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Friday, March 19, 2021

Zinfandel in California


California offers some rock-star Zins from several different regions

Last week’s Blog discussed the Zinfandel grape's country of origin.   Long thought to be native to California, DNA science shows that Zin was actually birthed in Croatia.  We’ll switch gears in this article to why the varietal has been such a success in California.

Zinfandel grapes thrive in California’s warm weather.  The tricky part is that its thin-skins don’t do well in hot temperatures because they tend to shrivel.  Another issue for California’s winemakers is tempering Zin’s propensity to create high alcohol wines.  Remember that during fermentation sugar converts to alcohol, so riper grapes create higher alcohol wines.

                          California has several Zinfandel vineyards that are >100 years old
California Zins are often times described as “jammy.”  This is because of the fruit's high sugar levels caused in part by the state’s warm climate.   Zinfandel in California can often times move into the blackberry jam category which comes from fully ripe grapes.  Less ripe fruit translates to strawberry flavors in Zin.

                                    Peppery arugula is a good pairing with peppery Zin

All Zins are also known for their spicy characteristics, but California’s hot temperatures enhance these flavors.  Spice is due to this grape’s chemical structure.  Compounds called “rotundones” contribute this spice flavor.  Spiciness can vary from gentle white pepper to more the pronounced spiciness of black pepper.  The warmer the weather, the spicier the flavor.   Because of this Zins are a perfect pairing with spicy BBQ sauces, and spicy cuisines such as Indian & Mexican.  

California has seven wine regions that are noted for top-level Zins.   Listed in alpha order, these areas all offer warm days but cooler nights, ideal for vinifying a great Zin.  All except one is located in cooler northern Cali, and all but two are located close to the coastline to take advantage of the cooling sea influence.  

  •     Amador:   located in the foothills above Sacramento, this area has a  reputation for big, full-bodied Zins with matching alcohol levels.
  • Dry Creek (Sonoma County) located between the Pacific and Napa Valley, this small appellation produces some really well-crafted Zins.
  •    Lodi:  this area has some of the oldest Zin vines in the state & benefits from the cooling breezes of the delta waterways.
  • Mendocino County:  these highly rated Zins have the benefit of the cooling nearby Pacific.
     The Russian River flows directly into the Pacific & both bodies of water cool these vineyards
  • Russian River:  this is the coolest region of the seven. Ripening is sometimes an issue, but with the right temps, Zins here can be wonderful.
  • Santa Cruz Mountains:  cooled by both the nearby Pacific and its mountainous elevation, these Zins have complexity & depth.
  • San Luis Obispo:  the most southerly of all the best Zin districts, SLO also benefits from hot days & cooler maritime-influenced nights.

Why not a have a Zin weekend to welcome Spring which is just around the corner?  Just be mindful, Zins have higher alcohol levels so drink accordingly.

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