Zinfandel on the Rusty Dusty Frontier

Whenever I hear this song, which is pretty often since Emmylou is always popping up on my shuffle (yes, I still use an ipod shuffle when I run- it’s the best little thing), I think of the west coast, and boot tappin’ fun, and California wine.  And when I think of California wine I think of …zinfandel!

What comes to mind when you hear zinfandel?  If it’s white zinfandel or flabby sugar bomb red- forget about it.  There is so much more out there.  Go for the real stuff.

The first wine that ever struck me as more than purple alcohol in a glass was a zinfandel from Napa Valley’s Saddleback Cellars.  So many things were going on in my glass.  Intoxicating fruit, and bohemian lifestyles, and a whiff of my Uncle Orlie’s sweaters.  He was a cigar smoker.  Funny enough, this glass of zinfandel was my ah-ha wine.

Zinfandel is a grape that has travelled far to reach a place to truly call home- American soil where it has cultivated some deep roots.  Ampelographers have found that zinfandel is actually genetically identical to a grape grown around Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot, called primitivo, as well as a grape from Croatia called Crljenak Kaštelanski (I can’t pronounce that either).  There are various ideas about how this grape came to thrive in such far away places but really the point is that it is here.  And is it.

Some of the most interesting zinfandels are harvested from old vines (wiser, more charismatic) that do well in the dessicated California earth.  True zinfandel can be high in alcohol though still well balanced- full of spice and smoke,  fresh earth, and every fruit in the book.  Zinfandel’s profile is far from old world elegance.  It is, beautifully, bold as brass.

There are few grapes that America can really call their own.  Zinfandel is one of them, and California vintners are working hard to make it better and better.  Every year since 1991 zinfandel producers have put on a San Francisco-based festival called ZAP to celebrate and encourage the zinfandel community- its research, cultivation, and producers.

Well-made zinfandel begins around $25 on the price scale and heads upwards from there.  Some of the most excellent producers (in my humble zin-loving opinion) include:

Saddleback Winery, Turley, Provenance, Rombauer, Caymus, Storybook Mountain, Grgich Hill Estate, Gundlach Bundschu, and Rudd.