When people think of California red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon usually pops to mind. This is really not that surprising because the big wine regions of Napa and Sonoma tend to concentrate on this grape. But our favorite California wine, and one of the most popular and delicious of all grape varieties, is Zinfandel.

Zinfandel (known popularly as “zin”) is a red grape that is widely planted in California and in other places around the world. About 10 percent of California grapes are zins. The vine dates back to the 18th Century where it was planted in eastern Europe. It’s not known why the grape came to be called Zinfadel, but another name for it is very descriptive – Primitivo.

In the western world, Zinfandels were long considered to be weaker grapes and were ignored in California for many years. During 1970s, however, California wine growers began to replant the grape.The taste and bouquet of a Zinfandel wine varies considerably depending upon the terroir (ground and climate) in which the grapes are grown, the way the grapes are processed in the winery, and importantly the age of the grapes. Zinfandel grapes can be strongly affected by the skills of the vintner who processes them.

Zinfadel grapes are normally used to produce a red wine, either on their own (as a varietal wine) or as part of a mix. But if they are harvested late in the year they can be used to make dessert wines.

Zinfadel wines are commonly marketed as “Old vine zinfandel.” This is not a legal definition, but usually refers to vines that are at least 50 years old, and which in some cases can be up to 80 years old. These ancient vines have survived diseases and climate challenges. Their taste is very dense and intense, and you will remember it well

The nose and tasted of a Zinfandel wine can be absolutely amazing, with flavors of strawberry, blackberry, and cherry. But be careful, the Zinfandel grape normally has very high alcohol content, sometimes up to 15 percent by volume.

Many Zinfandels can be recommended at all price ranges. The grape itself is not expensive, but the processing applied to it can be very sophisticated, thus raising its price. The co-winners of the 29th wine show in California can certainly be recommended. They are the 2011 Ridge Geyserville, Sonoma County ($38) and the 2010 Sbragia Gino’s Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County ($40). Both are intense zins with flavors of chocolate, fruit and herbs. But you can also buy Zinfadel in a box, and it can still be delicious. We like the Bota Box Zinfadel (about $20 for 3 liters).

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