Zinfandel and, yes, the one we are talking about here is the red variety of Zinfandel — not the rather insipid, briefly popular stuff which has, thankfully, mostly disappeared from the American market.
Zinfandel has been called “America’s grape.” Although it is genetically related to Primitivo (a black-skinned viniferous grape variety grown extensively in Italy), its prior origins before Italian winemakers laid claims to it are Croatian.
In Croatia, it is called Crljenak Kaštelanski as well as Tribidrag, depending on the village of origin. It was introduced to the Puglia region of Italy (the heel of the boot on the map, also known as Apulia), in the 18th century and is now grown in other parts of the Italian peninsula as well.
Primitivo, or Zinfandel in the U.S., was introduced to this country in the 19th century.
Around the world, there are over 1,000 types of grape varieties that are used to make wine. Sometimes, the same type of grape — or some that are very genetically similar to each — are known under different names, even a few miles away.
In the case of Zinfandel, and other than Primitivo as mentioned earlier, some of the many names by which this versatile grape is known include Gioia Del Colle, Locale, Morellone, Plavac Veliki, Primaticcio, Primativo, Primitivo Di Gioia, Primitivo Nero, Uva Della Pergola, Uva Di Corato, Zin (informal), ZPC, Black St. Peters, Zenfendal, Zinfardel, Zinfindal, Taranto, Zeinfandall, Zinfardell and Zinfindel.
“Zin” or “Red Zin” — as it is often called, for short — produces wines that are on the stronger side of the spectrum. Because of the relatively high natural sugars of the grapes, they are usually a bit higher in alcohol content (up to 16% alcohol by volume).
Several regions of California yield good Red Zin; not exclusively, but in particular, Amador, Santa Cruz/Santa Clara, Sonoma, Napa, Russian River, Mendocino, Paso Robles and Lodi.
Here is one that’s not only delicious but which also has a fun story to go with its name: Robert Biale Vineyards Zinfandel Black Chicken. During Prohibition, many phone lines, especially out in the countryside, were party lines connected to several customers at the same time.
In order to avoid getting caught buying or selling wine, the code name for a gallon jug of Red Zinfandel was “black chicken.”
For example: “Hey Aldo, when you come by on Friday, bring me a couple pounds of walnuts, some fruit and vegetables, two dozen eggs and a black chicken.”
Black chicken was code for a bottle of bootleg Zinfandel, a perennial favorite among fans of the wine.
Taste: Hints of rich and toasty mocha, blackberry and cinnamon spice; a harmonious balance between fruit, acidity and structure.
Napa Green Certified. Pair with barbecue, burgers, pulled pork and lamb tagine.
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