Zinfandel arrived in California as part of the Gold Rush of the 1850s. Its origins though are in Eastern Europe and the wine growing regions of Croatia. After Prohibition when the California wine industry was nearly decimated there was a time when folks mistakenly believed that Zinfandel was a grape unique to the West Coast and California, but it’s ancestry can be traced through Puglia in Italy, where it’s known as Primitivo across the Adriatic to Croatia. In Croatia the grape is known as Crljenak Kaštelanski, which rolls right off the tongue.
California Zinfandel though has taken on a life of its own. The grape thrives in warm temperatures and its ripeness and richness developed in that California sunshine make it the state’s one true signature grape. Zinfandel does well in a variety of areas from Lodi to Mendocino as well as the Dry Creek Valley, where it may reach it’s greatest expression from old, gnarled vines.
Zinfandel is also a wine that does really well come Turkey Day. The rich, spicy character of Zinfandel, and the wine’s relative approachability makes it a crowd-pleaser. The spicy, fruit driven palate also sets it up nicely with a variety of side dishes and it will absolutely stand up to some of the fattier foods that grandma might send your way.
2014 Angry Bunch Lodi Zinfandel, Lodi, California $16
Simple, straightforward, ripe and rich. This Lodi Zin is loaded with rich black fruit aromas, and hints of barrel spice. The palate is packs a wallop in terms of dark fruit flavors, notes of mocha, pepper and cocoa powder lead into the finish. The Angry Bunch Lodi Zinfandel comes from vineyards near the Mokelumne River in Lodi where you’ll likely find some of America’s oldest Zinfandel vines. This wine is a people-pleaser, nothing really to get angry about here folks.
A slight contrast in style from vineyards in the Mendocino Ranches surrounding the Russian River. This wine has an acid and a bit of elegance that the straightforward Lodi did not. Aromas of dried violet, dried herbs and fig. The palate has a lift to it that really balances the ripeness of the Mendocino Zinfandel. Dried fig, prunes and hints of garrigue, along with a bit more structure and a nice kiss of acid at the end.
2014 Ravenswood Old Vine Zifandel, Sonoma County, California $17
Mostly Zinfandel with a bit of Petite Sirah and a few other grapes in the mix, this wine from Ravenswood comes across as a classic California Zinfandel. Notes of vanilla and espresso along with black cherry aromas communicate the time spent in oak. The palate is high octane intensity. A black fruit core surrounded by flavors of smoke, mocha and a touch of white pepper. Ravenswood sources this fruit from 50 to 100 year old Zinfandel vines throughout their Sonoma County holdings.
Urge to Splurge:
2014 Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, California $34
The elegance goes all the way to eleven on this single vineyard bottling from Ravenswood from the tiniest of plots. A 7.5 acre vineyard in the Russian River AVA; Belloni fruit is rare and so this is quite a treat. 100% Zinfandel with aromas of dried fig, sage and dried violet and a touch of sweet wood. The palate offers an almost old world character of dried fruit, hints of earth, herbs, clove and nutmeg. A wine that speaks to the more elegant side of the typically muscular Zinfandel.
2014 Ravenswood Teldeschi Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, California $34
In the Dry Creek Valley, Zinfandel finds its raison d’être. The conditions, the old vines and the grape seem to find a harmony that in other places eludes it. This bottling from Ravenswood, particularly at under $50 is perhaps a sort of approachable greatness for Zinfandel neophytes. The Teldeschi Vineyard was planted by the son of an Italian immigrant and for many years sold its grapes to home winemakers in Sonoma. The founders of Ravenswood struck up a deal with the Teldeschi family for this fruit, and the wine has become a flagship. The aromas are a mix of pepper, espresso and blueberry, the palate is medium weight, with flavors of fennel, earth, blackberry and a dusting of mocha. The structure is undeniable, and the finish goes on well into the dessert course.