Make it Primitivo please

Posted: Friday, April 02, 2010

With the wacky Southeast weather, one is tempted to go for a crisp white wine to drink in the sun one day, and then move back to a hearty big bold red wine the next. Sun and then sleet and then sun and then sleet, the weather often dictates what might be appropriate to drink. Having almost taken an amazing Sancerre home the other day, with the expectation of continued spring-like weather, I had planned on spending the Sunday in the sun, enjoying my French Sauvignon Blanc. I had longed all winter to just sit in the sun tasting the wonderful complex minerality and visualizing a spring day in France. As Alaska would have it, I awoke to rain, cold temperatures and the drive to have something a bit heartier for my late afternoon lunch.

As I had the pleasure of attending the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers festival last year in San Francisco, also known as the ZAP festival, I thought it might be time to revisit the Primitivo grape otherwise known as Zinfandel. Originally thought to have originated in Croatia, more than likely, most of the Zinfandel that we know today was probably from southern Italy and grows there by the name "Primitivo." Although White Zinfandel is made from the same grape, it bears little resemblance to the red "zins" I have come to know and love. As there certainly is a time and a place for sweet wines, at my house on a Sunday afternoon is not one of them. I prefer the spicy, pepper, blackberry and sometimes anise notes that are found in a good quality red Zinfandel.

We can thank a failed attempt to make a Rose style wine, often credited to Sutter Home, for the presence of White Zinfandel. Legend has it the first batch attempted had a stuck fermentation, meaning the yeast failed to complete its job of converting the natural sugars in the Zinfandel grape juice into the (much appreciated) alcohol. The winemaker supposedly set the batch aside and later, upon revisiting the product, decided that the sweet pink wine was not so bad after all, and sold it as "white zin". Apparently this style of wine is popular, as it is 10% of the entire wine market in the United States by volume, and the third most popular wine available. It's cheap, it's sweet and it's easy to drink, and it did help with the planting of new and the preservation of some very old Zinfandel vines in California. Thank goodness that it all isn't just "white zin."

There are almost too many red Zinfandels to list and many can be found and purchased here in Juneau.

Zinfandel varies in style to the extent that it can be lighter and easier to drink to massive, big and bold with alcohol contents exceeding 15%, each style has a time and a place, and most are easily paired with everyday foods such as BBQ or a nice steak. Some even pair with salmon, but you should definitely choose one lighter in style. They also run the gamut on prices, some depending on availability and some depending on quality.

Some of top producers of Zinfandel are as follows:

Seghesio - this family has been making top zinfandels for almost 100 years. They have a wide price range on their wines and they are all amazing. I had the pleasure of tasting all of them including the other varietals they produce, and was nothing but impressed as I worked my way through the larger production to small production wines. The Sonoma Zinfandel from Seghesio made number 8 on the top 100 wines from Wine Spectator last year and it was obvious why when I tasted it.

Ridge - at ZAP, I was able to get through about four of their Zinfandels before being edged away from the table by the masses of people clamoring to try their amazing wines. Ridge has attained a cult-like status among the people in the wine world for a reason: they don't make anything but seriously great wines. Their other varietals are on the list of things to try before I die. The Lytton Springs available in Juneau is one of my favorite Zinfandel wines available.

Alexander Valley Vineyards - Zinfandels are great to try as a flight, showing the variety of style, light to big and bold as well as inexpensive to moderately priced. They have three available in Southeast, those being named "Temptation," "Sin," and "Redemption." Temptation is the least expensive and lightest of the three in style. It's something I could drink every day, with or without food. Sin has big notes of red fruit and a long finish with a nice touch of oak. After Sin comes Redemption - at least we would hope. This wine really shines and highlights the dry creek growing area; it has a touch of spicy black pepper in its flavor and a hint of orange peel. All three of these wines are not only great, but a learning experience about different zinfandel growing regions of California and the styles produced.

With Zinfandel, the opportunity to try amazing wines is easy as well as fun. A Zinfandel tasting or party could be a fun way to explore the varietal. I have also, as of late, had the pleasure of trying a Primitivo from Italy, the home of Zinfandel, and was amazed to see the light yet enjoyable style being produced.

If you have tried Zinfandel in the past and have given up, give it a try again and try something from Italy, from Dry Creek Valley or from anywhere really, and explore the world of zinfandel, as it is diverse as well as enjoyable. You might be surprised at what you find.

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