The characteristic of Zinfandel is tremendous amounts of zesty –berry fruit, deeply flavored on the nose and palate, bright acidity and freshness.
Zinfandel is grown in many areas of California.
The production and style can vary throughout California and is dependent upon
climate, soil fertility, crop level management practices, and irrigation. Berry size is
affected by water availability and irrigation strategy. About the only challenging aspect of Zinfandel is that it can ripen irregularly, the berries are small and the skins can be thick, but this also is why the wines can be loaded with fruit, dark color and gives the wines great intensity and concentration.
Zinfandel is grown from the bottom to the top of the state of California in what looks like a large triangle. Zin as it is most commonly called here in California, is in the southern region dominated by the now famous and extremely warm Paso Robles wine region, Paso is about 30 miles inland from the Pacific Coast and Paso now has over 115 wineries. Zin’s from Paso usually have huge amounts of sweet, opulent, soft ripe, red fruit driven and lush textures. Paso is located perfectly located 3 hours north of Los Angeles and 3 hours south of San Francisco.
From Paso if you drive directly north 250 miles and go 30 miles inland you will be in the Northern California’s home of Zin; Sonoma. Zin has been planted here for over 100 years, first by Italian immigrants. Sonoma is also very warm but not quite as oppressive as Paso, but they both share the key element of the cool Pacific Ocean breezes that cool the grapes down at night retaining freshness and great for the pigments of color. Sonoma has 1800 growers of grapes in 16 famous sub-regions/ AVA’s American Viticulture Areas for Zinfandel that include Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley (where you will find Eric Millers Kokomo Zin grown by Randy Peters, his family is one of the 100 year growers), and the Alexander Valley (where you will find Mantra Vineyards). The Sonoma Zins tend to be very dark, masculine, purple-blue fruit driven, deeply flavored with stronger tannins and acid. Much of that complexity comes from the “old vines”. Famous vineyards from Sonoma you may know would be Lytton Springs, Geyserville, Pagani Ranch, Monte Rosso and Rockpile. Many of the old vine Zins have great aging potential and many develop some wonderful complexities with sometime in the bottle; but the reality is that most Zins are so tasty young that they are enjoyed right away and not many people age them.
130 miles directly east from San Francisco you will find yourself in another important and beautiful Zinfandel growing AVA; Amador County and the Shenandoah Valley. The state of California was literally formed here when gold was discovered here in 1848, this brought 300,000 prospectors rushing to California in 1849 and stated the “Gold Rush” and these people were called the 49ers, which is the name of our local football team, The San Francisco 49ers. These 300,000 people needed goods and services and vines were planted soon after. Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains this area also gets some serious heat in the summer but the higher elevation and the mountain breezes can cool down the grapes 35 degrees from the daytime high temperatures. This area features 40 wineries and continues to grow as it offers great Zinfandel in a lovely old west-country setting without the crowds. The Zins from here tend to be a bit more elegant with beautiful aromas and easy drinking. Boegar and Sabon Estate are two of my favorites from here.
Lastly the newest AVA for Zinfandel is Lodi, 100 miles dead east of San Francisco and the eastern border backs up against Amador and offers over 50 wineries. This area is in the central valley where it is also very hot but still feels the ocean breezes that rip thru the Golden Gate Bridge and reach Lodi via the San Francisco bay delta system that snakes its way to Lodi. This area is also historically famous in California wine history because in the late 1800’s huge amounts of wine was grown here and shipped eastward by train from the founding fathers of California wine, the Gallo family. The Zinfandels from Lodi tend to be a lot like the Zins from Paso; loaded with huge amounts of delicious soft ripe fruit and made to drink young. This area like Amador is getting more popular all the time for lovers of Zinfandel as it offers great quality and value in a beautiful country setting. One of my favorite’s from here is called Klinker Brick!
The lure of Zinfandel is it’s great taste, great value and selection as well as its ability to be served with just about everything except white fish and sushi! In America we love it with all BBQed meats and sausages, cured meats and cheese, and of course Pizza and Hamburgers. Roast duck and Zinfandel is a perfect match in my opinion.
While Cabernet Sauvignon will always be King of red wines; there are probably more fans of Zinfandel here in America than Cabernet. The member organization called ZAP, which stands for Zinfandel Advocates and Producers conducts huge tastings around America and has thousands and thousands of passionate Zin loving members.
Have a great tasting! Cheers! Ralph