Zinfandel looms large on the California wine scene, not only as a unique and enjoyable wine, but because it has a long history behind it.
First appearing in Sonoma about 1870, its origins were never clear. We now know that the grape is originally from the southern Adriatic, Puglia (as Primitivo) and Croatia.
Despite the recent discovery of these old world roots, Zin remains a California wine. The name Zinfandel was early and permanently joined to California.
At first the vine was considered finicky, its clusters getting ripe unevenly, or worse, turning to raisins. But the Italian and German immigrant growers solved this by planting on sunny slopes and dry-farming it. High yields per acre and wine with a deep red color was the pleasing result. By 1900 it was a runaway success.
“Zin” seems to reflect the place and climate where it is grown: “terrior” counts with this grape. Many of the well-known California wine-growing areas produce their own distinctive kind of Zin.
Dry Creek Valley and Napa County produce the full-bodied style. With a balance of fruit and structure, these are serious and substantial table wines.
The Lodi area, with its remarkable head-pruned old vines, is famous for its “round” style of Zin, meaning thick and fruity. A pleasing blueberry-like zin comes from the hills west of Paso Robles. And from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada comes a heady, rich and ripe version, called late-harvest Zin.
Zin is so varied that one or another can pair with so many foods. Most often BBQ chicken or a pizza pair perfectly. But there are zins that can complement spicy curries too. And that is the fun of this wine.
So when in California, do as Californians do: drink Zinfandel, and drink it casually.