One Big Zin

‘E’ Wine of the Week

by Bruce Cochran

Hello Everyone,

This week we have a special discussion for all of us who love big, deep, red wines from California. They’re great this time of year, especially with hearty winter menus. There’s one grape in particular that many people think of first for “big reds” and we’ll look at some of the places where this grape really excels.

Try a new wine this week! 



Vina Robles Zinfandel

Compared with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir or syrah, zinfandel seems a uniquely American wine. Each of those, and most other, wine grapes came here from Europe (most of them from France), about a century and a half ago. A little more than 100 years ago, wine-loving Italian immigrants to the United States established the first California zinfandel vineyards.  

In Italy, zinfandel is called primativo. Italy got it from the Dalmatian Coast, across the Adriatic Sea. This wasn’t well known until recently, and in the meantime we began to claim zinfandel as our own. 

California zin’s have developed a large and loyal following.  Most come from warmer parts of California, as plenty of sunshine is necessary for the grapes to develop that inky dark color and brambleberry flavor that zinfandel fans love.  

Napa Valley has long been known for great zinfandel, but during the past several years it’s been more profitable to plant the more expensive cabernet sauvignon grape there.

Across the Mayacamas Mountains to the west, Sonoma Valley has a long history of zinfandel production. There are still old vineyards planted by Italian immigrants decades ago and some a century ago.

Dry Creek Valley, a warm climate region in northern Sonoma County, is well known for great zins, as are the Sierra Foothills of eastern California.

But today, the town of Paso Robles is the self-described “Zinfandel Capital.” It’s about halfway down California’s coast, roughly 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean near Hearst Castle. They even have an annual zinfandel festival.

Growers there describe two main areas, with different climates. The western (ocean) side is said to be cooler than the eastern side. That’s because the eastern side lies behind a range of coastal hills, which runs north to south and blocks the cool Pacific breezes. On that hot interior side, rising air during the afternoon draws in those ocean-cooled breezes, mainly through a gap in the mountains called the “Templeton Gap.” This makes the evenings chilly. Vines enjoy that.

A recent arrival to our local market is the deep, dark zinfandel from Vina Robles. Made in very small quantities, it’s the first time this wine has been available here. It’s a big, full-bodied red with deep, broad flavors of blackberries, black raspberries and chocolate balanced with toasty oak, and a fine yet firm tannic backbone. Retail price range $26-$28.

Categories: Legacy Archive