Zinfandel: Californias wine?
This past week in wine-related news, there was a proposal to name Zinfandel as Californias State wine. This proposal was vetoed by the Governor because California produces many, many fine wines. We do produce many fine wines, as do we have many wonderful birds, mammals, and flowers all of which we have designated a state representative. Zinfandel would have been an excellent choice for such a designation, the grape was, until quite recently, thought of as originating here in California. Considered Californias signature wine it was believed that it did not have any European ties until DNA testing by University of California, Davis scientist found that it was related to the Italian Primitivo, a grape that grows in the Puglia wine-growing region in Italy. Interestingly though, there are no written records of the Primitivo grape in Italy prior to 1860!
Zinfandel grape vines were widely planted in Napa, Sonoma, Sacramento, the Sierra Foothills and the Santa Clara Valley between 1852 and 1862 with grape-stock brought into California from the New England states. These new to the state agriculturist saw the potential for making large profits from selling their wines to pioneers that were pouring into California to be part of the gold rush. In 1855 alone, imported wine totaled 14,000 barrels to be bottled in San Francisco with an additional 120,000 cases of wine. The grape vines present in California at that time were of the Mission grape variety, which were planted by the early Mexican settlers and the Franciscan missionaries starting in 1769. The Mission grape produced a sweet wine which was very inferior to the imported wines.In 1855 a campaign was started to promote viticulture and wine-making in Northern California. Many different varieties from the New England nursery stock were planted, two varietals; the Black St. Peters which flourished in Livermore, and the Zeinfandall from the foothills were being made into award winning wines. Both of these grape varieties were planted in Napa and Sonoma and good wines began to be produced from them. These grapes and wines had a variety of spellings; in addition to the Zeinfandell, the wines were labeled Zenfenthal, and Zinfendel. The juice from both of these grapes were used in producing red table wines in Sonoma and Zinfandel from Napa. The Black St. Peters is believed to actually have been Zinfandel, which was beginning to be noticed by the public as a good wine. In fact, by 1860 the Black St. Peters vineyards had all been renamed Zinfandel, and the current spelling became the accepted name. By 1880 the grape was being planted in all the new grape growing regions, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek, and Healdsburg, and wine-makers were increasing their Zinfandel crops in Sonoma and Napa. The red table wines , being produced from these Zinfandel grapes, were becoming very popular. During the 1880s California wine-makers went from producing less than 5 million gallons to over 15 million gallons a year. Much of the success of the new wine industry in California was because of the Zinfandel grape and the very tasty wines that it produced. It was the most widely planted red grape in California until 1998 when Cabernet Sauvignon surpassed it.Considering that the history of the wine industry in California seems to have been intertwined with the rise of the popularity Zinfandel grape here I can understand why many believe that Zinfandel should receive the honor of the state wine. I know the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) , which is a large organization of Zinfandel lovers will more than likely continue to push for this recognition.
Today, Zinfandel grapes are grown in all the wine growing regions of California. The wine can be made in a variety of styles, from inky dark with big jammy flavors and high alcohol (sometimes 15.5 percent or more) with harsh tannins, to soft, red berry-fruit flavors with spicy-peppery or high acidity styles as well. You can find excellent Zins at every price point as well.
Some very good ones to try are Sobon century vine, a reasonably priced soft zin. The 04 Sausal Century Vine is a complex wine that will give you layers of flavors from dark berries to mild spiciness to balanced tannins. The 05 Boeger Vineyard Walker Vineyard is a great example of a foothills Zinfandel, rich dark fruit with a nice oak flavor layer. Janice Jones Truckee resident and wine consultant. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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