It’s tough to be a wine grape in California. Granted, tourists come from all over just to get a glimpse of you, and you’re pampered with the utmost care from an expert vineyard manager whose livelihood depends on your happiness. The scenery where you live is beautiful—as a matter of fact, you are the beautiful scenery. Eventually you die a brutal, gory death in a loud, scary machine, but until that point your life is charmed.
Except for one thing. The reason being born vitis vinifera in the Golden State is a raw deal is that somewhere in Europe, you have a doppelganger who gets a lot more respect than you do from the wine establishment.*
California Pinot Noir? You’re the McDonald’s to Burgundy’s Five Guys.
California Merlot? Château Pétrus thinks your attempt at being wine is cute.
California Sauvignon Blanc? You cannot be Sancerre-ious.
Unless, that is, your name is Zinfandel. The greatest and most crucial mystery of winemaking is matching the right grape to the right land, and Zinfandel is the right grape for California. Or California is the right land for Zinfandel. Or both.
Some Italian producers do OK with Primitivo, which looks about the same as Zin under a microscope, but its voice is drowned out in the chaotic, improvisation-happy choir of Italian wines. And somehow most of them just taste… primitive compared to the velvet sledgehammers swinging out of California.
For your consideration, Rosenblum Cellars Vintner’s Cuvee XXXIII Zinfandel. This is introductory stuff, but one of the beauties of Zinfandel is that it doesn’t have a steep learning curve – the inexpensive ones are infrequently bad (unless they’re “white”), and as you move towards $20 you start to find some really lovely juice.
This one, fortified with 12% Petite Sirah, should run you around $12 and is everything it needs to be. Aromatically look for clove and bramble, big strawberry fruit, with toasty, almost coconutty wisps of American oak pulling it all together. It tastes spicy and warm (14.5% listed ABV—tame for a Zinfandel). And jammy, so jammy. You just jumped off the high-dive and as you plummet towards the pool the water turns to raspberry jam. Get ready to splash.
Someone might tell you that low-acid, high-alcohol wines like this “aren’t food-friendly”. First, get them an icepack because you’re about to slap some sense into them. Afterwards, make amends by grilling them some dry-rubbed ribs or spicy Italian sausage served alongside a bottle of Rosenblum. The big fruit and gentle tannins make this extremely versatile, not to mention the ultimate BBQ buddy. And even though I think the whole “pairing wine with chocolate” thing is an elaborate prank, it would probably not be half bad with a bowl of 70% cacao-covered raspberries.
Three more cheers for Zinfandel, a wine that, by being unapologetically oaky, fruity and boozy, has managed to rise above all the pointless “New World style vs. Old World style” whining and establish its own like-a-rock identity in the land of the free.
If the only thing that tickles your Europhile fancy is a 12% ABV Bourgueil, here’s a paddle and a life vest—the Loire River is that-a-way.
Suggested retail: $11.99
Available (according to www.wine-searcher.com) at: Rodman’s, Pearson’s, Calvert Woodley, Total Wine & More, and direct from rosenblumcellars.com
*The wine establishment is often wrong about this sort of thing, but that’s another post.