Thu 2 Jul 2009
Friends (and colleagues), zinfandel is about as American as figgy pudding. Or, to keep on topic, as American as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, syrah and, um, alicante bouschet, all grapes that came to the New World from Europe. Years of research and, more recently, cogent DNA testing revealed that zinfandel didn’t, like Topsy, just magically grow in North America. It’s the same grape as primitivo, which grows in Italy’s Pulgia region (and where it has been revived because of the interest in zinfandel wines made in California). Zinfandel/primitivo are related to — but are not the same as — the plavac mali grape of Dalmatia and the islands of Croatia. How American is that?
It’s true that the zinfandel grape reaches its apotheosis of greatness in certain parts of California, but the Golden State also provides zinfandels that plumb the depths of the grape’s weaknesses and Bad Boy attributes.
Anyway, go ahead and drink zinfandel on July the Fourth if you want, I don’t care, I might crack open a bottle myself if I can find an example that doesn’t overpower my pizza with cloying over-ripeness and towering alcohol — July 4th coincides with Pizza and Movie Night at our house — but if you really want to drink American, go to a farm or local winery and buy some scuppernog or muscadine wine. Thomas Jefferson may have brought fine European wines to these shores, but the common folk of the new country were drinking wine made from native grapes. They may be floral, they may be musky and foxy, they may be weirdly spicy, they may taste like sweet gasoline, but they’re All-American in a sense that zinfandel can never be. Nobody ever said it was easy to be American.
(O.K., just a sip. And don’t spit it out, you Europe-centric merlot-lovers.)