Wine of the Day: Zinfandel

Juicy, jammy, spicy, and easy, Zinfandel is one of the most approachable wines available, but not every Zin is the same. Like any variety, older vines tend to give concentration, structure, and character to a wine. But Zinfandel takes this to a new level as often the older the vine, the better the wine. As we celebrate National Zinfandel Day consider picking up a few bottles to see why this tasty variety is so good.

Known as Primitivo in Italy, the variety dates its history back to 6000 BC. Zinfandel is a very American wine though, finding success throughout California’s wine regions from Paso Robles to Lodi to Sonoma and Lake County.

For almost 50 years Dry Creek Vineyard has produced varietally stellar wines from the dusty, arid Dry Creek Valley within Sonoma County. The area is known for producing stellar Zinfandel, along with impressive Bordeaux varietal selections, including stellar Sauvignon Blanc. Farming their 185 acres of vineyard land sustainably, to allow the character of the fruit to shine, adding Mother Nature’s influence as a key element of what drives the work of the winery. Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel ($38) melds fruit averaging 100 years old (with some vines actually closer to 140 years old) revealing concentrated, complex wine that melds earthy, spicy, pepper notes with juicy, ripe fruit. Black cherry and blackberry pie flavors open the wine, followed by subtle white pepper, nutmeg, dark chocolate, and dusty tobacco, creating an approachable, nicely structured, yet subtle wine with a lovely, nuanced character. Perfect for pairing with slow-roasted brisket and barbecue, burgers, Mexican food, or simply on its own.

Zinfandel was planted in the Borreo Ranch Vineyard in Napa Valley in the 1880s, not long after the variety had found its way from Italy to California. Borreo Single Vineyard Zinfandel ($45) highlights the elegance and concentration Old Vine fruit can give to a wine, showcasing black fruit notes of ripe fig, black cherry, and plum, melding with toasted cedar, nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon, with a nice light hint of pepper and vanilla.

The first vine cuttings were planted on the Maggio family ranch in Lodi in the late 1920s. Farmers first, today the fifth generation of the family manages over 2500 acres of vineyards throughout Lodi, and come together to craft terroir-driven wines for Oak Ridge Winery. Oak Ridge Estate Grown “Old Soul” Old Vine Zinfandel ($16) is lush and polished, with maintaining the fresh acidity of the variety a dedicated focus, creating a wine filled with violets and black plum, cherry preserves, toasted coconut, and spice.

Family-owned and operated, Dancing Crow Vineyards began Lake County in 2011, but their Dancing Crow Zinfandel ($23) is produced from the 120-year-old “Old Stake 1901 Vineyard” in Lake County’s Kelsey Bench, crafting a nicely structured, character-filled wine ready to tell you its story. Adding a hint of a melange of other varieties, including Petit Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Naçional, and Barbera, helps round out the agreeable palate, ensuring that richness melds with freshness. The wine opens with bright red fruits followed by layers of blackberry, toasted sweet spice, and cocoa powder. A great wine for the value.