Zinfandel can be a 'monster' red wine

The worst wine snob you know will never lord it over you about his or her fancy zinfandel. That’s because zinfandel gets no respect. And that’s a shame.

Zinfandel can be many things — light and fruity in a rosé “white” zinfandel, lush and juicy in “starter” red wines, elegant and superbly balanced in “claret” style, and august, hearty and extra-full-bodied in blockbuster reds.

Zins can taste like raspberries, black cherries, boysenberries, cloves, black pepper, licorice and a dozen other fruits and spices. 

Backyard chefs praise them as perfect for the great American cheeseburger (this is National Hamburger Month, you know); indoor cooks like them with lasagna, pasta with bold red sauces and a host of spicy, red-meat dishes.

But unfortunately for zinfandel, more pedantic wine fans do not consider it be a “noble” grape like sauvignon blanc, riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. 

Stung by the lack of respect for their favorite grape, aficionados in 1991 founded a trade/support group called ZAP, for Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. Today its public tastings draw thousands of fans.

One good thing about this disrespect is that zinfandel is usually a few bucks cheaper than most other reds. Another advantage is that zinfandel is easy to grow. Too easy, some say.

Zinfandel grapes, if allowed, will grow wild on vines that crawl over fences and trellises and even grow into bushes on the ground. If allowed to ripen to the max, they can produce so much natural sugar they turn out wines with 17 percent alcohol — compared to 12 or 13 percent for most other grapes — pushing them toward the port category. The riper zins are often called “jammy” or “tarry.” Or “monsters.”

Chances are that, if you haven’t tried zinfandel, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how nice it is. So raise a glass of good-old red American zinfandel with one hand. And a defiant fist with the other.


Highly Recommended


  • 2010 Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel, Napa Valley (zinfandel, petite sirah; 15.5 percent alcohol): complex aromas and flavors of red plums, citrus and cinnamon; long, powerful finish; $35.
  • 2011 Freelance Wines “Coup de Grâce” Red Wine, Lodi (“old vine” zinfandel, petite sirah, petit verdot, cabernet franc; 15.5 percent alcohol): oak, red raspberries, boysenberries and earth; firm tannins; $28.




  • 2011 Artezin Wines Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley (zinfandel, petite sirah; 14.2 percent alcohol): rich and full-bodied, with aromas and flavors of red raspberries, spice and milk chocolate; $17.
  • 2010 Murphy-Goode “Liar’s Dice” Zinfandel, Sonoma County (15.4 percent alcohol): soft and sweet, with aromas and flavors of black cherries and black coffee; $21.
  • 2012 Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel, Sonoma Heritage Vines (15.3 percent alcohol): aromas and flavors of boysenberries and bitter chocolate; sweet, lush fruit; $15.