Looking for wine to try? It’s zin for the win

Not a fan of zinfandel wines? These contemporary zins might change your mind. Krista Slater for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Jerry and Krista Slater

Credit: Jerry and Krista Slater

Not a fan of zinfandel wines? These contemporary zins might change your mind. Krista Slater for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

After spending the past week sampling dry, mineral-driven wines from producers in France and Austria that champion subtlety and restraint, the ripe aromatics and plush texture that are unmistakably zinfandel feel like a guilty pleasure.

While this quintessentially American red grape has had a less than stellar reputation in recent years among the wine elite, we’re here to argue that zinfandel has its place in the modern California wine scene. There are many contemporary zins that might change your mind about what this wine can be.

Zinfandel has an ancient past rooted in Europe, and started appearing in the northeast U.S. as early as the 1820s, before making its way out west. Italian immigrants were significant in propagating zinfandel plantings in California; however, more often than not, they made wines from many different grapes planted together.

It was in the 1960s and ‘70s that the zinfandel grape had its first peak. The well-known California restaurant Chez Panisse held annual zinfandel celebration dinners, starting in 1976. Around the same time, white zinfandel came into being after a stuck, or stalled, fermentation at Sutter Home winery. What started as a sweeter, pale catastrophe, became a 1980s favorite.

In the recent past, zinfandel wines became unbridled, unbalanced and overly dependent on marketing, rather than quality. But, a quality zinfandel still can be a cheery delight — fresh, well-balanced, and a juicy treat to bring to a barbecue.

Here are a few recent zinfandel-style favorites:

Broc Cellars white zinfandel 2020

Broc is one of the California zinfandel producers that straddles the classic and contemporary modes. This wine proves that “white” zin isn’t decidedly sweet and/or simple. It is made using two zinfandel vineyards, Arrowhead in Sonoma and Ricetti in Mendocino. The Ricetti vineyard’s zinfandel is a light red, whole-cluster wine. A small amount is added to the Arrowhead base rosé, giving it deeper structure. Low-intervention, natural and delicious, this white zinfandel is like a refreshing bite of salted watermelon.

Las Jaras sweet berry wine 2019

This hipster darling is new to the Georgia market, and utterly delightful. A blend of carignan, zinfandel, charbono and petite sirah, this wine harks back to the field blends typical in early California winemaking. It’s fun, juicy and great for someone looking for a less intense wine in the category.

Brown Estates zinfandel Napa Valley 2019

The Brown family made its first zin in 1996. The first Black-owned winery in the Napa Valley, it produces a polished, modern zin, structured, yet graceful — a wine to splurge on.

Carol Shelton Wild Thing old-vine zinfandel 2018

Carol Shelton is a true wine trailblazer, and a longtime devotee of the zinfandel grape. We never tire of old-school California zinfandel, as long as it is balanced, like this one. Its juicy, approachable fruit taste always pairs well with barbecue. There is a purity of flavor to Shelton’s wines, a testament to her decades of experience, and the muscle of the older vines.

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