Zinfandel is know as the All American grape and has been grown in California since the 1800’s. Yet the grapes true roots are in Croatia where it’s known as Tribidrag. In Italy Zinfandel is called Primitivo. Although the majority of California producers label their wine as Zinfandel, you may see a few Tribidrag’s and Primitiov’s too. Zinfandel is a medium-bodied dry red wine with a range of dark fruit flavors that include raspberry, blueberry, red and black cherry, and plum. Notes of tobacco, brambles, hickory and spice are common as well. Medium tannins make it a versatile food pairing wine, with flavors ranging from juicy and jammy, to lean and elegant depending on climate.
Here are capsule reviews of Zinfandel’s you may find along the Wine Road.
The Acorn 2018 Heritage Vines Zinfandel is a field blend of 78% Zinfandel, 11% Alicante Bouschet and 9% Petite Sirah fermented with eight other varieties including Carignane, Trousseau, Sangiovese, Petit Bouschet, Negrette, Syrah, Black Muscat, Cinsaut, and Grenache which comprise the final 2% of the blend. On the nose a rush of mocha and peppercorn rise up from the glass with a prominent note of rooibos. Generous body with bright initial notes of blueberry and menthol is balanced with deep lush flavors of blackberry and mocha. Lovely balance of tannin and fruit with long gentle finish that rings with spice. But do those eight other varieties that make up the 2% of the blend matter? I say yes! It brings a certain something, a je ne sais quoi, not easy to define, but ultimately delicious.
The OG* Zinfandel—Carol Shelton’s 2019 Wild Thing Old Vine Zinfandel is a love note to the grape and an astounding value to boot. On the nose you’ll find notes of plum sauce, and sweet briar with touch of cedar. As the wine opens there is a wonderful layer of bacon fat and mocha too. Wild Thing is zippy and alive with juicy flavors of raspberry, clove, fennel, and blackberry crumble. The long round finish walks a savory tightrope of texture between creamy and bright. Pair with Moo Shu Pork for a savory call-and-response interplay of flavors. NOTE: *OG =Original Gangster, slang for someone/something incredibly exceptional, authentic, or “old-school.”
In the glass the 2020 Ehret Zinfandel is deep dark purple with a pinkish rim. Juicy with an intense with black fruits and a savory quality of smoked meat and bacon fat too! Spiky tannins hit all the pleasure points with a peppy sour cherry finish. A lot of oomph going on in this 2020 youngster and I find it reminiscent of Primitivo, the doppelgänger of Zinfandel in Italy. Expect this to age and blossom with elegance, yet it’s eminently quaffable right now. Pair with spicy food and your most finicky guests, as this will surely gain their attention and respect.
The Pedroncelli family has been producing wine for close to a century and the 2019 Zinfandel from Bushnell Vineyard is a great example of their decades of experience. On the nose toasty nutmeg and clove intermingle with lush aromas of black and blueberry crumble and an intriguing note of butterscotch. Full bodied and rich with primary flavors of cola and spicy strawberry preserves. The bright and bouncy acidity delivers a ribbon of red fruits and raspberry fizz that merges seamlessly into a creamy long elegant finish with taut tannins. Pair with a classic sausage pizza.
The 2017 Peterson Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley is a blend of 82% Zinfandel, 7% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane, and 5% Grenache. On the nose a heady bouquet of garrigue – aka a veritable potpourri of juniper, thyme, rosemary and sage, with a fresh minty-herbal top note. Lush and delectable, it has deep flavors of tobacco, dark plum and earthy brambles, with secondary notes of cherry and rhubarb that are both bright and savory. It’s a shape-shifting marvel of fruit, acid, and tannin. Pair with something tangy and saucy like barbecue ribs or try a savory slow roasted pork shoulder.
The 2019 Seghesio Zinfandel hails from the storied Todd Brothers Ranch in Alexander Valley. On the nose sweet briar and graphite mix with blackberry jam and a touch of vanilla. Very soft and plush mouth feel with concentrated flavors of mocha, black cherry, and all spice with a dash of smoked hickory wood. Great texture and body. Taut long tannins balance the rich black fruit flavors with notes of leather and sweet tobacco. Pair with rich mushroom risotto or hearty lasagna.
Deep dark and alluring in the glass the Taddei 2018 Zinfandel from Ionnatti Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley is both engaging and enigmatic. The nose is a riddle of sassafras, cinnamon, black plum, tobacco and sweet briar. Lots going on here with a yin and yang of plush sweet notes and tart bright flavors that slowly build to a power punch of strawberry jam over crushed gravel, dotted with white pepper and clove. Tannins so long they extend into the next week! Pair with a suitcase packed for adventure because this wine will take you somewhere unexpected.
On the nose, the 2016 Trione Zinfandel has deep earthy aromas of sage, blackberry preserves and nutmeg. On the palate it has plush juicy flavors of plum and olallieberry, followed by bright notes of raspberry and rhubarb. Soft and balanced tannins deliver a long spicy finish of tart red cherry, pink peppercorn and a touch of thyme. Pair with spicy beef empanadas or slow roasted barbecue short ribs.