If you are searching for a red wine that is easy to drink young, it’s hard to beat California Zinfandel. The versatile wine can be crafted red, pink or white, the body moderate to almost portlike and the sugar level bone-dry to sticky sweet.
Once thought to be akin to the Italian Primitivo grape, DNA testing has shown that, although genetically the same as Primitivo, the grape actually originated in Croatia. Zin loyalists will further tell you that the flavor profile of the California fruit and resulting wine are not the same at all.
Big, bold and fruit-driven Zinfandels are uniquely American and represent the character of California’s sun-drenched geography. The smaller the area, the more specific the character, so many quality Zin makers bottle their wines as either everyday blends, quality district wines or top-quality single-vineyard wines.
In California, Ridge, Ravenswood and Rosenblum are wineries attributed with launching the Zinfandel craze (red, not white). Collectively called “the three R’s,” these wineries represent quality Zinfandel.
Ridge makes excellent wines from vineyards throughout California, including Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles. Their flagship Geyserville and Lytton Springs wines are top of the line, and the different flavor behind each label demonstrates the versatility of the grape.
“No wimpy wines” is the tag line used to describe the cultlike devotion to Zins at Ravenswood. To take advantage of the many vineyard sites they maintain, Ravenswood wines are labeled vintner’s blend, county series or single vineyard.
Fondly known as “the third R,” Rosenblum also produces vineyard-designated wines, each individually crafted as if from mini-wineries.
The three R’s are by no means the only Zin game in town. California has a vast number of juicy Zinfandels on the market, all of which have one thing in common: lots of mouth-warming alcohol. While most wines weigh in at around 12.5 percent, monster Zins are heavyweights with 14 percent to 15 percent alcohol.
The intense berry fruit and round tannins make most Zinfandels ready to be consumed within five years of bottling. Regardless of your personal preference, there is a bottle of Zin out there with your name on it. Now have fun finding it.
Marianne Frantz, CWE and founder of the Cleveland Wine School, has selected wines from the three R’s that are currently available in the Cleveland area.
2002 Ridge Spring Mountain District Zinfandel ($29): Dark ruby with chewy tannins, velvety texture, juicy flavors of plum, dark cherry, dried herbs and menthol. Easy to drink.
2003 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel ($33): Lots of ripe raspberry, blackberry and purple plum. Perfumed aroma of oak and spice balance the smooth texture. Very drinkable.
2002 Ravenswood Barricia, Sonoma Valley ($35): Full-bodied and full of blackberry and raspberry fruit with spicy aromas of nutmeg and vanilla. Perfect with the savory foods of fall.
2002 Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend, California ($13): Dark and fruity with a hint of vanilla. Soft, chewy tannins and a touch of pepper. Ready to drink. Try a bottle with pizza, burgers or steak.
2000 Rosenblum Alegria, Russian River Valley ($35): Intense black cherry, blackberry and ripe plum aromas with a hint of mint. Smooth texture makes it a great match for hearty foods.
Rosenblum Zinfandel Vintner’s Cuvée XXVII, Lodi ($14): Fresh strawberry and ripe cherries, oak-aged flavors, hints of pepper and spice, bright complexity and smooth texture. Good middle-ground Zin. Very drinkable.