Susan Curtis, President, All Social

Susan Curtis

By guest blogger, Susan Curtis, President, All Social

With the 2013 Zinfandel Festival less than 8 weeks away, what better time than now to start to familiarize yourself with the growing regions of Zinfandel.  Whether planning your own wine tasting tour, enjoying the Zinfandel Festival Jan. 31st- Feb. 2nd in San Francisco or arranging your next Zinfandel tasting at home, a little in-depth knowledge of the shades of Zinfandel, based upon where the grapes are grown, gives you a lot of insight and gives your palate a number of clues about what you’re tasting.

Zinfandel Vines

Zinfandel vines are grown in diverse microclimates of California

The Growing Regions: Zinfandel has been planted in virtually all the grape growing areas of California, in a strikingly wide variety of soils and topography, and in climates from coldest to hottest. Here are the 8 regions that you’ll want to truly understand to know the nuances of Zinfandel.

Bay Area Zinfandel: with a variety of microclimates, this region includes the Livermore Valley and Contra Costa County to the east of San Francisco and the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley to the south. These Zinfandels are noted for their aromas of rich black cherry and spicy herbs, with elements of bramble, cassis, licorice, and chocolate.

The Central Coast Region includes Zinfandel growing areas of Monterey County, San Luis Obispo County (including Paso Robles), Edna Valley, and Santa Barbara. Wines here are rich, and fruity in character, from big, late harvest style wines to more forward, lighter, claret style Zinfandels which include notes of spice, herbs, and cherries.

Lodi is nestled between the San Francisco Bay and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, producing uniform and balanced grapes that deliver intense fruit-driven wines with a rich silky texture. The self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the world, Lodi Zinfandels show medium to full-bodied styles with intense red and black fruit flavors of cherries, raspberries, and blackberries.

Alexander Valley, Sonoma County Big River Zinandel grape vines

Big River Gnarly Vine, Alexander Valley
Photo courtesy of Peter Griffith

Mendocino and Lake Zinfandel is considered to be California’s wine growing frontier, filled with the homesteads of many family wineries. Mendocino County’s southern border is north of San Francisco, immediately north of Sonoma County. Lake County is located southeast of Mendocino County. Zinfandels here have a juicy feel in your mouth and are known for their aromas of rose petal, vanilla, mulled spice and chocolate.

Travel to the Napa Valley for Zinfandels that reflect the diversity of the 40-mile valley, from the city of Napa, north to Calistoga. Over 30 soils are responsible for the variety. Wines produced here are well-structured and notable both for their aging potential, finesse, and complexity, for their intriguing flavors and aromas of raspberries/black raspberries and for bouquets of ripe currants, vanilla, and orange zest, with a distinct cedar character.

Go east of Sacramento, and discover the Zinfandel from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a region that includes Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne, and Yuba Counties. Its colorful Gold Rush tales and long agricultural history make this a fascinating Zinfandel area to explore.

North of San Francisco, you come to Sonoma County, bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean. Zinfandel from Sonoma County has been generally characterized as having full, intense blackberry fruit aromas that mingle with spicy black pepper, anise, and allspice scents. In general, Northern Sonoma produces “classic Zinfandel,” with some cherry and briar character.

And finally, Southern California Zinfandel ranges from the Cucamonga Valley, near Los Angeles, to the 1,500 foot elevation of Temecula. Zinfandel wines from the Southern California Region tend to flavors of very ripe fruit, dried fruit, and peppery spice, and they are highly aromatic.

What a breathtaking range of microclimates and topographies! Zinfandel is truly THE California grape. Do you have a favorite region? A Zinfandel region you have yet to explore?