If you enjoy rooting for scrappy underdogs, Zinfandel is your wine.
Zin came to United States from Croatia, and by the end of the 1800s, the vigorously growing, disease-resistant vine was the most widespread variety in California.
It survived Prohibition by providing grapes for family wine making (which remained legal), and today “old vines”—many more than a century old—are treasures of premium Zin producers.
Zin declined in appeal much of the 20th Century. It grew almost nowhere except California and typically found its way into undistinguished blends. A chameleon grape, it produces berry-fruity reds, tart rosés, sweet blushes, dessert wines, fortified wines, and high-alcohol bombs (thanks to the fruit’s high sugar content).
Zin began it’s comeback in the late 1970s when Sutter Home Winery accidentally stopped fermentation early. White Zinfandel resulted, a medium-sweet pink, low alcohol wine. Snobs may dismiss White Zin as insipid, but wine drinkers vote otherwise—White Zinfandel accounts for almost 10 percent of U.S. wine sales by volume.
Zinfandel remains the signature California grape. Cabernet Sauvignon may be king, but pesky Zin is close behind in acres planted and fruit crushed.
Perseverance paid off. Today, Zin is trendy, with vines flourishing in Oregon, Washington, Texas, South America, Australia, and South Africa. Many regard red Zinfandel as the next big varietal (wine made mostly or wholly from one grape). If you haven’t tasted a red Zin yet, odds are you will, and you will enjoy it.
• Bogle “Old Vine” Zinfandel. Bold, stands up to variety of foods. $12
• Ravenswood Lodi Zinfandel. Soft, round, spicy, jammy. $15
• Cline Live Oak Zinfandel. Bold, luscious. $25