Posted by: tomciocco | December 3, 2013

ZINFANDEL: THE ALL AMERICAN GRAPE…SORT OF…

Here in North America there are truly native vine varieties. Their genus name is vitis just like all of the European cultivars whose names easily trip off of the tongue like Merlot, or Sangiovese, or Riesling, but while these varieties’ species name is vinifera, the truly native North American varieties carry species names like Labrusca and Arizonica. Wine can be made from these native American varieties as easily as it can be made from European Vitis Vinifera varieties, but those who have ever tasted Concord grapes (think jelly) or the Scuppernong variety from the American South will be pretty easily convinced that these types of grapes are best left to making preserves or unfermented juice, leaving the the serious wine to these phenotypes’ European cousins.

And despite all of their deep associations with American winemaking, vine varieties like Petit Sirah and Zinfandel are actually not native to the U.S., but rather are just the now somewhat mutated descendants of European vines. In the case of Zinfandel (the variety in this evening’s bottle) has actually been determined to be most closely related to an obscure Croatian(!) variety with the mouthful-of-a-name Crljenak Kastelanski, cuttings of which may have been brought to California in the 1850s by one Agoston Haraszthy (the oft-cited father of the California wine industry) possibly by way of another Hungarian called Lazar Meszaros who had been running a vine nursery in New Jersey as early as the 1820s (Croatia was at the time a part of the greater Hungarian politcal orbit).

But however and whenever Zinfandel reached The Golden State, it found there, in its hotter and sunnier, sandy/clay/loamy-dominated sites a perfect home. When all is said and done, Zinfandel almost always yields a chewy, big, and often very alcoholic wine, but when planted on cooler sites at higher elevations, and especially when the ages of the vines have matured beyond three or four decades (California is home to many plots of Zinfandel vines that exceed 100 years of age!), Zinfandel can produce wines of surprising delicacy; and when the winemaker is the legendary master Rudy Von Strasser, the odds of obtaining a wine of remarkable gentility rise rapidly, and I am very happy to report that this is just the wine we had tonight.

I matched this very drinkable, balanced and sophisticated wine with a first course of cream of broccoli soup followed by a main course of broiled top round of beef with a sweet mustard and chive glaze sauced with a mushroom and thyme gravy and roasted garlic mashed potatoes on the side.

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Von Strasser Napa Valley Zinfandel “Rudy” 2012

Moderately deep and and bright blackish purple color. Powerful but pretty nose of blueberry, plum leather, cola syrup, minerals, wood smoke, underbrush, black licorice, vanilla bean, pine and rosemary needles, and dried flowers. In the mouth wine is very full-bodied, deep and rich but with a fine and elegant balancing acid/tannin structure that makes it surprisingly light on its feet, and that beautifully frames clean and sophisticated flavors of black cherry, strawberry preserves, black raspberry, stewed apples, cinnamon, nutmeg and roasted chestnuts. Very long and poised bittersweet cocoa-y finish. Zinfandel at its best.

 

 

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Responses

  1. Why would you leave scuppernongs unfermented? Too much natural sugar? And where did you get the Rudy locally?

    • Hey Christine-

      Wines produced from grapes like Concord and other non-vitis vinifera grapes produce “interesting” or “charming” wines that don’t have much depth and quickly becoming boring or tiring to most drinkers. Grapes like Scuppernong and the like are best left to produce jelly or juice.

      I picked up the Rudy at Jersey Wines and Spirits on Jersey Avenue in Jersey City.

      Thanks for reading!
      T.C.


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