Zinfatuated – A look at Zinfandel

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Grapevine By Al Begin

What is the Zinfandel grape?

The Zinfatuated Truro Daily News Wine Tasting Panel recently tasted the 2012 Gnarly Head Zinfandel.  It is produced by Gnarly Head Cellars in Manteca, Cali. SUBMITTED PHOTO

According to Wine Spectator magazine, Zinfandel “is considered the quintessential California wine, Zinfandel is equal parts loved and scorned by wine drinkers…It is indeed a wine with multiple personalities, its character veering wildly over the decades from blush wine to a superripe, Port-style red.”

It is pronounced “ZIN-fan-dell.”

There are only about 71,000 acres of Zinfandel planted throughout the world.

My first recollections of this grape would be in the 1980s and tasting a not-so-great blush Zinfandel, which is actually called White Zinfandel.

Recent DNA testing has confirmed that the Zinfandel grape is the same as the Primitivo grape. The grape has its origins in Croatia, but it is predominantly grown in California. There are also some plantings in Italy.  In Croatia the grape was known as Tribidag. 

Zinfandel plantings are believed to have started in California during the gold rush period of the 1850s. The Zinfandel grape flourished in California until the Prohibition and the Great Depression, which both served to deplete the Zinfandel plantings. It remained out of vogue (or any other fashion magazine) until the 1970s.

The Zinfandel grape can have high sugar content, which can lead to very high alcohol content wines.  Zinfandel wines, with 16 per cent alcohol, are not unheard of. 

As with most red wines, a nice Zinfandel should be left to age for five to seven years to let the wine mature and develop.

The Zinfandel vines are a different beast from most grape vines. The old vines look more like barky, gnarled, twisted tree trunks than grape vines. They usually grow in fields instead of in straight rows. To be considered an ‘old vine’ the Zinfandel plant should be at least 50 years old.

Red Zinfandel should be served at 62F (17C).


A fortuitous fermentation malfunction:

Zinfandel did not have much of a presence until the 1970s when a vintner by the name of Bob Trinchero had a ‘fermentation malfunction’ in 1975 that caused some of the sugar in the grapes to go unfermented.  Prior to this time, vintners were producing a white wine with the red Zinfandel grape. The malfunction produced a pinker wine than had been produced previously. Before long this new wine was a great retail success.

The blush White Zinfandels account for just under 10 per cent of all wine sales by volume in the United States! White Zinfandels out-sell the reds by of a ratio of six-to-one. Eighty-five per cent of Zinfandels produced are White Zinfandels.

The success of the White Zinfandel provided a demand for the Zinfandel grape that permitted the wine industry the required grace period to produce the wonderful red Zinfandels that are now in existence. 


The difference between a rosé and a blush:

A rosé is made by permitting some contact between the juice of the red grapes and the skins of the red grapes. A blush is made by adding red wine or unfermented red grape juice into the white wine (made from grapes with no contact with the red skins). A White Zinfandel is a blush wine.


Food pairing with Zinfandel:

Red Zinfandel goes well with pizza, spaghetti, most tomato-based pastas, grilled meats, and sausages.

White Zinfandel goes well with cajun, spicy barbecue or curry dishes.


The French Paradox:

In “Kevin Zraly’s Complete Wine Course” (ISBN 978-1-4027-8793-5) he talks about the French Paradox.  This refers to the 1990s when the television show ‘60 Minutes’ twice aired a report titled the French Paradox. The documentary discussed the fact that the French had a lower rate of heart disease compared to Americans even though the French had a diet that was higher in fat. The premise was that the main difference was Americans did not have red wine in their diets like the French. 

Some researchers then made the jump or link between the consumption of red wine and the decreased rate of heart disease. In the year following the report Americans increased their red wine consumption by 39 per cent.


Tropical storm Arthur and our vineyard:

Tropical storm Arthur was not a welcome visitor to our vineyard last weekend. The grapevines are, for the most part, at the growth stage where the young shoots bearing the grape clusters are not quite long enough to be tied into the vineyard’s trellis system.

Consequently, wind gusts up to 90 km/h during a 12-hour period wreaked havoc with our vineyard and the young shoots.  Many shoots were left to flail in the incessant winds, finally breaking off after too much abuse.  We estimate that we have lost 20 to 25 per cent of our grape crop for this year.

This was certainly very disheartening. Hopefully this will not be a storm-filled growing season! The good news is that the new transplants from this year all survived the storm unscathed.


Wine Review:

The Zinfatuated Truro Daily News Wine Tasting Panel recently tasted the 2012 Gnarly Head Zinfandel.  It is produced by Gnarly Head Cellars in Manteca, Cali.

It is available from the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission for $19.99. 


It is made from 100 per cent old vine Zinfandel grapes.  The vines at this winery are between 35 and 80 years old.  The old vines are depicted on the rendering on the label.

The wine has a very berry nose, with hints of light leather and spice. It tastes of lush red berries, plum, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and cassis. This wine is very smooth. 

This is an outstanding wine. The Zinfatuated Tasting Panel gave this wine a Zinful score of 8.7. It will probably be Zintastic after it ages in the cellar for a couple more years.   


Al Begin is the chief vine ager for the Zinfatuated Truro Daily News Wine Tasting Panel. You can send your wine questions or recommendations to him at tdngrapevine@gmail.com.



Organizations: Wine Spectator magazine, French Paradox, Daily News Nova Scotia Liquor Commission Zinfatuated Tasting Panel Zinfatuated Truro Daily News Wine Tasting Panel

Geographic location: California, Croatia, Italy United States Manteca

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