|Old Vine Zinfandel. Photo courtesy jrwine.com|
Harvest is a crucial time for Zinfandel. It is an uneven ripening grape. Within a bunch, you may have ripe grapes mixed in with green grapes and even raisins. The best wineries will make multiple passes through their vineyard to pick only the ripe grapes. Zinfandel also is a high sugar grape, so when fermented, those sugars can convert into a large amount of alcohol (have you ever really looked at the alcohol levels on your bottle of Zinfandel?). With those high sugar levels comes lower acidity, and softer tannins. This helps to emphasize the dark fruit notes that are so typical of Zinfandel. Zinfandel is one of those unique grape varieties that can be made into different styles. From white Zinfandel, to fruity, to spicy to dessert wine, Zinfandel covers the field. Since Zinfandel is a fairly light colored wine, it is often blended with Petite Sirah, which adds a little depth of color.
- The Sierra Foothills has a reputation for big, full-bodied Zinfandel. These extra-ripe wines are characterized as "jammy, briary, and brambly", having aromas of sweet berries.
- Sonoma County contains the warm Dry Creek Valley AVA, known for its juicy Zinfandel with bright fruit, balanced acidity and notes of blackberry, anise and pepper. Dry Creek Valley AVA produces Zinfandel in a variety of styles ranging from the high-alcohol style to balanced, spicy wines. And, the Russian River Valley AVA has a lot of "old vine" Zinfandel acreage. These wines are known for their spicy and somewhat lower alcohol wines. During cooler growing seasons, the Russian River Zins may have difficulty ripening, and produce their best wines during warm vintages.
- Paso Robles with its hot days and cool evenings, produce Zinfandel known for being soft and round, but often very high in alcohol.
- Napa Valley produces Zinfandel wines described as plummy and intense, tasting of red berry fruits with cedar and vanilla.
- Lodi has some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in California. While often used for White Zinfandel production, in the red style, Lodi Zinfandels have a reputation for being juicy and approachable. Lodi is also producing some of the finest "port style" dessert wines from the Zinfandel grape.