Monday, February 1, 2016

Wine tasting: "Cigar Zin" old vine Zinfandel, 2012.

(For all my 2016 wine tastings, click the "wine2016" label at the end of this entry, or just "wine" for all the writing I've ever done on the subject.)

Welcome, new readers! To get you quickly caught up: One of my New Year's resolutions for 2016 was to finally get better educated about wine, which dovetails nicely with two of my other resolutions (to start throwing more dinner parties at my apartment, and to do more intellectual and creative things simply for the sake of being intellectual and creative). I'm starting the process by trying wines from around the world made out of a total of 20 different types of popular grapes, moving my way chromatically from the darkest red to eventually the lightest white; so far this year I've been through Shiraz, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinoir Noir, Chianti and Merlot, which means this week I'm finally ready to try the uber-popular Zinfandel for the first time!

And make no mistake, despite its "bubba" reputation among wine aficionados, Zinfandel is still far and away one of the most popular types of wine in America in the 2010s (especially among consumers of low-end "jug" wine), and constitutes an entire ten percent of all the wine made in the entire state of California. In fact, Zinfandel is known as the grape that "made" the California wine industry, albeit through an interesting turn of events in the 1980s; see, this high-sugar, thin-skinned grape does only so-so in the hot California climate (some years see great harvests, some see terrible ones), which led the owner of Sutter Home Winery in one of these bad years to ferment the grape juice with the skins for just a tiny amount of time before removing them, resulting in a light, highly sweet pink wine that he called "White Zinfandel" (ironically because the Food and Drug Administration forced him to, lest he be accused of false advertising*).

[*And even more ironically, although this grape was touted as a "California native" breed when that industry was being bolstered in the '80s, it turns out that this is merely a child of Italy's Primitivo breed of grapes; which even more ironically turns out to not be from Italy at all, but rather from the Croatian region of the "Fertile Crescent" area of Mesopotamia where the act of making wine was first invented seven thousand years ago.]

It's this White Zinfandel that's much more popular than the dark red Zinfandel I tried tonight, with mine in particular being a batch from the treasured "old vines" that miraculously survived Prohibition; but make no mistake, plain ol' Zinfandel (or Red Zinfandel as some people call it) is not the sickly sweet pink concoction we normally think of when we hear this term, but rather a bold and fruity dark red much more akin to Cabarnet Sauvignon. In fact, the wine I tried tonight was specifically branded "Cigar Zin" as a marketing ploy, in order to invoke other such masculine treats as cigars and steaks, although unfortunately the Cigar Zin website is out of date and doesn't contain much information about the company, a real shame since half the pleasure of these tastings is learning about fascinating wineries scattered across the globe. By the way, the White Zinfandel is coming -- it's fourth on the list from now, after Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Garnay -- and given how many notoriously mediocre brands of it are out there now, I'd love your advice on an actual excellent White Zinfandel to try for my tasting. Send it my way to, with my thanks!

“Old Vine” Zinfandel, 2012
Sonoma, California
14.9% ABV

Look: The brightest red I've so far tried this year, catching the light magnificently.

Smell: I suspect that what we feel about the aroma of a wine is the aspect most influenced by what other people tell us; for example, after I read that the makers of Cigar Zin named it that as a marketing ploy to match it in people's heads with other “masculine” treats as steaks and cigars, sure enough this wine started seeming to have traces of cigar and steak as part of its aroma. Apart from that, though, this smelled basically like the other deep reds I've tried this year, with a strong aroma of “not-sweet sweet” fruits like blackberries.

Taste: Although this looks and smells like the deep reds I've tried this year like Shiraz and Malbec, it tastes a lot different – a much sweeter and lighter taste than its aroma and look would make you think. It also goes down the throat delightfully smoothly, with almost no hint of tannins whatsoever, and kind of tastes like licking out the semi-solidified remains of an old jar of homemade jam. A big surprise, which I'm assuming at this point is a reflection of Zinfandel grapes having such a higher sugar content than other comparable deep red grapes.

After a Full Glass: After having an entire glass with a plate of pasta, I realized that this wine leaves a tingling sensation in the back of the mouth/top of the throat with each drink, which I believe is the result of it being the most alcoholic wine I've so far tried in 2016 (and at 15 percent, likely the highest I'll ever try this year). Unlike the Merlot I tried in my last tasting, this held its uniqueness quite well against the spicy Cajun pasta I had paired with it.

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