Fall is here, a time when California zinfandel comes to mind. On the mainland this grape variety is popular not only for its nickname "America’s grape," but because of its gusto, honesty and heartiness.
As is true with all grapes and wine, what’s in fashion changes. What was considered "in" five years ago may not be so today.
In terms of zinfandel, a change we’re currently witnessing is the dramatic increase in planting and replanting of a grape variety called primitivo. Although primitivo has been scientifically proven to be a zinfandel clone, in many cases it looks, grows and tastes like a different grape variety.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Because primitivo is a heartier grape with even ripening, the resulting wines can have more impact and be more consistent.
Yet I just can’t help cherishing the romantic notion of the old-vine zin I grew up with, and its long history of producing unique red wines full of California character.
Here are a few favorites:
» 2005 Scherrer Zinfandel "Old & Mature Vines": Unlike the black fruit character one normally finds in primitivo-based reds, this one has a cornucopia of red fruit and spice. The "old" vines were planted in 1912, while the "mature" ones were planted in the 1970s and ’80s. The best way to describe this wine is to say it’s an old-vine zin crafted by a pinot noir maker — and therefore elegant, suave, lovely and delicious.
» 2006 Neyers Zinfandel "Pato Vineyard": The vines are 110 years old! The resulting wine is certainly hearty and masculine but not heavy, gnarly or harsh. It is also, thankfully, not overdone as have been so many of the highly acclaimed award winners. Just plain good!
» 2006 Carol Shelton Monga Zin: These vines were planted in the late 1800s. Today this nearly forgotten Cucumonga vineyard is surrounded on three sides by freeway. Leave it to a truly dedicated zin specialist like Carol Shelton to keep this wine treasure viable. This is not her biggest, darkest or heaviest zin by any means, but it has real old-vine character, complexity and soul. Because this vineyard typically produces less than a half-ton per acre, this is a work of passion and should be celebrated.
» 2007 Peltier Station Zinfandel: For those looking for great value, here is one. Produced from 45-year-old vines, this tasty, food-friendly zin will show you the terrific potential Lodi, Calif., has as a viable wine-growing region. You are sure to hear more and more about this area as time goes by, and this wine will show you why.
Until next time, enjoy.