.
Where the name Zinfandel comes from, no one really knows. It starts showing up in Boston produce records in the 1830’s and grows to be in records all over the Northeast. It first appears in records in California in the 1860’s.
Zinfandel moved to California with the 1849 gold rush, just like so many Americans. The reasoning was clear: miners wanted a good, substantial drink and growers wanted a vine that produced easy-to-grow, healthy, and plentiful fruit. They both got what they wanted with Zinfandel.
Now some of you are saying, “Griffy isn’t Cabernet Sauvignon the king of wines in America?” It is king in terms of production and recognition, but its spiritual home is Bordeaux. For Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, their home is Burgundy, and for Rieslings it’s along the Rhine River in Germany. For Zinfandel the world looks to Lodi California. It’s here where the oldest vines are growing, where the traditions for growing the grapes and making the wine developed, and where they are still evolving. Like it or not, Zinfandel is America’s native contribution to the international world of wine.
I love Zinfandel. One of the many reasons is there are so many interpretations of this grape. You want an Old World taste? Try a Primitivo. Looking for a modern slant? Try Cigar Box Zin. For this review, I went old school, old vine, Mendocino County California, the 2008 Wild Thing!
When I say old school, I mean traditional, not out of date. The wine maker is Carol Shelton, and she would starch me even balder than I am if she heard me say or write it, but she’s old school, having worked with and for the likes of Andre Tchelistcheff and Robert Mondavi. With Wild Thing she has produced a Zinfandel for the ages, or at least the last 20 years.
The color is the dark, dark purple of Zinfandel. On the nose we get the signature aroma of black cherry and raspberries. You can taste plumbs, black cherries, raspberries, and a hint of vanilla all sliding towards a “welcome home where you been” finish. I’ve had a creamery zin before, but at twice the price of Wild Thing.
The wine is a blend, kind of, 83% Zinfandel, 13% Carignan, 2% Petite Sirah, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s aged for 24 months in oak.
Back to the Horatio Alger side of the story; most wine drinkers I know don’t take Zinfandel seriously. Why? Because when they hear the name Zinfandel, their minds go to SUTTER HOME WHITE Zinfandel and they run screaming from the room. If you have ever had this very popular with the ladies wine, you will know what I’m talking about. It’s abundantly sweet, in fact I would describe it as unbearably sweet, and they’ve sold tankers of it.
That’s not the Zinfandel I am so passionate about. I’m telling you, Zinfandel is an extremely rewarding wine experience that you can enjoy from California for about half the price of a California Cab. Seriously try it!