You can procure Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay from any number of countries.
But there is only one country where significant acreage is devoted to Zinfandel: the good ol’ USA.
And within the U.S., virtually all of the Zinfandel grapes are grown in one state: California.
Zinfandel — known for its “jammy” character, delicious berry flavors and enticing spiciness — loves warm weather, and that makes California an ideal place for growing it.
In no particular order, here are five top California growing regions for Zinfandel:
Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma County). This may be the “prototypical place” for growing Zinfandel because the wines almost always taste like we expect Zinfandel to taste, possessing all of the qualities mentioned in the previous paragraph. As a result, the winemakers rarely use more than 20% new French oak barrels for aging the wines.
Lodi (San Joaquin Valley). This region is home to the oldest plantings of Zinfandel vines, some dating back to 1888. Although it can experience some extreme heat spikes during the summer, the region’s the vineyards are cooled nightly by Sacramento Delta breezes. If Dry Creek Zins are “jammy,” Lodi Zins are “zesty,” with higher acidity and tighter tannins.
Wine to try: 2014 Criss Cross Zinfandel — a deeply hued, aromatic wine with notes of black cherry, raspberry, plum, toasted oak and vanilla.
Paso Robles (Central Coast). Representing the “inland” portion of California’s Central Coast region, this is the hot new region for Zinfandel. The climate and soils are ideal for the variety, and as more and more vineyards “come of age” and further mature, I think you’ll see Paso Robles mentioned in the same breath as Dry Creek Valley and Lodi.
Wine to try: 2013 Grey Wolf Vineyards “Big Bad” Zinfandel — a big wine that offers impressions of blackberry, dark cherry, oak and raspberry liqueur.
Russian River Valley (Sonoma County). While this region is cooler than most for growing Zinfandel, the resulting wines are still sublime — lower in alcohol, higher in acidity, and packed with food-friendly flavors. Russian River Zins often need more time in the bottle to fully develop.
Wine to try: 2013 Cambridge Zinfandel — made from grapes grown in the Elsbree Vineyard, with notes of blackberry, ripe Bing cherry, blueberry, root beer and oak, all in a full-bodied, jammy style.
Sierra Foothills (Amador County). This region sits between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe in California’s “Gold Country.” Because the vineyards are so spread out, and the elevations vary from 1,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level, it’s almost impossible to describe a Sierra Foothills style. What we can say is that virtually every winery in the region produces Zinfandel, and some offer multiple bottlings each vintage in order to highlight specific vineyards or blends.
Three of California’s top five Zinfandel regions are represented in this expertly curated collection of Premier Zinfandels from Vinesse. The collection provides an excellent — and limited — opportunity to experience California’s unique wine variety.