I love Zinfandel. I know California Cab might be more popular — but there is not a more distinctly “American” wine than Zinfandel. Zinfandel is a variety of red grape planted in over 10 percent of California vineyards. DNA fingerprinting revealed that it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kaštelanski, and also the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in the ‘heel’ of Italy.
Two of the best producers of Zinfandel are also 2 of the best wine producers in the United States. Rosenblum and Ridge. Rosenblum makes big, inky, extracted new world wines — wines for those individuals that are also admirers of Planck’s constant. These are big wines that seem to set the bar at a minimum of 14.5% alcohol.
Ridge wines are a little closer to the old world style with homeopathic doses of modern wine making. Ridge briefly experimented with microbullage, using small amounts of oxygen to soften a wine’s tannins. Ridge is part old school, part science, and part art. No non-native yeasts or enzymes are used at Ridge. No chemicals beyond sulfur dioxide. No mysterious antimicrobial compounds.
Both of them produce best in class Zinfandels. I could understand someone being a fan of one and a hater of the other — but I love both of them. In addition, there are many other great Zin producers worth seeking out. Here is a list of some of my favorites.
Looks like the 2005 vintage was challenging in California — lower temperatures that weren’t hot enough for Zinfandel to ripen. So at least for this varietal, I would focus on 2004 and 2003 — and 2001 if you can get your hands on it.