Good-old American zinfandel may be the finest wine to go with Fourth of July barbecues, deftly handling everything from charcoaled steaks to baby-back ribs to smoked chicken.
Zinfandel is warm and hearty, with jammy flavors of cherries, blackberries and raspberries. It’s spicy, with black pepper, cloves and cinnamon. Some say it even has a semi-mysterious quality called “brambly,” which fans translate as bay leaves, basil and thyme. It’s a lot to expect from one grape, but zinfandel has the broad shoulders to handle it.
Some of the best zins are labeled “old vines” because they’re from vines planted 50, even 100 years ago, while vines from many other varieties are only 20-something. Old vines grow fewer but better grapes because their roots dig deeper into the soil seeking flavor-making minerals. Or so say the growers who happen to have the old vines.
“Old vines” happen more with zinfandel than with other grapes because, back in the 1980s, growers of many other varieties switched to a new rootstock called AXR1, believing it produced more grapes. Then came the California plague of the root louse called “phylloxers,” which killed many of the vines on the new rootstock.
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Zinfandel growers had stuck with the old rootstock, so their vines survived to grow old and beautiful.
For decades, zinfandel was called “America’s wine” because it was believed to have originated in America. More recently, DNA testing has determined that the grape came to America via Italy, originally from Croatia, from a vine called Crljenak. And maybe it was brought to Croatia even earlier by the Greeks.
Still, Americans warmly adopted the grape, and we coined the name “zinfandel” in the 1830s.
So it’s not a native American grape. No problem. After all, one of our proudest boasts is that we are a “nation of immigrants.”
▪ 2012 Renwood “Premier Old Vine” Zinfandel, Amador County (75 percent zinfandel, 15 percent petite sirah, 5 percent syrah, 5 percent marsanne): deep, dark color, hint of oak, aromas and flavors of dried fruit, licorice, full bodied, opulent, soft tannins; $20.
▪ 2012 XYZin Zinfandel, by Accolade Wines, California (87 percent zinfandel, 11 percent carignane, 2 percent petite sirah): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of tart cranberries and strawberries, full body, warm and hearty, long, smooth finish; $18.
▪ 2013 Rabble Wine “Force of Nature” Zinfandel, Mossfire Ranch Vineyard, Paso Robles, Calif. (100 percent zinfandel): floral aromas, flavors of black cherries and dark chocolate, soft, ripe tannins, long finish; $23.
▪ 2013 “The Cleaver” Red Blend, by Val d’Or, California (70 percent zinfandel, 20 percent syrah, 10 percent petite sirah: big and hearty, with aromas and flavors of black cherries and dark chocolate, smooth, long finish; $20.
▪ 2012 Edmeades Folly red blend, Mendocino County (44 percent zinfandel, 21 percent syrah, 21 percent petite sirah, 14 percent merlot): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black plums and earth, big ripe tannins, full body; $26.
▪ 2011 Four Vines “Truant” Zinfandel, California (90 percent zinfandel, 7 percent barbera, 3 percent petite sirah: aromas and flavors of blueberries and licorice, firm tannins, long finish; $2.
▪ 2012 Renwood Zinfandel, California (zinfandel, syrah, barbera, petite sirah, alicante bouschet, percent primitivo): aromas and flavors of red plums and strawberries, crisp and lively, ripe tannins; $15.
▪ 2012 Belle Ambiance Family Vineyards Red Wine, California (zinfandel, merlot, syrah, malbec): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black plums, cinnamon and mocha, full body, big tannins; $10.
▪ 2012 Murphy-Goode “Homefront Red Blend,” California (34 percent zinfandel, 27 percent merlot, 16 percent petite sirah, 13 percent petit verdot, 6 percent syrah, 4 percent cabernet sauvignon): aromas and flavors of black plums and mocha, soft, rich and smooth; $15.