The Godfather of Zin
November 16 has been designated as National Zinfandel Day in the United States and so we feature the zinfandels of Joel Peterson who is known as “the Godfather of Zin”.
Joel never planned to make wine, as his family were scientists; his mother a nuclear chemist who actually worked on the Manhattan Project, his dad a physical chemist. Joel became a clinical laboratory scientist working on immunology cancer research.
His family loved wine and eventually his background in science led him to start up Ravenswood Winery with only $4,000 back in 1976.
It was on an autumn day of that year, as ravens taunted from tree branches above, that Joel worked doggedly to bring in four tonnes of zinfandel grapes before a looming thunderstorm hit. Their motto “No Wimpy Wines” says it all — embrace the bold and abhor the bland. Until quite recently this was known as California's mystery grape as its origins were lost in time. Now we know from DNA testing that the primitivo of Italy and crljenak kastelanski, an ancient grape from Croatia, are genetically identical. In 1832 a Boston nursery advertised zinfandel vines for sale and during the gold rush in the 1850s it made its way to California where it has thrived in climate and soils that are ideal for it. Most likely only chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon are more widely planted. Although we carry merlot and chardonnay from Ravenswood, today we are all about zinfandel.
We start with their Ravenswood Vintners Blend 2013 Zinfandel that sells for $16.90. It is a big, in-your-face wine that proves once again how sinfully good zinfandel can be. It sets the stage with tantalising aromas of black cherry, raspberries and blueberries, along with hints of oak.
It leaves with a cascade of fruit, flexible tannins and a long, fruit-forward finish. Canadian critic Natalie MacLean scores it 90/100 and suggests pairing it with spaghetti bolognese, aged cheddar, grilled lamb loin, grilled duck breast or Italian sausage burgers.
For me, this is the ideal barbecue wine and even at this price, quite a step above the ordinary.
If I can stick with Natalie's opinion she rates our Ravenswood Old Vine 2014 Lodi Zinfandel a most credible 92/100 and describes it as: “A gorgeously rich and full-bodied Californian zinfandel from one of the state's top producers. Aromas of black plums, smoke and dark spice. Smooth and perfect for barbecued meats and a harmonious hard cheese wine.” Lodi, that sits at the northern end of the Central Valley is known as the zinfandel capital of the world as its well-drained sandy soils produce powerful and extractive wines.
This just notches the price up a little to $18.90.
I will digress for a moment on the subject of old vines as they are so prevalent among vineyards planted with our featured grape. When new plantings are started it takes a few years before the fruit becomes complex enough to make good wine.
After 30 years or so, the output of the vine starts to decrease in volume and so for economic reasons many fields are replanted in sections (of course if you replanted the whole works at once you would have to sit around idle and wait a few years to start making wine again). However, older vines with complex root systems and less fruit put “more goodies” in each grape and the trade-off is less wine, but more complexity.
Most vineyards were ripped out during the dark days of prohibition but zinfandel actually thrived, and here is the reason. Large cities such as Chicago and New York allowed their residents to make a limited amount of wine in their own homes and it was found that the hearty zinfandel grape shipped by truck and rail with the least damage. These were the grapes of choice and that is why some vineyards predate this period.
If you would like to enjoy a warm and flavourful wine that envelops your senses with blueberry, blackberry, natural vanilla and baking spices and also a mouthfeel that is elegantly layered and generous, then spend $21.10 and treat yourself to a bottle of Ravenswood Old Vine Sonoma County 2013 Zinfandel. It is a blend of 83 per cent zinfandel, 11 per cent petit sirah (I love this grape) and 6 per cent mixed black grapes.
The grapes are dry-farmed for very low yields and the cool marine influence and early afternoon fog allow slow and complex ripening. Adding to this is the use of native yeasts naturally occurring in the vineyard.
So, in celebration of National Zinfandel Day, why don't we all just take the opportunity to “Zin a little”.
•This column is a paid-for advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Michael Robinson is Director of Wine at Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George's (York Street, 297-0409). A selection of their wines, beers and spirits is available online at www.wineonline.bm