In Defence of Zinfandel

For most of its life, Zinfandel has been an underdog. It grew incredibly well in California, and for years many thought that it was native to the America's west coast (recently it was discovered that it is closely related to Primitivo in Italy and came from Croatia before that). At first, farmers, who were paid by the ton, loved it because it could crop 2-3 times more grapes per acre than other varietals. However, when farmed like that, the grapes are generic and uninteresting. Other than a few quality oriented wineries, most Zinfandel was used for bulk wine.

As Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have become increasingly popular, many of the old Zinfandel vineyards are being ripped up in order to plant varietals that fetch higher prices. Zinfandel was saved briefly by the advent of "White Zinfandel." Its sweet and fruity flavor got a whole generation into Zinfandel, but it didn't last. As drinkers have shifted towards drier styles of wine, Zin was once again looked down upon as a lower quality wine. Now we're back to the same problem of historic old Zin vineyards being bulldozed for generic marketable wines.

Zinfandel is the closest thing we have in America to our own high-quality wine grape. While Napa tries to copy Bordeaux with their Cabernets, and Oregon Pinot Noir draws inspiration from Burgundy, high-quality Zinfandel has no European counterpart (I know Primitivo is still made beautifully, but it is in a different category than Zinfandel due to some genetic differences). We need to give Zin the respect it deserves as producers like Ridge, A. Rafanelli, and Bella all make incredible, ageworthy Zinfandel with subtlety and elegance. Hopefully, then those few remaining vineyards with old vines can be preserved, and they'll continue to produce beautiful, uniquely-Californian wines.