Textbook ‘Zin’

Zinfandel grapes ripening on a vine in Amador ...

Zinfandel grapes

Zinfandel is a red wine grape variety grown almost exclusively in California (or at least the US) – although it has now been shown to be the same grape as the southern Italian grape: Primitivo.

Admittedly I haven’t tried many Zinfandels – it is virtually unheard of in New Zealand, and still not particularly common in the UK. However, when tasting them blind I invariably get their identification wrong. The classic tasting note for Zinfandel is ‘raspberries and cream’, and I could never really get that out of the examples I’ve tried.

The Society’s California Old Vine Zinfandel, 2008 (£6.50 from the Wine Society) is a Zinfandel with a ‘textbook’ tasting note. Ideal for discovering exactly what this idealised typicity should be.

This example is a medium-translucent ruby colour; a very clear wine, with little change from the core to the rim. The nose does really smell of raspberries and cream – a sort of jammy, vanilla-y, sickly aroma which could be in part due to the use of American oak. The flavours on the palate are straightforward – ripe, brambly raspberries with a bitter stalky edge. Acidity is on the low side (evidence, along with the ripeness of fruit, of a warm growing climate) and the alcohol, while at 14%, seems remarkably well-balanced. The finish is short and to the point (yes, raspberries and cream) and, disappointingly, there are next to no tannins.

No, this is not a particularly complex wine (for £6.50, surely you weren’t expecting too much?). It is rather straight-up-the-line with its aromatic and flavour profile, and the palate doesn’t evolve in the mouth. It is very easy drinking, and is drinkable with almost any sort of food, though with such low acidity don’t expect it to hold its own in stronger flavoured dishes.

It is not the best example of Zinfandel I have tried. However, it has answered for me the question of the ‘textbook’ raspberries and cream tasting note, and it is always useful to get a handle on such things.

Overall, this wine illustrates two points for me. One is that textbook tasting notes are, of course, an idealised notion. It is incredibly difficult to characterise an entire wine style into a generic note. They are, however, useful as a marker to start with and to deviate from. Secondly, although it may make their identification harder for me, perhaps it’s a good thing that not all Zinfandels taste like raspberries and cream!

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About James

James Flewellen is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. He has competed for the University in international blind tasting competitions and won several awards. In addition, James is a wine educator and wine writer, most recently co-authoring "The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting". He also writes for the international gastronome site "The Rambling Epicure", and can be contacted for wine consultancy and educational courses through the "Oxford Wine Academy".
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One Response to Textbook ‘Zin’

  1. Pingback: Acidity, Alcohol & Sugar – the Wines | The Oxford Wine Blog

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