Thursday, July 8, 2010

WHITE ZINFANDEL


White Zinfandel

Summer is well underway now, and there's one summer wine mainstay we haven't mentioned yet.

White Zinfandel, also known as blush, is usually a sweet wine, sometimes off-dry.  The pink hue of the wine looks a lot like rosé, but the wine tends to the sweeter end of the spectrum than does rosé.

White Zinfandel is produced, as one might expect, from the Zinfandel grape.  Usually a wine made from Zinfandel is a rather bold red wine.  White Zinfandel is produced by the saignée method, in which some of the juice is bled off to increase the intensity of the wine that remains with the skins of the grapes.  The wine that is bled off is a much lighter color than the red wine, hence the name.

Known as a sipping wine which often lacks the acidity required to pair well with food, White Zinfandel has taken much criticism for its fruity, punchlike tendencies.  “Serious” wine lovers think of it as little more than Kool Aid, intended for novice wine drinkers who lack the skills to recognize or appreciate the complexities of high quality wine.

In 2008 White Zinfandel accounted for about 11% of supermarket wine sales in the U.S.  In 2009 that number dropped to 8%.  

Many of those bottles of pink liquid flying off the shelves are from producers like Beringer, Sutter Home, Gallo, Baron Herzog, Woodbridge, Arbor Mist and Barefoot.  Most are cheap - under ten dollars - and found in all  supermarkets where wine is sold.

The story is told that many old-vine Zinfandel vineyards were spared from being replanted with more commercially viable grapes because of the White Zin craze of the 1970s.  So, fans of old-vine Zin may well have the much-maligned White Zinfandel wine to thank for the presence of those vines.  When the demand for Zinfandel picked up later, everybody was pretty happy they didn't rip out those 100-plus-year-old vines for Chardonnay.

I don’t intend to bash White Zinfandel nor those who love it.  I believe one should drink what one likes, and like what one drinks.  I prefer my rosé bone dry, so most White Zin is clearly not for me.  I have tried a couple - from Charles Shaw and Sutter Home - and found them to be passable wines with nothing to make them really worth seeking out, to my taste.  But, on a hot day with the sun blazing down, if you offered me a chilled White Zinfandel on the patio... I wouldn't knock the glass out of your hand.