I love wine stories, especially about how wines have migrated to various parts of the world.
One of my favorite varietals of wine, as any regular reader of Wine on Wednesdays will attest, is zinfandel, especially those from California.
California zinfandels have a distinctive flavor: Very vegetable in nature, with strong influences of green bell pepper. They tend to be heartier wines and, in my opinion at least, are more dependably good as you move from brand to brand. In other words, I have yet to find a zinfandel that I didn’t like.
With the exception of white zinfandel, of course. White zinfandel is a blush wine that is made from the same grape as zinfandel wines, except the skins are removed a very short time after fermentation begins. This causes white zinfandel’s definitive pink color and sweet taste.
In many restaurants that I ran, white zinfandel was the most popular wine, primarily because it was the least expensive, but also because its crisp texture and sweet flavor is refreshing when dining al fresco. Despite that, it’s not for me.
Many people who are not familiar with wines — especially restaurant servers — often have trouble distinguishing between zinfandel and white zinfandel and there have been countless times when I have ordered for former and received the latter.
But back to our story. Zinfandel is one of the oldest wine-making grapes known to man. In fact, it dates back to our own beginnings as cavemen in the caves of Caucasus. Archeologists have found evidence in that area of zinfandel plants dating back to at least 6,000 B.C.
The grape first became popular in Croatia, and then in Italy, where it is called “primativo”, but its fame soon spread throughout Europe. It came to the US in the late 18th or early 19th Century as part of an exhibition of Croatian plant life, and then migrated to California during the Gold Rush of 1849.
In a very short time, it became one of the most widely planted grapes in California. Today, it accounts for about 10 percent of all vineyard plantings there.
My go-to zinfandel is Dancing Bull, a label owned by the gigantic Gallo company. I first discovered it more than a decade ago (at Cost Plus World Market, as I recall) when it was called Rancho Zabaco. That brand eventually split, with Rancho Zabaco become its higher end wines and Dancing Bull becoming its more affordable line. You know which direction I went!
Despite its affordability — about $7.99/bottle, my ceiling for inexpensive wines — Dancing Bull zinfandel has all the typical flavors of a California zinfandel. It is consistently drinkable year after year and is probably the wine I drink most often at home.
In perhaps an inapprorpriate transition, I would just like to thank Mrs. Lack’s 4th grade class at Northwest Elementary School, in Evergreen Park, Illinois, for allowing me to speak to them on my career as a chef during their Career Day on Tuesday (hence my absence for those who may have noticed).
We had a very lively conversation about chefs, television cooking shows and, strangely, quite a bit about the ability of onions to make you cry. Then they enjoyed my guacamole recipe, which I made for them during a demo.
They seemed genuinely interested in professional cooking and asked a lot of great questions. I think we both had a lot of fun!