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Zindependence day
By Martin Cvjetković | Published  07/2/2007 | Culture And Arts , History | Unrated
Famous wine grape is a Croatian immigrant
Zindependence day

Pair this zesty, all-American wine with the foods of your 4th of July table

Bill Daley
June 27, 2007

Zinfandel grapes

Zinfandel, like most of us, is not native to the United States. It's an immigrant, too, with a somewhat murky family history that goes back ultimately to Croatia, or so researchers believe. Yet with 95 percent of all zinfandel being domestically produced, it's fair to say zin is the all-American wine.

What an appropriate pour for the 4th of July!

Indeed, the hearty zin is most commonly paired with "barbecue and grilling foods," according to a consumer survey conducted in 2006 by ZAP, or Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, a non-profit organization seeking to spread the word about zinfandel.

Zinfandel is always my first choice on Independence Day because it was my very first "real" American wine, sipped out of a jug at a 4th of July cookout at the enthusiastic urging of my high school girlfriend's father. He loved zinfandel for its gutsy, energetic profile that seemed so refreshing given the hushed, reverential treatment accorded the French wines of that day. Zinfandel has a brash complexity that enlivens the glass: lots of fruit, a dash of pepper, a sense of excitement.

Zinfandel has steadily grown in terms of quality, prestige and price over the last three decades. ZAP can take some of the credit for zinfandel's burnished image. Its annual festival in San Francisco is great fun, with thousands of Bay Area residents turning out to taste wine poured from dozens of California's top producers.

No state is more identified with zinfandel than California, even if cabernet sauvignon outproduces it and pinot noir outshines it, at least for now. It came as no surprise last year when one state legislator sought to have zinfandel named "California's historic wine." Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the proposal, saying it was wrong to highlight one varietal at the expense of others.

Perhaps, but zinfandel can and should have its time in the limelight.

Interest in the red does seems to be growing. Retail sales of zinfandel are up 10.4 percent as of May 2007 compared with the year before, reports Brian Lechner, client director for the beverage alcohol arm of ACNielsen, the consumer research firm.

"This is in line with the general trend of 'premiumization'/trade-up and experimentation that we're seeing in other varietals," he said.

Among those coming to zinfandel is Australian-born Mark Dryden of Naperville's Cabernet & Co.

"Zinfandel is still a fairly new grape to me as in Oz no one really grows it," he said. ("Oz" is Australia's nickname.) "Since being here though, I've developed an affinity for it. I have a particular fondness for Seghesio and the current 2005 Sonoma zin is wonderful, big with a little pepper and lots of that wonderful jammy fruit."

"The best part about zin is that it comes in so many styles and price points," Dryden added. "You can pick up a very decent zin for $10-12 and be happy. Or, something like Boeger from El Dorado for about $21 and find a whole new world of flavor. Then you get into blends of zin, with Ridge being the leader at blending almost everything possible with zinfandel and producing incredible wines."

Tom Benezra, wine director of Sal's Beverage World Stores said Ridge is a good example of a winery that offers up the bold fruit to stand up to barbecues, while adding "old world finesse" and balance through blending in other grapes and slightly earlier harvesting to keep alcohol levels down.

Doug Jeffirs of Binny's Beverage Depot said California winemakers are learning to cope with hot temperatures that can create big, bold "monsters" high in alcohol.

"They get great reviews but then you've got to sit down and drink them," he said. "I get worn down by those high-alcohol zinfandels. It's refreshing to get one that is balanced."

Jeffirs wants zins that cut a lower, more refined profile. He looks to Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley regions for these wines. Frog's Leap is one winery, another is Sobon. Rosenblum, too, has balance, he said.

Also important is proper temperatures, Benezra said, something to think about especially with 4th of July picnics and outdoor parties.

"Most red wine is ideally drunk at 60 to 65 degrees, not 70 to 75, and certainly not 80 to 90 degrees, which is what it will be if it is left outside unprotected on a hot summer day," he said. "A slight coolness takes away the heat of the alcohol, which can be especially unpleasant tasting in hot weather. Use a thermal sleeve or container to maintain temperature."


Formatted for CROWN by   Marko Puljić
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