Zinfandel vines at Green & Red in Napa Valley’s eastern hills
Among California’s wine grapes, this is the fourth most widely planted. “What is zinfandel,” you might answer on Jeopardy!. And it’s a legitimate question in its own right. Cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and pinot noir all have their coveted cousins back home in France. They’ve developed flashy, New World identities, while zin is more of a chameleon. Leaving aside its commercial success as a blanc de noirs (the blush of white zin), the variety is one of the most varied in expression, depending on how and where it grows.
There’s the concentrated, powerful juice of 19th-century vines along Sonoma County’s Russian River and in the Alexander, Dry Creek and Sonoma valleys. Across the Mayacamas, Napa Valley’s volcanic hills facing the morning sun create more delicate, finely structured claret styles, while elevations in the Sierra Foothills grow robust, tannic reds. The coastal influence has its own way with zin in western Paso Robles, in the Santa Cruz Mountains and, looping back to Sonoma County, on the Goldridge soils near Occidental, where old stands of zinfandel have turned in some remarkable performances in our most recent tastings. The blockbuster wines may make all the noise, but there is more to zin than alcohol. We discovered plenty of elegant reds in our most recent tastings of this thin-skinned grape, among the highest-scoring in our collection of 63 exceptional wines and 22 Best Buys. —Joshua Greene
Zin in the Land of Cabernet
Joshua Greene sat down with Jerry Seps of Storybook Mountain in Napa Valley to talk about the difficulty of selling “zin in a cabernet valley.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Patrick J. Comiskey visits the endangered ancient vines of Contra Costa County, including those at Evangelho Vineyard in Antioch (left), some of California’s great viticulture assets at risk of extinction.
Wild Mushroom “au poivre”
Chef Katie Reicher at San Francisco’s Greens pairs meaty wild mushrooms with the classic “au poivre” sauce, a dish ready for zin’s profile.