Mon 5 Jul 2010
July 4 is our country’s Independence Day. How about on July 5, we declare independence from oak.
Yesterday, as befits a patriotic mood, I made a tomato salsa and then fired up the old Weber and grilled some split-open bratwurst and wedges of baguette; LL made potato salad. Voila! A very nice Fourth of July supper, which we ate on the back porch with the increasing sounds of firecrackers and the distant dull boom of pyrotechnics burgeoning round about; and the dogs exhibiting nervous jitters by twitching ears and soulful restlessness.
In sly-boots mode, I opened a bottle of The Federalist Zinfandel 2007, Dry Creek Valley, which bears, as you can see, the familiar visage of Alexander Hamilton from the U.S. $10-bill, based on the portrait executed by John Trumbull in 1805, except that on this label the figure faces to the right instead of to the left, as it does on the good old sawbuck.
Someone writes on the back label: “As leader of he Federalist party in the late 1700s, Alexander Hamilton was also a founding father and ally of the Declaration of Independence,” which is rather like saying that Benjamin Franklin was an ally of electricity, but what one must vehemently take issue with is this statement: “Around the same time, the roots of Zinfandel were beginning to grow and expand out of Europe and into the U.S.” Similarly, the wine’s website says: “The History of Zinfandel dates back to the 1700s, when farmers in the northeastern United States attempted to cultivate this as yet unknown varietal.”
Bad history, class, produces bad karma, just as lazy logic proceeds to ignorance.
In the excellent and highly readable Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine (University of California Press, 2003), Charles L. Sullivan documented with meticulous research the zinfandel grape’s entrance into the New World in a batch of cuttings sent in the late 1820s or early 1830s from Vienna to George Gibbs of Long island, an amateur and fairly obsessive horticulturist, and from his care to Boston. These grapes, under the name “zinfindal,” became popular in Boston in the 1830s and ’40s for hot-house growing as table grapes. They were not intended as wine grapes because two centuries of experience had taught the colonists and recent Americans that the climate of New England was not amenable for European (vinifera) grapes in a vineyard setting. All of this took place some 20 or 30 years after Hamilton died on July 12, 1804, from wounds inflicted by Aaron Burr in their famous duel, not in “the 1700s.”
Another misleading statement on the back label is this: “Our Dry Creek estate-grown Federalist Zinfandel is hand crafted to bring out the true individuality of the Zinfandel grape.” If only that were true, or, at least, if only it had worked out that way, because in fashioning this wine, its makers succeeded primarily in bringing out the toasty, spicy, deeply vanilla-tinged aspects of oak barrels. I kept looking for, hoping for, some element, some feature that would relate the Federalist Zinfandel 2007 to the character of its grape, to zinfandel’s innate briery currant and brambly plum scents and flavors, to its peppery flair, but no, the wine continued to express its oak-infused personality, making it just like scores, if not hundreds, of other indistinguishable red wines from California, enjoyable perhaps, if you don’t mind that spicy vanilla, but inauthentic. 14.2 percent alcohol. 2,570 cases. Very Good. About $25.
A sample for review.