Hello friends. Has any grape been abused as frequently or with as much vigor as Zinfandel? Is any grape more misunderstood? Perhaps a quick primer, Q&A-style, will help:
How does this single varietal make $3 jugs of “White Zinfandel” (really just a rose made with red Zinfandel grapes) and super-premium, 18%-alcohol, California cult wines?
These are actually two sides of the same coin, and both reflect the nature of the varietal, which is thin-skinned and high in sugar. In the case of White Zinfandel, fermentation is stopped before all the sugar is converted to alcohol, leaving us with sweet, soft, simple gulping juice. With red Zinfandel, all that sugar can be converted to alcohol (if the winemaker can keep the yeast alive), yielding massive booze-bombs that can induce a hangover headache just from sniffing.
Is Zinfandel the same as Primitivo?
Well, yes. Mostly. Both Zinfandel and Primitivo are clones of a Croatian grape with the utterly unpronounceable name Crljenak Kaštelanski (it’s a shame we don’t see more words starting with “Crlj”). Wine grape clones such as these occur through asexual propagation, which is considerably less exciting than it sounds (cuttings and graftings are examples of asexual propagation). Most wine grapes have multiple clones. The clones are usually just designated by number, but in some cases they get names (Syrah, for example, has Joseph Phelps, Sara Lee, and Tablas Creek clones). So really, Zinfandel, Primitivo, and Crljljrcjljc Kastelsomethingorother should all share the same varietal name, but history and tradition say otherwise, and they generally win out over vitis vinifera geneticists.
Is there much Zinfandel grown in Washington?
Not much. Zinfandel is a relative rarity in the state, although there are some wineries (Maryhill, Thurston Wolfe, Portteus) who have been producing Washington Zinfandel consistently for more than a decade.
Do you by chance have a recommendation for a reasonably-priced, delicious Washington Zinfandel?
What a wonderful question! And yes, yes I do. Trio Vintners is one of the wineries located out at the Walla Walla airport’s wine incubator. The trio of winemakers (Denise Slattery, Steve Michener, Tim Boushey) all graduated from the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College in 2006. Trio’s initial portfolio of wines was quite broad, but going forward, Denise indicated that they will look to focus on their house style, which is single-varietal, low-oak, low-alc, high-acid wines. They are beginning to carve out something of a Sangiovese niche (a barrel sample of their 2007 Boushey Vineyard Sangiovese showed great promise), but I hope they continue to make their outstanding Zinfandel as well.
This bottle is 100% Zinfandel, all from Pheasant Vineyard on the Wahluke Slope. Pheasant is one of the vineyards farmed by the Milbrandt brothers, who are harvesting dazzling grapes all over this AVA. Planted in 2000, this is a hot, dry, Zinfandel-friendly site. Pheasant Zinfandel is absolutely a vineyard-varietal combination to monitor as the vines begin to move towards maturity.
This is one of those wines that mixes sweet and savory flavors seamlessly. Sampling the wine, I was continually reminded of my favorite Seattle farmers market produce in the spring and summer: perfectly ripe strawberries followed by perfectly ripe tomatoes. There is a notable peppercorn element that adds complexity. Awash with bright acid, this is a bottling that keeps the alcohol in check (14.8%). It’s worth noting that only two Washington Zinfandels have received higher scores from Wine Enthusiast, and both are from the 2005 vintage and long sold-out.
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We have a small parcel of this wine already in the warehouse (I grabbed the last little bit floating around Seattle). We might be able to talk Denise into releasing a few more cases if the demand is there, so I’m going to push the limit for order requests up to 6 bottles/person. If we get a second parcel, it will likely arrive in 2-3 weeks, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping.