June 2009

Zinfandel Wine Tasting  June 27th 2009
Members and guests of PSAWBC met at the home of Larry and Sherry Wells to taste Zinfandel.  The meeting started out with a brief presentation on the history and origin of the Zinfandel grape and wine. This history is presented below.

Zinfandel was California’s “mystery grape” because its origins were unknown. In 1994, DNA fingerprinting confirmed that the Primitivo and Zinfandel grapes were genetically identical.  Historically, they have been separately labeled and sold, and the wines display different characters and styles but they are identical.

More recently, studies have indicated that the grape used for making California Zinfandel did not originate in Italy, but from Croatia.  The Croatian grape Crljenak is the identical grape. The Zinfandel name, however, is truly American-the earliest and only documented use of the name is in America where a Boston nursery owner advertised Zinfandel grape vines for sale in 1832.

Zinfandel was introduced to California during the Gold Rush somewhere between 1852 and 1857 and became widely planted because it thrived so well in the state’s climate and soil. Today, Zinfandel is the third leading wine grape variety in California, with nearly 52,000 acres planted, according to the 2007 California Grape Acreage Report. A majority of the grapes are used for White Zinfandel, which holds an 11% share of the total 176 million cases of California table wine volume shipped to the U.S. Red

wine tastingZinfandel accounts for about a 2% share of this total volume. Popular descriptors for Zinfandel wine include blackberry, raspberry, boysenberry, cherry, as well as black pepper, cloves, anise and herbs.
The oldest vineyards in California are Zinfandel. Some vineyards in Amador, Central Valley, and Sonoma County are 130+ years old. Basically they are planted and left to grow into “stumpy” old gnarled vines.  In general, older vines produce less fruit.  However, the fruit is concentrated in flavor and tannins, which is what gives many zinfandel producers that quality complex vintage year after year.  Many of the wineries use the term “old vine” to describe older vineyards where the grapes are sourced from, but in reality there is no law or rule stating how old an “old vine” has to be before it can officially be called that. Most wineries tend to use that term only if the vines are 50+ years old.

Flavor Profile
wine tastingThe aromas and taste of zinfandel are blackberry, boysenberry, raspberry, and dark cherry. The term jammy is usually associated with it because of the concentrated flavors that are similar to berry jams. These fruit flavors are oftentimes laced with black pepper, herbs, and warm spices such as clove and anise. Styles vary probably more than any other mainstream varietal out there because of the extreme differences in alcohol. You can see anywhere from 13% all the way to 18+% alcohol in zinfandel, so the spectrum in styles is a big one. The lower alcohol wines tend to be more acidic, with red fruit characters (red raspberry, bright cherry). These tend to go better with food because of the acidity and lower alcohol. On the other end of the spectrum is the big monster zinfandels. These are 16%+ alcohol, with raging ripe blackberry jam and raisin flavors. This style has been popular, but lately winemakers have been easing off on the alcohol levels because of the lack of balance and delicacy that is hard to achieve with huge, ripe, alcoholic flavors.

The grapes typically produce a robust red wine, although a semi-sweet rose (blush-style) wine called white Zinfandel has six times the sales of the red wine in the U S.
The taste of the red wine depends on the ripeness of the grapes from which it is made. Red berry fruits like raspberry predominate in wines from cooler areas, whereas blackberry, marionberry, anise and pepper notes are more common in wines made in warmer areas.

Members evaluated the six wines and ranked them as follows.    Portalupi was the clear winner because of the many complex flavor of berry anise, tobacco plus the incredible balance of acid/alcohol and tannins.  The mouth feel on this wine was the big jammy wine as described earlier.

#    Name              Rank   Price     Origin    Comments
1    Portalupi           1        26.99      CA    Big Jammy wine
2    Shegesio           3         24.99     CA    Blackberry, currants,raisiniy flavors abounded.
3    Bogle                 4         10.99     CA    Thin in body, less complex than earlier wines

4    Barefoot           4          9.99     AUS   Mossy, earthy aroma, some berry character.

5    Twisted Vine   2         25.00      CA    Long lingering finish.  Complex berry notes, raspberry, blackberry ,currants etc.
6    Twisted vine *2          25.00     CA   * This is the same wine as 5 but a slight amount of acid blend and tannin added.  Half thought the additions improved the wine.

We had two ties.  So there are two second place wines and 2 fourth place wines.  All of the wines tended to have a fairly high alcohol content.  The range for these wines was from 13.5% to 15.5%.