Jan. 24, 2013 - Issue #901: Children can’t choose
The real deal about Zinfandel
Forget the blush variety and try the good stuffThe unseasonably warm temperatures are gone and we're back to Edmonton in mid-winter: it's cold and I crave wine that's rich and high in alcohol. You gotta get the blood pumping somehow—and a nice glass of red sure beats chipping ice on the sidewalks.
Zinfandel fits the bill in both respects. A red grape variety indigenous to Italy (where it is known as Primitivo —more on that later), Zinfandel features red and black fruit flavours that are so ripe it's almost like drinking jam—really boozy jam, that is. Zinfandel loves to grow in very warm climates, but this comes with the danger of the grapes ripening too much; the extra sugar in the berries results in a one-dimensional fruit-bomb with aggressive alcohol. I know it sounds great in theory, but trust me, wine shouldn't burn like whiskey on the way down.
Many people are familiar with Zinfandel in the form of White Zinfandel, which is a crappy blush wine that my mom and her friends drank with giddy abandon throughout my childhood. True red Zinfandel is very different from White Zin, however, so don't let the latter's dubious reputation scare you away.
Zinfandel rose to fame in California after being one of the first European varieties planted in the early 1800s. It enjoyed immense popularity for many years until falling out of favour; prohibition almost eradicated it completely, until recent years, which have seen it return to prominence as one of California's signature reds.
As I mentioned earlier, back in its home of Italy, Zinfandel is known as Primitivo and is usually grown in the Puglia region (the heel of Italy's boot). Primitivo was thought to be its own unique variety until the '90s, when DNA profiling revealed that it was none other than California's Zinfandel. Yet the origins of Primitivo were equally unknown—it is highly likely that the initial plantings came from the United States. This prompted further genetic research, and in 2004 researchers discovered that an almost-extinct Croatian variety, Crljenak Kaštelanski, is genetically identical to Zin and is therefore its progenitor. (It also wins the honour of being the most impossible-to-pronounce grape name I've ever encountered).
Typical Zinfandel/Primitivo flavours include sun-warmed cherries, ripe plums, blackberries and raisins, along with cocoa and sometimes even caramel nuances. Zinfandel grapes naturally have higher levels of sugar, which translates to higher alcohol content in the finished wine; they typically check in at over 14 percent and can get as high as 17 percent—though the latter tends to be pretty unbalanced. The best Zinfandels are voluptuous, but still maintain a high enough level of acidity to refresh your palate—if it lacks in acidity, your mouth will feel furry and gross after a few sips.
Zinfandel's rich fruit flavours and round frame make it a great choice for any kind of roasted red meat, while slightly lighter-bodied Zins do well with chicken and pork. This grape also pairs well with roasted peppers and mushrooms, as well as a wide range of cheeses—especially stinky blue cheese. But Zinfandel's warm flavours and full body also makes it a great choice to quaff just on its own on a cold winter night. V vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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