Tasting No. 219 (Virtual) – June 29, 2020- Zinfandel Old Vines

Club del Vino


Capri Ristorante, McLean VA

Photo by Rolling Bay Winery/Alphonse de Klerk

Tasting Overview

This is the first virtual tasting of the CV.  The Covid 19 pandemia has made it impossible for the Group to meet physically until this awful threat is over.

The  tasting is limited to only one wine proposed by the presenters according to the existing program that focuses on varietals.  In this occasion, it is a Zinfandel.  The main objective of the tasting is to find out the salient and specific variety features and the character of the wines it produces.

THE ZINFANDEL GRAPE : The Zinfandel grape is the quintessential California grape where it has beautifully adapted.  Genetic studies identify it as a mutation of the Crijenak originally from Croatia.  Some say they are descended from the Primitivo Italian grape, but the evidence gives that the Zinfandel and the Primitivo are both mutations of the first although there is still some discussion.

It is an extremely versatile grape that can produce from low quality sweet wines to outstanding quality wines.  For example, in the 1980s, white Zinfandel began to show up in California, and many believed that there was a white grape variety, but it was not.  This wine was produced by minimizing the contact of the juice with the skin of the grape resulting a light rosé wine.  The high-quality reds of the Zinfandel are produced with the best techniques and result in intense flavors of red and black fruits, spices and large body.  Wines made of the Zinfandel grape can range in style from those like Beaujolais to strong high alcohol wines reminiscent of Oporto passing through styles similar to Cabernet.  The versatility of the grape therefore gives the winemaker much flexibility in its handling and therefore the quality depends on his/her expertise and tastes.

The grape is resistant, high production,  and vigorous.Zinfandel likes warm climates, so it reaches high levels of sugar and therefore alcohol.  Its management in the vineyard is difficult because the bunches are very tight and can get sick with fungi.  In addition, the grapes tend to ripen unevenly in the same cluster.  Therefore the harvest must be done frequently in several passes through the vineyard for quality wines adding to cost. This trend can be aggravated by poor water management.

Because of its resilience, there are vineyards over 100 years old in various parts of the world.  Its cultivation has spread to South Africa, South America and Australia mainly. Old wines produce less grapes that are smaller than those from younger ones but are much more concentrated in flavors, colors and aromas.

The wines tend to lose their fruit from three or four years and spices and alcohol tends to become more pronounced.  It is therefore recommended to drink them between the three and five years of ageing in the bottle.  They are excellent for accompanying strong roasts and hearty dishes like lamb stew.

Jairo Sanchez compiled a technical note (below) where you can read more about this remarkable grape.

Type of Tasting: Open

Wines presenters: Jairo Sánchez and Alberto Gómez

The wine is:

2018 Bedrock Wine Company, California, Old Vine Zinfandel

The menu is up to each participant discretion


Mario Aguilar, Marcello Averbug, Jose Brakarz, Jorge Claro, Ruth Connoly, Clara Estrada, Jaime Estupoñán, Michelle Fryer, Jorge Garcia-Garcia, Orlando Mason, Agilson Perazza, Claudia Perazza, John Redwood, Lucía Redwood, Jorge Requena, Alfonso Sanchez, Jairo Sanchez, Cristian Santelices, Ricardo Santiago, German Zincke

Information on the Wine

(The information below has been compiled from various internet sources) .

2108 Bedrock Wine Company, California, Old Vine Zinfandel

The Wine: Winemaker Notes. 2018 was a brilliant year for Zinfandel across California, and this wine reflects it. The 2018 is a blend of 85% Zinfandel filled out with Mataro, Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Carignan, Petite Sirah and scant amounts of the many other varieties that can be found in California’s older, multifarious vineyards. Many of our most venerable vineyards contribute to this wine, including Bedrock, Teldeschi, Esola, Pagani, Papera, Evangelho and Pato filled in with lots from other old vineyards throughout the state. This will provide great drinking pleasure with a decant early on, but as with most iterations of this bottling, will develop nicely for a number of years.

(WS): Plump and zesty, with lively raspberry and smoked pepper flavors that speed toward lively tannins. Drink now through 2024. 90 pts.

(WE): Tempting fruit flavors and an appetizing structure combine nicely in this full-bodied wine, making it taste and feel complete. Classic blackberry and black-pepper aromas give way to juicy, berrylike flavors wrapped in just-firm-enough tannins and acidity for a good grip on the palate. 90 pts.

The Winery: Bedrock Wine Co. was started in 2007 by Morgan Twain-Peterson. Working out of a small converted chicken coop in a friend’s backyard, Morgan focused on making personality-filled wines wrought from a small array of thoughtfully farmed vineyards.  The label was created as a way for Peterson to showcase the quality of red and white grapes produced from ancient vines and distinct appellations in Sonoma, California including Sonoma Valley, Carneros, and Bennett Valley.

The winery is first and foremost a mission-driven operation dedicated to preserving and rehabilitating old vineyards around California. These vineyards, planted by California’s viticultural pioneers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are living pieces of history.

At harvest, grapes are picked earlier than most to retain acidity and better express terroir. At the winery, grapes are rarely sorted or de-stemmed. Fermentation is done with natural, indigenous yeasts and little racking or new French oak is applied to the wines during the aging process.

The winery is also dedicated to taking advantage of the diverse terroirs of California and their capacity to make an enormous range of styles, be it delicate and perfumed rosé, barrel-fermented whites, or violet and pepper-tinged Syrah. We are always exploring—from the heart of Oakville in Napa to the northern reaches of Mendocino and gold hills of Amador, the vastness of Lodi and the beaches of Contra Costa to every corner of Sonoma.

Read more at: https://www.bedrockwineco.com

Technical Notes 

Compiled by Jairo Sánchez

 From: Wikipedia.

Zinfandel (or “Zin”, as it is affectionately known in the United States) is a dark-skinned red wine grape variety widely cultivated in California. It arrived in the Americas from Europe in the early years of the 19th Century, and was an immediate success in both Napa and Sonomacounties, which remain its strongholds today.

After 30 years of discussion and disagreements (including legal intervention by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), DNA research carried out by Carole Meredith of the University of California at Davis from the early 1990s to 2002 (known as the Zinquest) confirmed that Zinfandel is identical to Italy’s Primitivo. But although this research closed the debate over whether Zinfandel is Primitivo, it opened up an even older chapter of the variety’s history.

Zinfandel Grapes. We know that Primitivo arrived in Italy via Croatia, where it was known by various names including Tribidrag and Crljenak Kastelanski. But the question of whether Zinfandel arrived in the U.S. from Italy or via another route remains unanswered. So the question is now: is American Zinfandel based on Primitivo cuttings, or Tribidrag, or both? Another unsolved mystery is the linguistic origin of the word Zinfandel.

Zinfandel has been used to make various wine styles since it arrived in the USA, including dry and sweet red wines and the famous White Zinfandel blush, created to cater for a white wine-drinking American consumer base of the 1970s. The arrival of this new wine style in the early 1970s led to an explosion of Zinfandel plantings – perhaps ironic given that the style of wine was created to find a use for the swathes of underused Zinfandel vines already in existence.

By the 1990s the popularity of dry red Zinfandel had given these plantings a new raison d’etre, although they were still being used to generate many millions of liters of sweet pink blush every year. Today, red Zinfandel has risen to become the signature wine of the U.S., not due to the quality of wine it produces, but because it is as close to an “American” variety as vinifera vines get. The discovery that it was an Italian variety in disguise led to mixed reactions, including pride at the association with a prestigious wine nation, but also a certain uneasiness that Zinfandel had lost some of its American individuality.

Outside the U.S., the variety is grown in South Africa and Australia, where it has been bottled as both Zinfandel and Primitivo. It hasn’t acquired any particular significance in either of these countries – more a product of a few key producers than an independent grape variety. Also, as Australia has a developed a strong tradition in Shiraz, there is little motivation to bring in and develop a similar variety to compete with it. The Cape Mentelle winery of Margaret River has taken up the reins as an Australian pioneer of Zinfandel.

During the 1970s, various Italian producers began labeling their Primitivo wines as Zinfandel, to cash in on Zinfandel’s popularity in the U.S. market. Now, the reverse is happening; as Primitivo’s star rises once again in Italy (most notably in Manduria), a number of Californian vineyards (mostly those of Italian heritage) now label their Zinfandel wines as Primitivo.

Almost unaffected by the politics and wranglings between Italy and the U.S., the winemakers of Croatia have carried on producing deeply colored, full-bodied red wines from their Crljenak Kastelanski and Tribidrag grapes. Interest in these wines has naturally increased following the Primitivo/Zinfandel debate, so many of them are now available in various countries around the world.

Synonyms include: Primitivo, Crljenak Kastelanski, Pribidrag, Tribidrag, Kratosija.

Food matches for Zinfandel include:

  • Puglian spit-roasted lamb
  • East Texas-style barbecue
  • Dark chocolate cake

 What to expect from a Zinfandel tasting

From: Wine Folly, Magnum Edition, The Master Guide.Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York NY. 2018

 Puglia, Italy: Primitivo. In Puglia Zinfandel goes by the name of Primitivo and the grape expresses similar bright candied fruit, with much more leather and dried herbal notes found in Southern Italian reds. Primitivo di Maduria is one of the finest regions, producing the boldest examples. Strawberries, Leather, Candied Currant, Dried Herbs, Spiced Orange

Lodi, Central Valley, CA: Zinfandel. The Lodi region hums along silently in California’s Central Valley with 100.000 acres of vineyards, many of which are dedicated to Zinfandel.  Wines appear pale in color but are highly aromatic with smoky-sweet fruit flavors and smooth tannins. Raspberry Jam, Peach Preserves, Blackberry Bramble, Hickory, Star Anise

North Coast, CA: Zinfandel. Several regions within Sonoma and Napa are famous for Zinfandel including Rockpile, Dry Creek Valley, Chiles Valley and Howell Mountain. Wines here offer bold tannins, colors, and rustic flavors thanks to the region’s volcanic soils.Blackberry, Black Plum, Crushed Gravel, Allspice, White Pepper

From: THE OXFORD COMPANION TO WINE. Fourth Edition 2015. Edited by Jancis Robinson. Referenced to Darlington D., Zin. The Story and Mystery of Zinfandel Cambridge, Mass., 2001

Because Zinfandel has not French connection, it had escaped the detailed scrutiny of the world ampelographic center in Montpellier and its European origins rested on local hypothesis rather than internationally accredited fact until the application of DNA profiling to vines in the early 1990s. Only then was irrefutable demonstrated what had been suspected, that Zinfandel is one and the same as the variety known as primitivo in Puglia. Subsequent DNA profiling at Davis established that the Croatian variety Plavac Mali is in fact a cross between Zinfandel and Dobricic, an obscure and ancient Croatian variety found in the island of Solta near Split. This suggested a probably Dalmatian origin for Zinfandel too, and Croatian researchers Pejic and Maletic collaborating with Carole Meredith at Davis intensively searched the coastal vineyards for Zinfandel until 2001 they discovered an ancient and almost extinct variety on the island of Kastela near Split called Crljenac Kastelanski (literally “red grape of  Kastela”) that was established as Zinfandel by DNA. Analysis of this variety’s DNA, showed an exact match with that of a 90-year-old herbarium specimen of an ancient Croatian vine known locally as Tribidrag.

Zinfandel took firm hold on the California wine business in the 1880s, when its ability to produce in quantity was priced above all else. Many was the miner, and other beneficiary of California gold rush, whose customary drink was Zinfandel. By the turn of the century, Zinfandel was regarded as California’s own claret and occupied some of the choicest North Coast vineyard. During the prohibition, it was the choice of many a Home Winemaker but since then its viticultural popularity has become its undoing.

In 20th century California, Zinfandel occupied much the same place as Shiraz (Syrah) did in Australia and for many decades suffered the same lack of respect simply because it was the most common black grape variety, often planted in unsuitable hot sites and expected to yield more than was good for it. Zinfandel may not be quite such potentially high quality grape variety as Syrah but it is certainly capable of producing fine wine if yields are restricted and the weather cool enough to allow a reasonable long growing season, as Ridge vineyards and others have proved. And the fact that so many of California’s oldest vines are Zinfandel means that the best wines labelled with the varietal, sometimes field blends, are exceptionally complex.

Zinfandel Viticultural disadvantages are uneven ripening and thin-skinned berries in compact clusters. Bunches often ripen unevenly with harsh, green berries on the same cluster as those that have reached full maturity, and that once grapes full ripeness, in direct contrast to its great California rival Cabernet Sauvignon for example, they will soon turn to raisins if not picked quiet rapidly. Zinfandel perform best in warm but not hot conditions and prefers well-drained hillsides since it is subject to bunch rot if by autumn rains.

Although Zinfandel has been required over the years to transform itself into virtually every style and color of wine that exist, it is best suited to dry sturdy, vigorous reds that mature rather earlier than a comparable Cabernet Sauvignon. Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma has demonstrated a particular aptitude for this underestimated variety.

In the late 1980, thanks to the enormous popularity of White Zinfandel, Zinfandel plantings, which had been declining, increased by up to 3,000 acres/1,215 ha a year, mostly in the central valley, so that they totaled 34,000 acres/13,760 ha in 1972, just ahead of California total acreage of Cabernet Sauvignon at the time. The resurgence of Zinfandel continued in the late 1990s as red Zinfandel began to enjoy mildly cult-like status (with many examples commanding prices over $30), driving total plantings to 50,000 acres/20,000 ha in 2003, only slightly less than Merlot and two-thirds as much of California most important variety Cabernet Sauvignon.

Zinfandel is also grown to a much more limited extent in warmer sites in other western states in the USA and Mexico. Because its prominence in California, where it is still definitively the second most planted red wine grape, Zinfandel is grown in many of the world’s wine regions, albeit to a very limited extent –quite apart from Puglia where it is known as Primitivo and in Montenegro, on the other side of the Adriatic where it is known as Kratosija. There is some Zinfandel in the Languedoc, south Africa, and Australia where there were more than 100 ha in 2012 and Cape Mantelle in Western Australia has been particular successful with it.

Zinfandel Variety Wine. From the time Zinfandel arrived in the 1850s, Zin flourished in the dry California climate. Virtually a California exclusive for more than a century, the variety for long suffered from an image problem. Apparently lacking any European forebear, let alone a famous one, it had to be taken in his own terms. Few critics had the independence of mind to do so, and so until the 1990sit was consigned to the category of a low priced, honest Italian-American working man’s wine. All that has since changed. Well-made examples from 80 years old and older vines (one of California’s great vinicultural treasures command very respectable prices.

Although sometimes deliberately vinified to minimize this characteristic, Zinfandel can easily be chewier than Cabernet. Beyond its robust textures, Zinfandel at the height of its powers tastes of the strain of raspberry Americans call boysenberry. Although it often have the structure and balance to age well, time does not replace its glorious flavors of berry with anything as pleasing. All the foregoing means that Zinfandel must come from superior vineyard or be ordinary. Much inconclusive, artistic debate turns on vine age, and on trellising versus the traditional bush vines.

The variety find its most congenial home on dry-farmed hillsides originally identified in Parts of California  at the turn of the last century by immigrant Italians. A centerpiece of this cultural community is Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, the Russian River district, Mendocino County, Sonoma Valley and, though the fact is little recognized, Napa Valley. SAnluis Obispo County’s Pao Robles has a long strong history with Zinfandel, as does Amador County in the Sierra Foothills and Lodi and the Delta region of the Central Valley. All of these tend to make headier, riper wines than Sonoma ,and heady, port-style wines made from late-harvested vines enjoyed by a brief vogue in the 1970s. 

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