Simply Served

Simply Served is a weekly source of information
that covers all things
related to liquor, wine and beer.

Simply Served

Zinfandel: America's Grape

Mar 8, 2017 10:39:38 AM


Zin Grapes

The red varietal Zinfandel is planted in over 10% of California’s vineyards. It produces a robust, fruit forward wine as well as a semi sweet red blush, White Zinfandel, that are both very popular in America. Although many writers in the late nineteenth and twentieth century liked to refer to it as “America’s grape”, it did not originate here.

After finding similarities between Zinfandel and Primitivo, an Italian varietal found in Puglia, Italy (located in ‘the heel of the boot’) the two grapes were found to be genetically identical in 1933. Further historical and genetic research led to the theory that both grapes were brought to their respective countries from, of all places, Croatia. Then in 2003, they were genetically proven to be an offspring of the grape known as Crljenak Kastelanski, a total of nine vines bearing this grape were found in a single vineyard in Kastel Novi, Croatia. The varietal was introduced from Hungary to the east coast of the US in 1829 where it was grown in hothouses and prized for its early ripening (hence Primitivo’s being named for the first grape to ripen). It was brought to California in the 1850s during the Gold Rush where it exploded in popularity, becoming the most widely planted grape in California.

During Prohibition, many of the vines were ripped up and replaced with Petite Sirah and Alicant Bouchet, which transported more easily for home winemaking. Zinfandel was largely forgotten, being used mainly for bulk fortified wines, but some producers with very old vines wanted to keep the varietal alive.

One such producer was Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home who, in 1972, decided to make a rose of Zinfandel and sell it under the name of Oeil de Perdix. He legally was required to change the name to White Zinfandel. In 1975, he experienced a stuck fermentation. This occurs when the yeast dies before the sugar is completely converted to alcohol, resulting in lower alcohol content and a somewhat sweet wine. He sold it anyway and it was an instant hit that made him a wealthy man. Modern day White Zinfandel is still a very popular wine. The popularity of the wine also saved many of the old vines from being ripped up in premium growing areas until red Zinfandel came back into fashion.

Zinfandel vines are vigorous and do best in warm but not hot climates. If the climate is too hot the grapes ripen too quickly and become overripe with a raisin like quality. Also, the high sugar level results in wines that can have a higher potential alcohol level. High alcohol can result in a “heat” to the wine. Many Zinfandels can reach alcohol levels of over 16%.

The big fruit flavors make Zinfandel an ideal barbeque wine and it is easy drinking on its own. It goes very well with glazed ham at Easter and even works with chocolate desserts.

Zinfandels can express slightly different flavor profiles depending on where they are from:

Lodi: This is a very warm region so the grapes ripen well and produce a lot of sugar that can result in some fairly high alcohol during fermentation. Also, this area has many old vines resulting in even more concentration of flavor. There can be a tendency toward overripeness, but this region is still the most popular source of Zinfandel. Wines from here include Oak Ridge OZV, The Zin, Earthquake, 7 Deadly Zins, and Predator.

Dry Creek: These Zinfandels are among the most elegant with bright red and black fruit flavors intertwined with pepper and earth. They are a bit lighter in body and well balanced between fruit and acidity. Good examples from here are Dashe, Alexander Valley Vineyards Redemption, and Frei Brothers.

Napa Valley: The terroir here produces more Cabernet-like Zinfandels, with red fruits, cedar, and vanilla flavors. Storybook Mountain is awesome but pricey. Other good ones are made by Frog’s Leap, Grgich, and Neal.

Many Zinfandels will be designated “Sonoma County” with grapes sourced from all over Sonoma, thus blending the characteristics of Dry Creek, Russian River, and other areas. Seghesio makes a great one and other good ones are St. Francis, Rodney Strong, and Kunde.

If you like big, full bodied, flavorful wines you have to try Zinfandel. Although it can’t correctly be called “America’s Grape” you can see why it’s known as one of America’s most popular.


0 Comments | Posted in 0 By Henry Robinson

Pax Mahle

Apr 18, 2016 1:44:39 PM

Pax Mahle of Wind Gap

Meet acclaimed winemaker Pax Mahle of Wind Gap and Pax Wines! Mahle was a sommelier on the East Coast who took a job in 1997 as a corporate wine buyer on the West Coast. After a few years Pax decided it was time to make a brand of his own. His wines were big and bold expressions of Syrah and he was quickly established as one of California's premiere producers of syrah. After some partner issues Pax Wine Cellars was put on hold for a few years where Pax and his wife Pam began their brand, Wind Gap. Wind Gap became a great success and was quickly taken to the next level.

Luckily on April 27th there is a great opportunity to meet Pax Mahle and taste his wines. Enjoy a wine dinner at Oak and learn more about Pax and his adventures. View the full menu.

0 Comments | Posted in 0 By Kat Davis

#WCW Bessie Williamson

Apr 13, 2016 4:36:20 PM

Bessie Williamson

Bessie Williamson was born in 1910, the daughter of a French gunner who died eight years later. In 1932, she graduated from the University of Glasgow with a degree in education, and took a job at the Laphroaig distillery. It was intended to be a stepping-stone position for her, before she could fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher. Her drive and tenacity had an immediate impact on the company, and within five years, she was the full time manager of the entire distilleries operations.

By the time of the Second World War, distilleries all over Scotland were faced with the threat of theft and looting, as Scottish military leaders sought to use distilling facilities for storage and training purposes. Williamson was credited with holding off those pressures, and keeping the Laphroaig distillery profitable in the midst of chaos. She inherited the controlling shares of the distillery in 1954, and became one of the most powerful women in the whisky industry.

Many also credit Williamson with her marketing of Single Malt Scottish Whiskeys to American markets. Where a market barely existed, Williamson saw the potential and forged a trail for the modern day multi-million dollar market of Scotch in America. As she described it in the 1960s, "The secret of Islay whiskies is the peaty water and the peat ... there's an increasing demand for the [single] Islay whiskies. We can't supply the demand that we have for our whiskies."

For more on Bessie Williamson, and many other inspiring women in the whisky world, check out Fred Minnick's 2013 book Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey

Order a bottle of Bessie's prized Whisky!

0 Comments | Posted in 0 By train train

Jen Beloz- WCW

Mar 15, 2016 5:27:11 PM

Listening to speak reverently, almost tearfully, about being amongst 100+ year old Zinfandel vines in some long neglected vineyard in the California hills makes it easy to understand why she does what she does. Jen has been the winemaker for The Prisoner Wine Company since 2011. She hosted a wine lunch and tasting at Boulder’s Cork restaurant and she was extremely informative, entertaining and enthusiastic.

Jen became interested in wine when she did a college year abroad in Spain. While her friends went to the beaches in the Canary Islands she went to the vineyards. Upon her return, she finished school and was exposed more to wine by a mentor who was trying to convince her to go to medical school. Instead she went to work for Cline Vineyards, working primarily in the cellar and doing all sorts of odd jobs.. She then went on to Ravenswood and while working there got her enology training at UC Davis. She eventually went on to become winemaker there.

While on maternity leave she ran into the new owner of the Prisoner Wine Company in a restaurant and before she knew it she became their winemaker. Jen’s focus on winemaking is twofold. First is to continue to make the full bodied, highly flavorful wines that allowed Dave Phinney (the original owner and winemaker) to make “The Prisoner” famous. She doesn’t want to alter the brand –she wants to preserve it. To do this brings in the second aspect of her wine focus –terroir. She has fought to keep the wine’s designation as California (normally a designation suggesting entry level wines) so she can hand pick the vineyards she wants to use in the wines from anywhere in California. For example she can find the very best Cabernet, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Merlot vineyards even if they are located hundreds of miles apart in different appellations from each other.

Her duties as winemaker and representative of the company, along with being a wife and mother, keep her very busy but she still manages to find time for her two favorite activities – gardening and hiking. As she looked out the window at the foothills of the Rockies you could tell that although she was enjoying her time with us, she would have loved to be up in them. We were lucky enough to taste through the entire portfolio of her wines: Blinfold, Saldo, Thorn, The Prisoner, and Cuttings. The wines were all stunning. Although proud of the wines there was an endearing humbleness about her and it seemed hard for her to conceal the pure joy she felt from making them. Jen Beloz is a remarkable lady. The Prisoner Wine company – and the wine industry in general- is lucky to have her.

0 Comments | Posted in 0 By Kat Davis

Julia Herz

Feb 23, 2016 6:24:04 PM

Julia Herz

Julia is craft beer program director at the Brewers Association and publisher of She is a homebrewer, a BJCP beer judge, award-winning homebrewer, Certified Cicerone®, co-author of Beer & Food Course. and co-author of Beer Pairing (Voyageur Press). In her role at the BA she serves as an advocate for and educator about U.S. craft brewers and as a spokesperson for the association.

0 Comments | Posted in 0 By Zachary Longstaff