With our Independence Day around the corner, we give tribute to the grape most referred to as America’s grape — zinfandel.
Though DNA testing found it to be closely related to grapes from Croatia and Italy, it is here in California that the wine has thrived. The vines have shown to be incredibly resilient, fighting off fungus, disease, old age and the government (aren’t they all the same?).
During Prohibition, while many vineyards were being torn up, small pockets of zinfandel continued to be nurtured. One with a cult following was “Black Chicken,” the code name Aldo Biale used for his zinfandel that local wine lovers could order along with their eggs and produce to keep from being harassed by the law. Today, Biale’s son has kept the tradition alive, paying tribute to his father’s courage with Robert Biale Black Chicken Zinfandel. Still made in tiny quantities, this is a rare treat if you can find it.
Zinfandel also has shown its toughness with vines today that are more than 100 years old. These vines look more like stubby little trees than vines, but the fruit they produce is magical.
While some wineries are trying to create lighter, more delicate zins, we prefer ours with some depth and richness to them. This is the style that made the wine what it is — why would you want to go away from what the people want?
So, as you’re paying tribute to our nation this Fourth of July, don’t forget to raise a glass of “our” wine.
KLINKERBRICK — ZINFANDEL, $17 Dark, brooding fruit fills the mouth with notes of blackberry, cassis and ripe cherries with hints of cocoa powder on the long, intense finish.
METTLER — ZINFANDEL, $20 There is no lack of fruit in this wonderful mouthful of fun. Exciting notes of black cherries, plum, tobacco and a kiss of dark chocolate lingers on the wonderful finish.
FOLIE A DEUX — ZINFANDEL, $12 Jammy dark fruit cascades over the palate with blueberry, cassis and espresso exposing a little cedar box spice on the invigorating finish.
JOEL GOTT — ZINFANDEL, $15 If there was ever a base line zinfandel to judge others by, this would be it. Not over the top with the fruit, it still shows distinctive varietal correctness. Aromas of wild blackberry jam and toasty oak work well with generous notes of blackberry, blueberry and plum with a gentle caress of mocha on the lengthy finish.
EARTHQUAKE — ZINFANDEL, $27 With a name like Earthquake, you know this isn’t going to be a wimpy wine. Bursting with intense notes of sweet briar fruit, bramble berry and raspberry, nutmeg and vanilla are sprinkled over the long, forceful finish.
OLD GHOST — ZINFANDEL, $40 Many wines use the term “old vines” on their label without really having any restriction as to what qualifies as such. In this case, the vines are gnarly, 100-year-old vines with trunks fatter than a man’s thighs. As they get older, they produce less fruit, resulting in much richer, intense fruit. This is truly a stunning wine, not for the faint of heart.
• Bruce Garfield, president of Cardinal Wine & Spirits in Crystal Lake; Jeremy Brock, general manager of Cardinal Wine & Spirits; and Scot Stadalsky, the wine guy at Cardinal Wine & Spirits, offer more than 70 years of combined experience in the wine and liquor industry to McHenry County.