Though Zinfandel is not the most popular varietal wine, it is certainly one of my favorites! I may have waded into my wine journey pool with Pinot Noir, but when I first tasted a quality, red Zinfandel wine, it was like diving head first from the high dive!
Today is the third Wednesday in November, which means it’s National Zinfandel Day! In celebration, I encourage all of you to drink some Zinfandel today. You’ll be glad you did! Done right, Zinfandel is a balance of bold, fruity, and spicy. It is a great wine to pair with food, especially casual fare, making it the perfect bottle to crack open on a Wednesday evening. Pizza, burgers, barbecue, steak, and even rich chicken dishes all pair with Zinfandel.
“Bold and celebratory, independent and unpretentious, versatile and individual, Zinfandel has charted a course all its own, and National Zinfandel Day offers many ways for our members to chart their own course to help celebrate and draw positive attention for America’s Heritage grape.”
“Zinfandel Day is a worldwide celebration of the Zinfandel grape variety, intended to give Zinfandel lovers around the globe a platform to express their passion for grape and the wines made from it.”
Throughout California, Zinfandel grows well in a number of regions. It was introduced in the Sierra Foothills during the California Gold Rush by resourceful entrepreneurs who realized the hoards of miners were getting mighty thirsty in their backbreaking quest for riches. They were right. Zinfandel gained a strong foothold, and is now knows as “America’s Heritage grape.“
One of the most famous Zinfandel regions in California is Lodi. In fact, Lodi has declared itself the Zinfandel Capital of the World. Roughly 40% of the Zinfandel grapes grown in California come from the Lodi AVA. That’s about 110,000 acres under vine, tended by 750 grape growers!
Over the years, Zinfandel’s reputation has ebbed and flowed. We all know about the White Zin craze that started in the 1970s. In fact, I’d bet that White Zin was the first wine many of you tried. I know I drank my fair share of it before my first Pinot Noir encounter! As more wine drinkers started embracing red Zinfandel, and production increased in the Central Valley, many Zinfandels produced were in the jammy, high-alcohol, fruit-bomb style. You know the ones; open with corkscrew, consume with tablespoon! Jammy! While the masses loved this style, more discerning wine lovers abandoned Zinfandel. (Is my snobby showing?)
It is true that during this time, more subtle and restrained versions of Zinfandel were available in other California regions, and even some from the Central Valley, they were somewhat difficult to find, and often outside the price range of the average consumer. In recent years, however, a group of Lodi producers have started to revisit the more nuanced, minimalist approach to Zinfandel. The Lodi Native Project started as a collaborative project by six Lodi wine growers who are committed showcasing the merits of the heritage plantings. Their goal is to highlight the terroir of the vineyards themselves, and to produce small, artisan wines that reflect the character of the grape.
Just in time National Zinfandel Day, I received two samples of Lodi Zinfandel for review. Both were subtle, restrained, and delicious. I can heartily recommend either, or both.
Fields Family Wines 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel – Family Vineyard
Mokelumne River AVA
Brick color with pale ruby rim. Earthy nose with restrained raspberry and cherry aromas. On the palate, bright, juicy flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, and plum, with spice, black pepper, and a hint of licorice. Medium body and tannins with a bite of zesty acidity. The finish lingers with red fruit and spice. We paired this with Margarita pizza and it was delightful. A very nice example of what Lodi can do with a lighter, more restrained version of Zinfandel.
Tizona by Bokisch 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel – Kirschenmann Vineyard
Mokelumne River AVA
Deep ruby color with brick rim. On the nose, soft aromas of blackberry bramble, black cherry, and a hint of anise. This is going to be something special! On the palate, the magic continues with a soft, round mouthfeel and flavors of blackberry jam, black cherry, white pepper, and baking spice. The tannins are silky smooth, and there is light acidity. The finish goes on for days, with raspberry and spice notes. This one went down way too easily with a combo pizza. Noticing a trend? We really don’t eat that much pizza! But…Zinfandel! This easily falls into the category of best Zinfandels I’ve ever had! Spectacular!
Head on over to the Zinfandel Events page for five suggestions on ways you can participate in the celebration today. On the top of the list, of course, is “Share a Bottle with Your Friends!” I can’t think of any better advice!
Please share in the comments what bottle (or bottles) you opened for National Zinfandel Day!
(Both of the wines in this article were submitted for review. I received no other compensation, and all reviews, opinions, and observations are my own.)
- By Kent Reynolds