California Wine: Zin-fidel!

Zinfandel has powers of biblical proportion.

The mere mention of its name will divide a wine drinking crowd like Moses' Red Sea. On one side are those who absolutely love the gregarious grape and will defend it fiercely with purple toothed passion. Opposing them are those who are quick to dismiss the varietal preferring to deem it insipid rather than consider to sip it.

Zinfandel has a long and often misunderstood history. There have been many arguments over the origin of this "American" grape and the striking resemblance it bears to the Italian grape Primitivo. Debates over its migration from California to Italy or the reverse have lingered on, until recently. Fade to bad TV... In the distance, bellowing above an angry mob you can hear the voice of an oenophilic Jerry Springer shouting, "We have the DNA test results, and they prove that Crljenak Kaštelanski IS the father!" Yes, and it is the father of both grapes, Zinfandel and Primitivo.

"Who?" you may ask. Crljenak Kaštelanski (Sirl-YAY-knock COSH-tel-on-ski), a grape of Croatian origin, was the plant from which cuttings were taken to California as well as the southern Italian region of Puglia. Distance, time and culture kept these two separate, but much like twins separated at birth, they grew up to become similar men. Compounding the arguments of origin, people have also argued the quality differences between the brothers, stating that the Italian clone has developed more complexity than its California brethren. But even with all the controversy, confusion and simple hatred, there is room for some common ground. There may not be an abundance of stunning examples of Zinfandel in California, but there certainly are a few.

A wine that transcends traditional treatment of this grape is the 2008 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel from Paso Robles. On the nose, you are presented with the pleasant surprise of black mission fig mixed with blackberries and just a hint of vanilla. On the palate this wine has rich fruit and enough weight to easily please a big Zin drinker. The alcohol tips the scales here at 15.2% but it moves with finesse, like a heavyweight boxer, packing a punch then leaving the ring gracefully. This is a Zinfandel that of course pairs well with barbeque, as most do, but would perform even better with orrecchiette topped with an octopus and tomato sugo. Here we have a rendition of this long-confused and often abused grape that would make both its Italian brother and Croatian mother proud.

2008 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel from Paso Robles retails at about $15.

[Photo of Peachy Canyon winery by Malcolm Carlaw/Flickr]

Los Angeles resident Michael Newsome, a wine buyer for Whole Foods and a Certified Italian Wine Specialist, joins us every Tuesday for an exploration of California wine. See his previous posts here.


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About the Author

I spend my life eating, drinking, cooking, brewing and traveling.

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