Leslie Williams looks at some zingy and zesty zinfandels for all budgets
On this 4th of July many of us are looking with sympathy on the traumatic times the USA is going through at the moment. I’d like to have filled this page with wines from California in tribute but to be honest we get a rather meagre selection on this side of the world.
Top end California Cabernet and Chardonnay is excellent but expensive and while there are some big brand sub-€12 jug wines in our supermarkets, they can’t compete on quality with the wines being produced in Spain, Italy and the Languedoc - not to mention Chile and Argentina.
So this week instead I’m going to focus on California’s signature grape variety Zinfandel. We now know that Zinfandel is the same grape as Primitivo from Southern Italy and Tribidrag from Central Dalmatia in Croatia - this last being its oldest name so the one used in the indispensable grape encyclopedia ‘Wine Grapes’ by Jancis Robinson -et al-.
Zinfandel was likely introduced to the USA in the early 19th century with the name Zinfardel (sic) appearing in a Long Island nursery’s catalogue in 1829. The Primitivo connection was made in the 1960’s and the Croatian connection proven just in the 2000’s thanks to work done by the great Californian winemaker Mike Grgich with help from UC Davis and the University of Zagreb - they appropriately called their endeavour ‘Zinquest’.
The best wines from the grape are undoubtedly from battered old dry farmed vines in Lodi and Sonoma in California and I recommend two below, both are top of their class with sophistication and ageing potential (particularly the Ridge). Three others you could try include Ravenswood (World Wide Wines), Gnarly Head (O’Briens) and Predator (Independents) - all three are from Lodi. You will find lots of Primitivo from Puglia and Southern Italy and virtually all are worth a try.
I am loath to make a connection with ‘White Zinfandel’, those sweet pink rosé Zins but if you really must, watch for the Barefoot range in SuperValu and Tesco. Barefoot Wines also this month introduced a pair of Wine Seltzers, a Strawberry/Guava and a Pineapple/Passionfruit version (I prefer the former) - at 4% abv, they are drier than you might expect. ‘Hard Seltzer’ is all the rage with the kids these days.
Wine selections this week are five Tribidrag/Primitivo/Zinfandel wines, two of the very finest California can offer, three from Puglia, and a rogue Aglianico, my other favourite grape from Southern Italy.
Wines Under €15
Vigneti dei Salento I Muri Primitivo, Puglia, Italy - €14.99
Stockists: JJ O’Driscoll, World Wide Wines, Baggot St Wines, Vintry, Martins, Lilac, McHughs, www.wineonline.ie.
I mentioned this a year or two ago but a recent bottle downed with some Orecchiette pasta and a beef and Italian sausage ragù reminded me to tell you about it again. Ripe generous red berry and plum aromas with spice notes, fruity, crunchy and textured black cherry and blackberry fruits on the palate, supremely drinkable.
Pasqua Lapaccio Primitivo Salento IGT, Puglia, Italy - €14.99
Stockists: Ardkeen Stores, Independents.
Pasqua are a large but reliable Italian wine producer based in the Veneto but with vineyards all over Italy. This is a particularly fruit-driven version of Primitivo from the Salento in the heel of Italy, packed with cherry, plum and chocolate aromas, spice notes that begin on the nose and linger on the finish and big bright cherry fruits in the centre. A perfect pizza wine.
Cantina Tombacco Aglianico IGT Beneventano, Campania, Italy - €10-12.99
An outlier this week but a grape that also deserves attention. Aglianico is likely an ancient Italian grape -not Greek as many assume) and is famed in Basilicata -A. del Vulture) and in Campania near Naples. Aglianico can be tannic and intense but this pleasingly drinkable one has bright juicy red cherry and black fruits with liquorice and smoky, spicy notes and a dollop of balancing structure and acidity
Wines Over €15
Ridge Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, California 2016 - €49.00
Stockists: Whelehans, La Touche Greystones, James Nicholsons Crossgar
One of my favourite Californian wines but not one I get to drink as often as I used to given its price these days. A field blend dominated by Zinfandel (69% Zin plus Petite Sirah (23%), Carignan and Mourvèdre) - spice-tinged juicy dark fruits with fine balancing acidity, generous blackberry and sweet plums, and a long fruit-driven complex finish.
Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel 2015, California - €39.00
Stockists: JusdeVine, Redmonds, Martins, The Corkscrew, Wine Online, Florries Tramore, Blackrock Cellars, Clontarf Wines, Red Island Skerries, McHughs
This Zinfandel is from grapes grown in the Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County with 85% Zinfandel rounded out with a little Petite Sirah -9%) and some Syrah and Carignan. Fine ripe red and black fruits with violet touches and spice notes, integrated tannins, finely balanced and supremely elegant. Benchmark.
Leone de Castris Villa Santera Primitivo di Manduria, 2018, Puglia, Italy - €22.95
Stockists: Vintry Rathgar
Manduria Commune on the western coast of Puglia is the spiritual home of Primitivo and the only Italian DOC dedicated to the grape. Aromas of spice (allspice, nutmeg), ripe fruits, supple and fruity with layers of blackcurrant and cherry with some grip and lingering dried plums on the finish. This lively plush wine is packed with flavour - also watch for this producer’s Salice Salentino.