Showing posts with label White Zinfandel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label White Zinfandel. Show all posts

Friday, June 14, 2013

Pink Zinfandels From Dry Creek Valley: Just Don't Call Them White

Let me be clear.  I don’t have anything against White Zinfandel.  I don’t drink it much, but for those who like it, cheers!  I pitched a wine story to a magazine editor once who promised to “cut off all communication” with me if I ever brought up White Zinfandel again.  I didn’t, but he hasn’t called lately anyway.

A lot of folks do like White Zin - that wine type accounts for one out of ten bottles taken out of U.S. supermarkets.  If you sat in the back of the math class in high school, that works out to ten percent, and that’s a lot for one variety.

I do like old vine Zin, though.  White Zinfandel’s incredible popularity since its accidental invention in the early 1970s probably spared many an old Zinfandel vine which may have otherwise been pulled out of the ground to make way for more Cab, or Chardonnay, or Moscato, or insert trendy grape here.  But when ten percent of grocery store sales are White Zin, you keep that old Zinfandel growing, and for that I am grateful.

A publicist reached out to me and asked if I wanted to try three Zinfandel rosés from Dry Creek Valley - not White Zin, mind you, but true, dry, Provence-style rosé made from the Zinfandel grape.  I said, “Sure, I would.”

Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County is known for its Zinfandel wines, so it stands to reason they should be known for those of a lighter hue, too.  These true rosé wines offer the acidity and refreshing nature of a white wine, while maintaining the heft and flavor of red wines.

Pedroncelli Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2012

The Pedroncelli family has been producing a rosé since 1951.  The word “dry” was added to its name in 2007, in order to draw a distinction between it and White Zin.

The grapes for their Signature Selection Dry Rose come from the Pedroncelli vineyard as well as another vineyard, unnamed in the media material I saw.  These grapes are picked in mid-September - a little early for Zinfandel, but just right for keeping the sugar down and retaining acidity.  Free-run juice joins 30% saignée in stainless steel fermentation.

This magenta marvel's color sits between pink and rosado - it's so brilliant it looks more like Kool-Aid than wine.  That's where the similarity ends, though.  This dry rosé smells like strawberries right off the vine, with an herbal note layered onto it.  In the mouth, the focus on acidity is readily apparent.  The fruit flavors are true to the varietal, with red berries aplenty and a nice weight in the mouth.  It’s lively, but carries a reasonable alcohol number of 13.9% abv.  I might have guessed it to be from the Rhône Valley - it has a sense of Cinsault about it, I think.

Dry Creek Vineyard Petite Zin Rosé 2012

The blend is 80% Zinfandel and 20% Petite Sirah, with alcohol at 13.5% abv.  Juice is drained from the skins after about four hours of contact time, and that s plenty to give this blush the bold look of a rosado.  Grapes from vines averaging 16 years of age are harvested from flat benchland vineyards with some hillside influence.  2012 is the fifth vintage for this pink Zin, which retails for $18.

The wine shows impressively as a deep, rosy red in the bottle and the glass.  Fresh strawberries, cherries and raspberries burst from the nose and palate, but don't let the fruity come-on fool you.  A White Zin fan would have a siezure upon sipping it.  The ripping acidity and strong tannic structure make it clear that this wine intends to go to dinner, and it intends to have a New York strip.  Well, at least a pork chop.

Mill Creek Santa Rosa Rosé 2012

Zin plays only a supporting role here, with 92% Merlot against 6% Zinfandel and 2% Cabernet Franc, all from the Mill Creek estate vineyards.  Alcohol gets up in the 14.5% range, while retailing for $19.
Winemaker Jeremy Kreck uses stainless steel fermentation - there's no mention of oak.

The wine, like the Pedroncelli, is so pink it's red.  Brilliantly colored, the Santa Rosa Rosé smells great, too.  Cherries, watermelons and strawberries all leap to mind without much of a struggle.  The palate shows similar fruit choices and slips a little spicy note in for good measure.  Acidity is not a problem, so it can go with most all kinds of food.

I still think the grapes of the Rhône Valley make the best rosé, but the Zinfandel grape can certainly hold its own without some of its color.  These three dry rosés made from Zinfandel show that it's possible to make Pink Zin without making it White Zin.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Vampire Vineyards Tasting Room

According to the Tom Petty song, "Free Fallin'," the vampires in the San Fernando Valley "move west down Ventura Boulevard."  I don't know where they go from there, but if any vampires venture into Beverly Hills, I know a place where they can taste some wine.

The Vampire Lounge and Tasting Room isn't just a hangout for those with extended canine teeth.  It's the retail embodiment of Vampire Vineyards, a winemaking outfit which draws grapes from Paso Robles, Santa Maria, Napa Valley and France's Loire Valley.

The business started in 1988 with the release of an Algerian Syrah, bottled in France.  The first 500 bottles went to rock star Alice Cooper, and the rest is a history that's afraid of the daylight.  The company's travels have gone through Italy and Transylvania itself.  Now, the winemaking effort is based in Creston, California - a little bit southeast of Paso Robles.

Michael Machat is the founder and CEO of the company, and he plays a big part in the corporate backstory featured on the website.  The Vampire Vineyards sommelier, Igor Fedenkov - really, it's on his business card - poured me through a sampling of the wines.

Dracula Syrah, Chateau du VampireThe Dracula Pinot Noir 2007 is made from Santa Maria grapes - picked before sunrise, of course.  The wine spent 18 months in French oak.  It has a big, rich nose and big, rich flavors to match.  Cherry and raspberry notes dominate in properly dark fashion.

Chateau du Vampire Midnight Rendevous 2007 is a blend of Paso Robles Syrah, Grenache, Counoise and Mouvedre.  There are bright cherry flavors in abundance and some great chocolate notes.

Trueblood Napa Valley Syrah 2004 is inky-dark enough to please any vampire who likes his wine smokey and spicy.

It's no surprise that red wines dominate the list, but Vampire Vineyards does offer a modest selection of whites - notably the Chateau du Vampire Roussanne of Paso Robles heritage - along with a White Zinfandel and the Je T'Aime Brut Rosé.  Even vampires like to do a little light sipping now and then.

All sorts of vampire-related wine gadgets are offered in the tasting room, as well as apparel, glassware, chocolate coffins and a vampire energy drink - perfect for those times when the sun's rays threaten to bring the night to an end.

Follow Randy Fuller on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Drake Moscato

A recent article in The Wine Economist explored a question that's always on the minds of those interested in wine - what's the next big thing?  Figures cited in the story - taken from another article in Wine Business Monthly - show that sales of Moscato wines increased by about 91% during 2010, when overall wines sales only grew by just under five percent.

The Wine Economist speculated that some White Zinfandel drinkers may be moving over to Moscato, as sales of White Zin have fallen off a bit.  The originator of White Zinfandel - Sutter Home - produces a Moscato Alexandria, while the article also cites Moscato entries from Robert Mondavi WoodbridgeBarefoot CellarsColumbia Crest and other wineries.

In the comments to the article, a reader suggested much of Mocasto's newfound popularity may be due to hip-hop artist Drake, who sang about the grape variety in his 2009 single called "Do It Now," in which he raps for "lobster, shrimp and a glass of Moscato."

Popular culture has certainly affected the wine industry before.  Rapper Jay-Z put an obscure Champagne by the name of Armand de Brignac on the map when he featured it in his 2006 video for the song, "Show Me What You Got."  Now, reportedly, the French producer can't make enough of it. 

The 2004 film "Sideways" was credited - or blamed - for ruining the market for Merlot.  One of the movie's characters had a decided bias against that particular grape, preferring Pinot Noir.  Sales of Pinot Noir went up in the "Sideways" aftermath.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Birth Of White Zinfandel At Sutter Home

A recent post on a wine blog well worth checking out - Dr. Vino - dealt with the story behind the birth of one of the most popular White Zinfandels, that of Sutter Home Winery.

The Napa Valley winery dates back to the late 1800s, and was resurrected by the Trinchero family in 1948.  They struggled along for a number of years, until Bob Trinchero - quite by accident - made what he termed a White Zinfandel.  He did this by bleeding off some of the juice to try and make his Zinfandel wine more concentrated.

Dr. Vino quotes Mr. Trinchero at length from an oral history at the University of California's Bancroft Library.  He says the happy accident occurred in 1972, and White Zin really started to take off in the mid '70s.  At that time he was producing about 400 cases of the pink wine.

Dr. Vino concludes the post with the success story: Sutter Home's output of White Zinfandel grew and became more popular.  By 1985 they were selling a million and a half cases, by 1990 they moved 3 million cases of their White Zinfandel.

Sutter Home also has a little video of the story of White Zinfandel on their website.

By the way, if you pooh-pooh White Zinfandel while ruminating over your old vine Zin, consider what I have been told.  Were it not for the enormous popularity of White Zin in the 1980s, many old Zinfandel vines in California might have been ripped out to make way for more commercially viable grapes. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Wine Report

Wine writer Jancis Robinson recently reported on a study by Master of Wine Tim Hanni and Dr Virginia Utermohlen, MD, Associate Professor at Cornell University.  The study found that, according to Hanni, "physiology plays a major role in determining wine preferences."  He goes on to say the study showed that "drinkers of wines such as White Zinfandel ... are often the most sensitive tasters."  Hanni says these findings indicate "glaring errors in understanding by the wine industry (which) have led to the disenfranchisement of millions of consumers."

To boil it down, the study shows that traditional thinking on what determines a wine's quality may have to be thrown out the window.  Since your palate is determined by physiology - and thus varies from person to person - it may be that there's no way to say what constitutes a good wine.  One person's Châteauneuf-du-Pape is another person's White Zin.  And, if the findings of this study are true, all the criticism that lovers of White Zinfandel have endured for not being "serious" wine drinkers will have to be thrown out the window as well.

In the article, Robinson explains, "Utermohlen and Hanni developed a means of segmenting the wine market into four basic phenotypes - Sweet, Delicate, Smooth and Tolerant - based on physiological and behavioral criteria."  Your assessment of a given wine's perceived quality depends on which of these phenotypes describe your preferences.

Hanni says, "'The industry message to consumers who prefer light, delicate and sweet wines is that they need to become more 'educated' and 'move up' to higher quality wines; ie dry wines.  Our study reveals distinct physiological differences in human sensory anatomy and indicates that the people with the greatest taste sensitivity may well indeed be White Zinfandel drinkers and not the consumers of highly rated, intense red wines.  The industry is guilty of alienating a large segment of consumers who frequently opt for other sweet beverage options or even stop drinking wine altogether."

The message to the wine industry might well be "Hey, those White Zin drinkers aren't a bunch of know-nothings after all!  Better start inviting them to the party."  That might be good advice, since White Zinfandel accounts for around 10% of all supermarket wine sales and supermarket wine sales are said to account for 40% of total U.S. wine sales.

For as long as I've been interested in wine I have said, "The best wine in the world is the one you like best."  A 99-point wine is no good at all if you don't like it.  So drink what you like.  Those wine scores may be coming from someone in a whole different phenotype.

Read Jancis Robinson's article on this study here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Nathanson Creek Chardonnay

All-you-can-eat buffets have been a mainstay of Las Vegas dining since the Rat Pack was smoking by the carton at the Sands.  The only thing that has changed about that is the price.  Once touted as the way to get full if you only had $1.99 left after getting cleaned out at the craps table, Las Vegas buffets now top ten, fifteen and even twenty dollars - more for the really special ones.
At the M Resort, the buffet runs about $30 - rather steep even though the food is good and there's plenty of it.  The M's Studio B buffet adds the attraction of free beverages, incuding beer and wine.  But what kind of wine are they serving for free?  Even though I was there for a 9:00 a.m. breakfast, I felt compelled to at least sample the wine and report on it here.  That's the life of a struggling wine blogger: work, work, work.
You may have seen this coming - I did - but there is only one wine label offered for free at the buffet.  It's Nathanson Creek, and I saw three varieties on hand - Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and White Zinfandel.  It was a little early for a Cab, even for me, and I thought I'd pass on the White Zin.  The Chardonnay sounded like a nice breakfast wine, so I ordered a glass.
A little searching brought no wealth of information.  It's a California wine, but I can't locate the grapes any more specifically than that.  It sells for about $8 a bottle in stores and there's a drawing of a frog on the label, which didn't surprise me. 

On tasting, I was surprised - it really wasn't too bad.  Served fairly cold, the nose is quite obscured.  I get faint notes of peach and apple with an undercurrent of oaky aromas.  The wood is not overdone and the wine has a nice level of acidity.  The finish is short, but the mouthfeel is full and round.  It goes well with bacon, which is good because that's what's usually on my plate at a Vegas buffet.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


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.