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Two Zin-sations

Northside Staff
Tasters: Dave Pohl, ed., Dana Malley, and Jason Wentworth

Many view Zinfandel as the quintessential California grape variety. First planted in California in the early nineteenth century, Zinfandel produces an exuberantly fruited red wine that in some ways seems the perfect vinous expression of an extroverted American culture. It is the first love of many California wine enthusiasts, and even has its own support organization, ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers).

Zinfandel has seen many ups and downs in its history. It has recently survived the 1970s creation of “White Zinfandel,” a sweet pink wine that for many cheapened the grape’s reputation. The popularity of White Zinfandel through the 1980s and ‘90s led many red Zinfandel producers to go to an extreme, producing heavy, port-like wines that soon lost favor.

Quality red Zinfandel is currently experiencing a renaissance, according to Jon Bonné, author of The New California Wine (2013). Bonné determines that we are witnessing a “culture clash” between producers of heavy, “big flavor” Zins and those making more restrained wines that still capture the grape’s appealing fruitiness.

The staff at Northside Wine & Spirits recently blind tasted 23 red Zinfandels priced under $25 per bottle. The wines indeed reflected Bonné’s “two worlds” of Zinfandel. Many were high-octane jam bombs, tasting as though they’d been made from raisins. The best possessed aromatic, bright red fruit and were pure pleasure.

The staff’s top pick was the Green & Red 2010 “Chiles Canyon” Zinfandel ($25 per bottle). Green & Red’s Jay Heminway states that Zinfandel should be treated “more like Pinot Noir than Cabernet” in a January 23, 2011, article penned by Jon Bonné for the San Francisco Chronicle. That approach is reflected in his yummy 2010 rendition, with its restrained use of oak, ripe dark cherry fruit, and caressing texture.

Also appealing was the Graziano 2010 Mendocino Zinfandel. A good value at $16 per bottle, it is a zesty, red-fruited wine that’s hard to just sip. While it lacks a bit of the Green & Red’s depth, it is likewise engagingly fruity and well-balanced.

These wines exhibit the draw of good Zinfandel. Packed with fruit and enjoyable on their own, they will also make great partners for lusty food such as barbecued ribs, meaty casseroles, or stuffed peppers. Enjoy!

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