Wine snobs roll their eyes in disdain, but for one in ten wine drinkers, White Zinfandel—the winemaker’s mistake that proved golden—is their wine of choice.
Sutter Home, Beringer, and Llano Estacado are leading White Zin sellers locally. White Zin comes in many different types. Some are made from Zinfandel grapes alone, others include Zinfandel blended with Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc. There are even sparkling White Zins.
Sweet, soft, low in alcohol, inexpensive, White Zin accounts for 10 percent of wine sold by volume in the U.S. Typically, the larger 1.5 l bottles outsell the same wine in 750 ml bottles.
White Zin didn’t start out a star. It began as the stepchild of quality Zin, then advanced further when a winemaker made a mistake.
Sutter Home plays the key role. A producer of premium Zinfandel in the early 1970s, Sutter Home often drained off some juice prior to fermentation to increase the impact of grape skins on the remaining wine. The drained away juice produced a dry, cheap, almost white wine Sutter Home labeled “White Zinfandel.”
To their horror, in 1975, Sutter Home experienced “stuck fermentation”—yeast died before consuming all the sugar in the vats, creating a wine with higher sugar and lower alcohol. Curious, the winemaker tasted his failed batch. The accidental result produced the sweet, pink White Zinfandel we drink today.
Demand for White Zinfandel now is six times greater than for more complex and expensive red Zinfandel. The accidental stepchild now rules the Zinfandel roost.
• Grand Crú White Zinfandel. Best bargain blush. $5
• Beringer White Zin/Chardonnay. Light, refreshing, pink. $8
• McManis Zinfandel. What Zin can be. Raspberry, cherry, deep ruby color. $12