Emma says: “I’m intrigued to see how this week goes, because on a personal note I don’t ever remember really enjoying Zinfandel. It is that sort of lusty bold red that I really don’t get.
A bit of a problem child as a grape because it needs a really hot climate to get ripe and then ripens unevenly, so you can get sweet raisin grapes and green un ripe ones in the same bunch. For me that means it can be jammy and sort of green tasting at the same time. Not a great combination. Then it easily reaches high alcohol, and since I’m on the petite side that extra % or two of alcohol can make all the difference the day after.
But that is the pleasure of this journey. Bring it on. Let’s find a Zinfandel I love. So we choose a slightly pricey one, Edmeades from Mendocino County in California. On the first sniff it is definitely Zin, slightly spirit-y in fragrance (=alcohol) with very ripe raspberry and cherry fruit but actually there is a nice perfume to it and it feels surprisingly fresh rather than pruney. Good start. To taste it silky textured and smooth with more of that candied cherry and luscious strawberry fruit, it is balancing on a fine thread to being jammy, but hanging in there well. I’m feeling that 15% alcohol but not it isn’t vicious and there is a nice gentle cocoa powder twist from oak.
So I think the learning for me is that if I drink Zinfandel it is going to have to be the pricey stuff. Before now I’ve tended to drink Lodi region Zinfandel which is the biggest commercial area for this grape and those wines have been richer and heavier without the finesse of this one we’ve tried. Mendocino area benefits from cooling coastal breezes which is perhaps the secret of its finesse; Russian river Zins share that character. The other thing to look out for on the label if you do like Zin is “old vine”. This was one of the original planted grapes of California but a lot was pulled up in favour of more famous red grapes. Those old vines have far better balance in the way they produce fruit and so tend to produce the best and most complex styles of Zin.
Oh and if you are trying Primitivo instead of Zin, that is the style I typically favour. It has that pruney intensity but I like more earthy, savoury profile that mingles into the fruit and gives it a different dimension. So I hope you find that difference if you are going Italian this week.”
Andy says: “Let’s get one thing straight: My wine vocabulary is limited. I can sort of recognise tastes and smells, but then struggle to put a name to them. I guess that’s what happens when your diet consists mainly of crisps, chips and pizza.
This buying guide is the trickiest so far.
Zinfandel and Primitivo are genetically the same grape. The former is mostly found in California producing ripe fruity styles that are heady and full bodied. The latters is a classic from Italy, normally in the southern Puglia region where the intense sun produces rich, fruity and concentrated styles. The thing is the results are dramatically different. For me the Zins are the more straightforward – fruity, even jammy styles. The Primitivo is more classic in the mix of rich raisiny fruit and leathery, savoury undertones. They are equal in quality, so I’m struggling to decide which one we should taste.
Since I’ve tasted a lot of Primitivo recently through work, I’m going to plump for a Californian Zinfandel. But I really am tempted to buy one of each, although I’ve been promising Andy that I’ll stop doing that…
Please note – this is not a White Zinfandel, you’re looking for a red wine. White Zinfandel is the pink version and is basically the Coca Cola of the wine world. It doesn’t really taste of the base grape because the vines used have massive yields, producing watery flavoured grapes. To be pink it has very short contact with the skin, and that’s where most of the flavour sits. Then to finish it off they chuck a load of sugar at it before bottling. I’m not trying to trash talk White Zinfandel, many people love it, but it really has little to do with the grape, and our mission here is to try to taste the best example of the basic grape flavour.