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Killer Zin from Fritz

Northside Staff Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, Jason Wentworth, Kelley O'Neill, Bill Winston

Though often considered the all-American wine grape, Zinfandel’s genetic origins lie in an obscure Croatian grape variety, Crljenak Kaštelanski, and recent testing links it to the Italian Primitivo grape. (For additional genetic background on Zinfandel, see Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, 2006.) Its long history in California, popularity with American wine drinkers, and the sometimes brash exuberance of Zinfandel wine are factors that contribute to its image as uniquely American.

It is a versatile grape, producing everything from pink, sweet “white” Zinfandel to some of California’s most robust red wines. It came to the U.S. in the 1830’s and was initially grown in east coast hothouses as a table grape. It made its way to California when eastern nurserymen took Zinfandel vines to California during the Gold Rush. On the west coast, it was treated as a wine grape, and its robust, fruity red wine was immensely popular.

Prohibition brought this to an end, and a great number of Zinfandel vines were torn up. Post-Prohibition years found most Zinfandel juice disappearing into anonymous blends. However, the 1960’s witnessed pioneering wineries like Ridge starting to take the grape seriously, bottling it on its own as Zinfandel. Plantings have steadily increased and “Zin” has regained much of its former popularity.

The Northside Wine & Spirits staff recently blind tasted 36 California red Zinfandels, all priced $25 or less. Overall, the wines seemed to reflect a current trend to make Zinfandel in a jammy, high alcohol style, and some tasters found this overbearing. The preferred wines showed some restraint, with fruit that was ripe and bright, but not jammy or raisiny.

The first-place wine was the Fritz 2005 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, priced $19.99 per bottle [Sku 11071].* The Dry Creek Valley, in the northwestern part of Sonoma County, is considered a prime area for Zinfandel. The Fritz is a fine example, with bright cherry/berry fruit, lovely texture, and great balance, with appealing herbal and mineral notes. Drink this flavorful wine with meaty pastas, barbecued ribs, chili, or anything grilled.

"Top Wine Picks" as seen in The Ithaca Journal 7/28/2008.

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