Born by accident in the 1970s as the result of a stuck fermentation at Sutter Home Family Vineyards, white Zinfandel was a natural outlier in the wine world. Casually referred to as white Zin,” it comes as no surprise that those who typically didn’t care for wine were enjoying it at every opportunity, and it soon began popping up in homemade Sangria, at cocktail parties, and even on the menus of upscale restaurants.
Often looked down on by serious wine drinkers and connoisseurs, white Zinfandel sales have declined in recent years — possibly as a result of its own overwhelming marketplace success in which it brought wine to the masses. Easy to drink and with perfectly pleasant, if not complex, notes of sweet summer strawberries and ripe melons, the original white Zinfandel provided non wine-drinkers with an excellent introduction to wine. Many moved on to explore more adventurous and complicated wines, and today, white Zinfandel is mostly maligned as a generic, candy-flavored concoction with more resemblance to Kool-Aid than to anything else.
But 21st-century vintners have lately been infusing old-school white Zinfandel with new school twists and turns. Here’s what you need to know about today’s white Zinfandel and why you should try it.
At the end of the day, white Zinfandel is Rosé wine that just happens to be made from Zinfandel grapes. Rosé is produced when the skins of red grapes are left in the not-yet-fermented, freshly pressed juice just long enough to leave a tinge of color behind. Although some are single varietals, such as Pinot Noir Rosé, most are blends of several red grapes, including Zinfandel.
Possibly riding on white Zin’s fading coattails, or it’s the result of lighter consumer preferences in food that call for lighter wines — and most likely a combination of both — Rosé has become astoundingly popular in the past decade. Everyone’s drinking Rosé these days, and many of them are the same people who turn up their noses at white Zinfandel.
Related: The Zinfandels of California
Today’s white Zinfandel is likely to have more nuance than its 20th-century counterparts — it’s typically drier and has more body as vintners stray from old production formulas to get more creative end results. It’s still a good introduction for novice drinkers and a popular choice for the cocktail or fruit course of a summer meal. Some white Zinfandels make good pairing partners for grilled salmon, baked ham, and crab cakes. Let the color of the wine be your guide when pairing — pair white Zinfandel with a barely-there apricot hue with a white cheese course. Save its sunset-colored counterpart for when smoked sockeye salmon is on the table.
As for old-school white Zin? It’s still there. You’ll see it in unpretentious steak houses on the off-ramp, in a country tavern here and there, or in a supermarket cooler next to the quart bottles of domestic beer. Maybe there will be a bottle next to a bowl of ripe fruit on your grandmother’s porch when you come to visit. Uncork it, pour it, and get a taste of what life was like in the 1970s and 80s.
What’s better than great wine and artisanal pizza?
The New York Times described Ridge Monte Bello as “America’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon.”
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