Saturday, October 14, 2006

AstroVino #3: Zinfandel and the Italian Reds

I've been craving goat cheese all day. I don't have any goat cheese. Clearly, this means I should write up a little something about this week's wine tasting. Luckily, we are given comprehensive handouts with plenty of anecdotes, descriptions, and pictures, so I can manage to reconstruct the night five days later. We have bread and crackers and cheese (both hard and soft) to go with the wine, mild and unflavored to denumbify the tongue between successive tastes. I had volunteered to bring the bread and cheese this week, and I was quite pleased with the chèvre the cheese guy at North Market recommended. We also brought some sort of hard Spanish cheese, like manchego, but not, which also went over well.

This week was the first red wine week. We started with two Zinfandels: a 2004 Ravenswood Old Vines and a 2003 Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys, both from Sonoma, CA. Zinfandel wine primarily hails from California, and as such, the Zinfandel grape has often been referred to as "California's grape." The California Senate even went so far as to pass a bill declaring Zinfandel to be California's "historic wine," but the bill was terminated by the governor ...

There was long a question as to exactly from where the Zinfandel grape originates; it had to be imported from somewhere, back in the day. Zinfandel wine first appeared in California in the 1800s; an "old vine" wine is in fact made from grapes grown on re-grafted vines that survived Prohibition. Back in the 19th century, a shameless self-promoter by the auspicious name of "Count" Agoston Haraszthy claimed to have brought Zinfandel over from Hungary, specifically, vine stock of the Croatian Plavic Mali. Rumor had it that Haraszthy was eaten by alligators in Nicaragua; rumor also had it that Zinfandel was actually the Primitivo grape from Puglia, Italy. The first rumor grew up into a legend, as the Count was an ... interesting fellow, but the second rumor was generally disregarded, as wine made from the Primitivo is fairly disgusting.

Fast forward to the 1990s and the joys of genetic testing. Genetic type-matching for grapes was coincidentally developped at UC Davis by Carole Meredith and friends. Turns out, the Zinfandel and Primitivo grapes are genetically identical ... but that's not the end of the story. See, the Primitivo grape was actually introduced to the US after Zinfandel wines started popping up, which would imply that it didn't show up in the US at the same time as the Zinfandel grape. By 2001, Meredith had finally found the answer: Zinfandel is, in fact, the same as the Crljenak Kastelanski grape, which had nearly gone extinct along the Croatian coast of the Eastern Adriatic. And as for Haraszthy's Croatian Plavic Mali? It's actually the genetic child of Zinfandel, and it's still totally unclear as to how Zinfandel ever made it to the Golden State to begin with.

I enjoyed both of the Zinfandels we had. I still have a difficult time differentiating and describing the tastes, but I will remember that I liked the Zinfandels and that they apparently go quite well with food. We also had four Italian red wines: two Barberas, a 2002 Anté Barbera d'Asti (from Italy) and a 2004 Renwood Select Series Barbera (from the Lodi & Sierra Foothills in California); as well as two Chiantis, a 2001 Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva (from Italy) and a 2003 Tamas Estates Sangiovese (from Livermore Valley, CA). I have a smiley face next to the d'Asti, which I take to mean I liked it; the Renwood was a bit too tannic and had a bit too much of a bite for me, but I still found it drinkable. The Querceto was fun because the finish (a more polite word for "aftertaste") was decidably different from the initial taste, and I found the Sangiovese to be a bit fruitier.

But they were all quite good with chèvre.

1 comment:

Sonia said...

Very enlightening. Thank you!