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Zinfandel - The grape and its wines

Grape Varieties

The reason why we have such a multiplicity of choices when go to buy a bottle of wine is thanks to a millennia-old process of genetic selection. Botanists will tell you that in Europe the aboriginal vine is the vitis vinifera, which translates literally from the Latin as the vine that brings wine. In the wild, vines climb trees for support and left to their own devices produce a few clusters of inconsequential grapes. One of our ancestors in the dim recesses of time discovered that grapes weren't just good to eat, if you put the juice in a container something magical occurred - the juice fermented into wine and you could get drunk. The process caught on remarkably quickly and soon anywhere that was suited to the cultivation of the vine became a wine-maker's haven.

The reason why we have such a multiplicity of choices when go to buy a bottle of wine is thanks to a millennia-old process of genetic selection. Botanists will tell you that in Europe the aboriginal vine is the vitis vinifera, which translates literally from the Latin as the vine that brings wine. In the wild, vines climb trees for support and left to their own devices produce a few clusters of inconsequential grapes. One of our ancestors in the dim recesses of time discovered that grapes weren't just good to eat, if you put the juice in a container something magical occurred - the juice fermented into wine and you could get drunk. The process caught on remarkably quickly and soon anywhere that was suited to the cultivation of the vine became a wine-maker's haven.

Over thousands of years European wine makers developed a huge range of varieties, each one selected for a particular micro-climate and soil type. When the first European settlers arrived in the Americas, one of their imports was the vine. It's probably true to say that all the major grape varieties are planted in California, but depending on whose statistics you believe the Zinfandel is either the most planted or the second most planted grape there. Either way, that's a lot of Zin, and California grows far more of it than any other state.

The origins of the Zinfandel are not entirely clear, although the most recent research from Davis University suggests that its origins are in Croatia. It's still a commonly held belief that the Zinfandel is genetically closely related to the southern Italian grape, the Primitivo. Whatever its exact provenance, the Zinfandel is the quintessential Californian grape. It first appeared as 'Zinfandel' on wine labels at the end of the nineteenth century and is now planted in much of California. It's a grape that ripens unevenly because of its tight clusters, so wine-makers are often faced with a harvest of grapes in different stages of maturation. Traditionally the underripe grapes are used for rose or blush wines, ripe grapes for the big reds and the overripe grapes for port-style wines.

Many styles of wine are made from the Zinfandel, ranging from very light reds similar to Beaujolais in style, to big deep peppery wines that can be high in alcohol. Late harvest Zins that are very ripe make intensely rich wines that verge on the jammy and are high in tannins. The best of the Californian Zins are those that come from the cooler coastal regions, like Bonny Doon's 'Cardinal Zin'. Recently wine-makers have been experimenting with white Zinfandel wines, using the same principle as Champagne makers do, that is keeping the free-run juice apart from the skins, so that tit never absorbs their redness and remains white.

Suggested wine

Blossom Hill Zinfandel 2001

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