Should Zin Be in?

Why the forgotten California Zinfandel deserves some love

Zinfandel is California’s heritage grape, dating back to the 19th century and yielding wines with characteristics ranging from fruity to intense to muscular. These days, a red wine list may only offer Zinfandel by the glass or leave it off altogether. On that same wine list, Malbecs, Cabernets, Pinot noirs, and blended varietals from around the globe will likely be more plentiful. Certainly, the type of cuisine and breadth of menu offerings factor into what wines are served, but latitude usually exists for a popular grape-of-the-moment, and there was a time when Zin was in. Now, San Diegans looking for Zin are out of luck. What happened to the once-loved grape? Local wine experts provide sobering insights. 

Jeff Josenhans, head mixologist/certified sommelier, The Grant Grill: “Sommeliers tend to see Zins as less complex than Pinots can be. As a wine buyer, you want to appease the consumer palate and offer what you think will reward the experienced wine drinker, as well. So you see, there are social trends."

Robert Gelman, owner, Grape Connections: “Millennials (born 1977 and later) are looking for different wines and interesting blends, while older drinkers are tired of the high alcohol content of big ‘port-style’ wines—same thing with Shiraz. Plus, Zin is not as versatile (with certain foods) as Cabernet and Pinot noir.” 

Rita Pirkl, owner, Village Vino: “People generally look for more balanced, lower-alcohol wines that can be consumed with a meal. Unfortunately, a lot of Zinfandel is a meal in and of itself. Why no Zinfandel by the glass? California Zinfandel is relatively expensive compared to varietals from around the world.” 

But Zin is far from “fin.” And it still ranks as California’s second most planted grape. Maybe a reverse of Sideways’ Merlot moment in pop culture can reignite interest. Or, as Josenhans suggests, an evolution happens where Zins are “made in a lighter, more ‘Bordeaux-like’ or ‘food-friendly’ style, much like Pinot noirs”—what some producers are already calling “Zinot.” —Gerald “Dex” Poindexter

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