Posts Tagged Zinfandel

Zinfandel: no-nonsense, full-flavoured wines


First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 2nd September, 2017

‘Here lies the last wimpy wine, RIP.’ is emblazoned on the stone as you enter Ravenswood winery in Sonoma, California. The motto “No Wimpy Wines” has become part of the folklore surrounding founder Joel Peterson and his winery.

Ravenswood made its name producing big, no-nonsense, full-flavoured wines. At a time when Zinfandel was shunned by many producers in favour of trendy Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Peterson and a few others began sourcing fruit from some of the oldest dry-farmed, pre-Prohibition vineyards in California. The results were spectacular.

 I met Peterson at a tasting in the winery, along with David Gates of Ridge Winery and other leading lights of Californian Zinfandel, where we tasted a range going back to the early 1990s from Ravenswood, Ridge and others. There were some brilliant mature wines.

Range of strengths

Zinfandel is something of a chameleon, producing anything from watery sweet rosé wines to full-bodied powerful reds. It all depends where it is grown, and how you treat it. I tasted wines going from 13.5 per cent all the way up to a whopping 17 per cent alcohol. No wimpy wines indeed!

Treated with distain for many years, it was used primarily to produce massive quantities of grapes destined for cheap “White Zinfandel”. Producer Ted Seghesio began by supplying Gallo with no fewer than three harvests of Zinfandel annually (from the same vines) before switching to much lower yields – and much better wine. Peterson and Gates had just returned from a Zinfandel Conference in its original home of Croatia. It is one of the oldest varieties in the world, and probably came to California via Italy. In Europe it goes under the names Tribidrag, Pribidrag, Crljenak kaštelanski, Kratošija and Primitivo.

 Lodi, to the east of San Francisco, has some of the oldest Zinfandel vines, and has been making a reputation for big powerful smooth wines often with a touch of smoked bacon. Sonoma Zins tend to be lighter and fresher, while those from Amador County are among the most powerful of all.

Zinfandel is generally matched with red meats, and it does go really well with steak and barbecued meats of all description, particularly those with a bit of spice. However, I have enjoyed it with pasta and tomato bakes, including lasagna, and braised meats. After our tasting, we enjoyed spicy Zinfandel with a range of outstanding Mexican foods, a brilliant match.

 If you fancy trying out some Zinfandels, and many other Californian wines, then the California Wine Institute will be holding a massive wine fair (with over 500 wines as well as a host of Irish importers and Californian Vintners) in the Shelbourne Hotel from 6.30pm-8.00pm on September 28th. Tickets are €10, available from


Intrigo Primitivo 2015, Puglia, Italy, 13%, €11.99

Italian Zinfandel – a warm, easy-drinking version with supple sweet damson fruits. Stockists: SuperValu

Cline Zinfandel 2013, Lodi, California, €18.50

Ripe smooth rounded cherry fruits with a twist of vanilla spice. Blackrock Cellars, Whelehans Wines, Corskscrew and

Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, Lodi, California, 14.5%, €20

Medium to full-bodied with soft lush dark fruits. Perfect with barbequed steak. Stockists: McHughs, Whelehan wines, Donnybrook Fair, La Touche

Ridge Zinfandel 2014, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, 14.5%, €34

Delicious powerful savoury sweet dark fruits, some spice, and well-integrated tannins. Nice wine. Stockists: Blackrock Cellars, Donnybrook Fair, Thomas Woodberry’s Galway, Baggot Street Wines, Whelehans Wines and

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The Mighty Zin – sun-kissed California in a Glass

The Mighty Zin – sun-kissed California in a Glass

First published in the Irish Times, 19th March, 2016

I have always had a soft spot for the wines of California and Zinfandel in particular. Fresh out of college, I spent six glorious months in San Francisco. I spent a lot of time travelling up and down the nearby Napa and Sonoma Valleys, and even more time drinking the lovely ripe- fruited wines that sold at ridiculously cheap prices. Many of these would have included Zinfandel in their make-up without mentioning it, but for a few dollars more you could buy a varietal Zin. These were rich, soft and powerful with an accessibility that made European wines seem sharp and unappetising. My tastes have changed over the years, but I still enjoy a good Zinfandel.

Zinfandel comes in three colours. You will find the odd genuinely white wine, stripped of both colour and flavour, but the majority of white Zinfandels are sweet rosé wines. Some mock them, but they provide many with an introduction to the pleasures of wine. Red Zinfandel is more serious, varying from rich and powerful to a more elegant style. All tend to have very ripe tannins, making them disarmingly easy to drink young, yet the best have the ability to age.

The variety first appeared in the mid-19th century. Many theories were advanced as to its origins but in the 1990s DNA proved that the Primitivo grape of Apulia (or Puglia) of Italy, was identical to that of Zinfandel. Many argued that the grape must have been brought over by Italian immigrants, although it predated them by several decades.It did not take Italian producers long to claim Primitivo as the original of the species, and to begin labelling their wines (particularly those going to the US) as Zinfandel. However, the trail continued to Croatia, where eventually a team of American and Croatian academics proved that an almost extinct variety called Crljenak Kastelanski was identical to both Primitivo and Zinfandel, and the parent of both.

There are plenty of very good small boutique Zinfandels produced in California, typically made from gnarled century-old vines that somehow survived prohibition.Most of these are snapped up by American enthusiasts before they can make their way over here. My favourite producer is Ridge, available through If you come across it in a restaurant, Frog’s Leap, imported by Berry Brothers & Rudd, is very good too. Beware mighty Zin though. This variety can reach heady port-like levels of alcohol – 16 per cent or more is not unusual.

The soft tannins and supple fruit make Zinfandel a good match for many foods, including most red and white meats. The richer style partners very well with grills, barbecues, spicy food (Mexican in particular) and rich robust stews.

Image 6De Loach Heritage Reserve Zinfandel 2014, 13.5%, €18.99
Generous and harmonious with mellow cassis and gentle spice.
Stockists: Blackrock Cellar; Clontarf Wines; Florries; Lotts & Co; On the Grapevine; McHughs; Red Island; Sweeney’s; World Wide Wine.

Image 2Gnarly Head Zinfandel 2013, Lodi, California, 14.5%, €18.99
Powerful and rounded with ripe dark fruits and a touch of vanilla.
Stockists: Donnybrook Fair; O’Briens; O’Donovan’s; Kelly’s; Jus de Vin; Baggot St Wines.

Image 1Paul Dolan Organic Zinfandel 2011, Mendocino,14.5%, €29.99
From organic and biodynamic vineyards, a rich wine coming down with ripe blackcurrants and plum jam.
Stockists: Redmonds; Fallon & Byrne.

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