Wine 14: Zinfandel

A beautiful weeknight spent with some of my favorite ladies! Girls’ wine night is something I always look forward to – not just because I get to try a few wines, but most importantly because I get to spend time with good friends. We gathered 6 girls together last Tuesday night to drink zinfandel – primitivo if you’re buying Italian wine or crljenak kaštelanski (formerly, tribidrag) if you’re buying Croatian wine! To keep things simple, I’m just going to refer to this varietal as zinfandel, but know that it has some aliases as it travels abroad!

Now I’m sure many are familiar with zinfandel, but I’m still going to delve in a little deeper in the hopes I can share at least one thing you didn’t know. 🙂

This black-skinned grape of the vitis vinifera vine (say that three times fast!) originates in Croatia, was introduced to Italy in the 18th century, and, subsequently, the US in the 19th century. Though Prohibition resulted in the closing of about 80% of vineyards, some managed to hold on by continuing to make sacramental wine, some of which planted zinfandel. Over many decades, zinfandel rose to become California’s most widely planted red grape, but had to settle for the runner up spot to cabernet sauvignon as of 1998. Some of the oldest vines in California are zinfandel; some even older than 100 years! But the wine doesn’t need to be made from century-old vines to be called “Old Vine Zinfandel”…typically anything over 40 years may be deemed “old” in the vine world.

Now some might think, “Oh, I don’t like zinfandel, but I like white zinfandel!” Well guess what….it’s the same grape! White zinfandel, the blush pink wine, is made with the black-skinned grape, but the juice has minimal contact with the skins. Because it has minimal skin contact, there’s only a slight transfer of color to the alcoholic liquid. Did you also know that Sutter Homes invented white zinfandel in 1972? Story goes (thanks Wikipedia) that Sutter Homes was trying to make a more concentrated zinfandel, so they siphoned off some the liquid after the fermentation process began. This became the first version of “White Zin”, but it’s not the last. A few years later, while the White Zin was fermenting, the yeast died off too quickly, so there was an excess of unconverted sugars. The winemaker thought they’d end up disposing of this wine, but after letting this batch sit for a while, decided it was a winner! There you have it…how our White Zin came to be. I bet this is part of the reason why White Zin is often credited as being the gateway for some who prefer the sweeter whites to transition to the world of reds.

What you can expect from zinfandel: a medium-bodied red with a fruity profile, low to medium acidity, medium tannins, and a higher alcohol content. Because it’s so fruity and low in tannin, zinfandel typically lends itself to be drunk with a variety of foods and flavors. It’s also recommended to be enjoyed at room temperature….and with good company:


Well on our way into the tasting…we had to pause for a photo-op!

So our deal with wine nights is that each person brings a bottle. Sometimes we focus on a particular region, sometimes on a varietal, and sometimes just bringing a fave, but whichever way, there’s a great sampling (and we’ve never had a duplicate yet!).

I’m so excited to share tasting notes on the six zinfandels I had the pleasure of drinking alongside my girls last week. Here we go:

  • 2013 Mettler Family Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel
    • Lodi, California.
    • 15.5% ABV
    • Appearance: Deep ruby color, medium viscosity (looking at the legs).
    • Nose: Extremely fragrant with black fruit, plum, smokiness – almost campfire like.
    • Taste: Low acidity, medium tannins and medium body. Big on black fruits and slight tobacco flavor, off-dry on the sweetness level.
  • 2015 Duckhorn Decoy Zinfandel
    • Sonoma County, California
    • 13.9% ABV
    • Appearance: Medium ruby, medium to high viscosity.
    • Nose: Lots of red fruits and a slight oak and baking spice note.
    • Taste: Low acidity, medium tannins and medium body. Could tell this was aged in oak a bit, but the spices weren’t overbearing. Another off-dry, medium-bodied pour.
  • 2014 Antico Sigillo Primitivo di Manduria
    • Italy
    • 14.5% ABV
    • Appearance: Deep ruby, medium viscosity.
    • Nose: Ripened prune and a hint of bay leaf and earthy notes.
    • Taste: Drier on the palate, with medium acidity, low to medium tannins, and medium-bodied. I picked up blackberry on the tongue, so getting more of the black fruits, similar to the first wine.
  • 2014 Frank Family Vineyard Zinfandel (I learned this was actually a blend: 86% zinfandel, 14% petite sirah)
    • Napa, California
    • 14.6% ABV
    • Appearance: Pale to medium ruby, medium-low viscosity (this wine seemed a lot thinner).
    • Nose: Very fragrant red berries with some smokiness and a little oak.
    • Taste: Another off-dry wine but with medium to high acidity, medium body and barely noticeable tannin.
  • 2011 Deaver Vineyard Terra d’Oro Zinfandel
    • Amador County, California
    • 14.5% ABV
    • Appearance: Medium garnet, medium-high viscosity.
    • Nose: Pretty strong aromas of red currant and some spice and smokiness.
    • Taste: Low tannin and medium acidity round out this off-dry, medium-bodied zin. Very fresh red fruits. This flavor was more rounded and full in the mouth (without being very full bodied, just bursts of flavor), likely due to its aging, which enabled the flavors to meld together.
  • 2015 Oak Ridge Ancient Vine Zinfandel
    • Lodi, California
    • 13.9% ABV
    • Appearance: Deep ruby color.
    • Nose: An intense cherry with a little limestone (the limestone comment got a few laughs from the group…regardless, I could pick up some sort of stone and earthy aroma).
    • Taste: By far, the sweetest of the bunch, but not in a disappointing or bad way. It was actually kind of refreshing, with a jamminess carrying those red and purple fruits to all parts of the mouth.

Four of the six bottles, with the beautiful charcuterie board!

We paired these wines with a variety of appetizers – camembert and drunken goat cheeses (yep, that’s a thing!), veggies, prosciutto and salami – and a delicious dinner of flank steak, asparagus and roasted potatoes.

Honestly, the wines complemented every aspect of the meal. And I truly don’t know that I could pick a favorite of the bunch. I think we got a great sampling of the zinfandel and primitivo grapes. Overall, I’d say that we hit the aroma and flavor profile on the head – nothing too out of the ordinary. I think I continued to drink the Mettler…I was really into the campfire and dark fruit flavors, but probably would’ve been happy continuing to drink any of the six (and not just because I was already six tasting in!).

I usually don’t buy a ton of zinfandel, but I was amazed at how drinkable it was, and how it paired well with all the food we had on the table. One note of caution: this bad boy tends to turn your pearly whites into purply whites, so beware! If you care a lot about it or are going to be out and want to get rid of it, try these! I keep a few in my purse because, well, you never know.

Keep it zin, everyone. Cheers!



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