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07 Aug 2017 | Amy Mullally

All About Zinfandel: America's Heritage Grape

We love our Zin: big, rich, and hedonistic, bursting with the ripe flavors of summertime, perfect with ribs and burgers. America’s most notorious red grape wasn’t born here, however.


Like all of our favorite grapes, Zinfandel emigrated with our ancestors in the early 1800s. Dr. Carole Meredith, professor at UC Davis, has cracked the code on the genetics of grape varieties, and it turns out that our hometown Zin was actually born in Croatia, as Crljenak Kestelanski [tsurl-YEN-ak kastel-AHN-ski]. The grape also migrated to neighboring Italy, and settled into Puglia as Primitivo.


The Zinfandel we know today here in California came from the east coast nurseries, which used it as a table grape, around 1855 during the Gold Rush, and was widely planted as it thrived in the state’s climate and soil.


Our Zinfandel is distinct from its ancestors both in vine vigor, cluster size, and flavor profile, and is California’s third most planted grape variety, with more than 44,000 acres and 416,615 tons crushed in 2016.   We have vines that are over 100 years old and still producing, and have designated many of our special Zinfandel sites as Heritage Vineyards, protected through the Historic Vineyard Society.


The top quality spots for Zinfandel include Amador in the Sierra Foothills, Sonoma Valley, Mendocino County, Paso Robles, and Napa Valley. The San Joaquin valley grows the lion’s share, but most is used to make our sweet rose obsession: White Zinfandel.


Join me in exploring the height of Zinfandel quality in a special wine tasting and seminar on Friday, August 11th, at 7:30 pm, and for $45/person, you will get to sample the greatest examples of our heritage grape. Some of the highlights of the tastings will be:


2014 Limerick Lane, Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma

One of the most respected and storied Zinfandel plots in the Eastern corner of Russian River, the originally planted vines from 1910 are still in production! Under the expert care of Jake Bilbro, the Zinfandel from this house is not to be missed. Elegant and yet powerful with a seamlessness that is hard to match. A rare treat and a piece of history!

$41.99 per bottle


2013 Hendry, Zinfandel, Blocks 7 & 22, Napa Valley, CA

Family owned and farmed since 1939, this Zinfandel shows the pedigree of the benchlands here between Carneros and Mt. Veeder. Rocky soil and cool breezes combined with these old vines produce rich and concentrated Zinfandels. Rich black cherry and just ripe huckleberry with hints of violet lure you in, and on the palate this wine is juicy and smooth, with integrated tannins and a fresh black tea and soft smoke component. This is the perfect companion to braised short ribs with parsnip puree.   The delicious Hendry family recipe can be found on their website:

$29.99 per bottle


2015 Harrington, Zinfandel, Zeni Ranch, Mendocino Ridge, Mendocino, CA

This Zinfandel runs on the elegant and lighter style of Zinfandel, highlighting the heady aromatics of this expressive grape without being heavy, cloying and hot. The Zeni Ranch is one of our heritage old vine sites first planted high on the coastal ridgeline up in Mendocino by the first settlers of Italian descent. Planted out in the classic field blend style and affectionately called ‘mixed blacks’, this bottling is something truly special.

$24.99 per bottle


2014 Beekeeper, Zinfandel, Montecillo Vineyard, Sonoma County

Only 242 cases were produced of this beauty! Made by Ian Blackburn of our beloved WineLA education organization and Clay Mauritson from fruit grown at 1500ft from old vines planted by Mike Lee of Kenwood Cellars.   Dark and rich berries fill the senses and coat the palate, with notes of rich cocoa, espresso bean, and cracked black pepper and vanilla glaze. Full-bodied and velvety with silky tannins and a long finish. Beekeeper works with charities to preserve beehive farming and even uses beeswax on the label and cork topper!

$57.99 per bottle


2013 Rockpile, Zinfandel, Rockpile Ridge Vineyard, Rockpile, Sonoma County, CA

Produced by Clay Mauritson, 6th generation farmer of this special area in Northern Sonoma County. This rugged site full of ancient uplifted ocean sediment has been under vine since 1968, and produces one of the classic Zinfandels of California. This dark and dense Zin shows rich pie crust, ripe blackberry and raspberry, an iron-rich mineral note, and has some really nice fine-grained tannin and good acidity to match the voluptuous quality on the palate.

$37.99 per bottle


2012 Lagier Meredith & Aaron Pott“Chester’s Anvil” Zinfandel, Mead Ranch

Atlas Peak, Napa Valley

Big and hedonistic, this Zin from pedigreed producers Aaron Pott, Steve Lagier, and Carole Meredith is such a treat. Sourced from the famous Turley property: Mead Ranch, with old vines high in the mountains and which is farmed organically. Rich mixed berries, leather, tobacco, caramel and a dense texture with mouthcoating tannins and a long finish, this wine keeps unfolding in the glass all through the evening. Uncork and enjoy with rack of lamb.

$37.99 per bottle


2014 Carlisle, Zinfandel, Papera Ranch, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County

the Papera Ranch is considered ‘The Grand Dame’ of the Russian River Zinfandel vineyards, and was planted by Celestino Papera in 1934. This vintage Papera is powerfully elegant, with a perfumed nose of confit fruits, sandalwood and rose petal. Plum preserves and baking spices dominate the rich yet sleek palate, and the finish goes on for days. Stunning effort here from the talented folks at Carlisle!

$43.99 per bottle


Other highlights include Storybook Mountain, Biale, Ridge, and Andis. Don’t miss this great opportunity to taste the best of Zinfandels!

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