Most wine 101ers have crossed their arms over their chests in a virtual poo-pooing of White Zinfandel. Sure, your mom and that one friend that must have something pink and sweet and savored over ice still drinks it, but that doesn’t give it nearly the respect it deserves for propelling the California wine industry forward during the mid-80s.
Starting at Napa Valley’s Sutter Home winery tasting room, during one of my earliest visits to the area, I learned first hand the power of White Zin. I asked for a taste of Zinfandel and was poured their White Zin in error. I looked at their wine server in surprise, then I turned and looked around me: it was a sea of pink.
“We got a bright idea, after a couple of glasses of wine,” says Bob. “It seemed the consumer wanted something besides what we were giving them, but how do you know what the consumer wants? We looked at the wines we were making, and this thing called white Zinfandel seemed to be the only wine we had a shortage of.” Louis “Bob” Trinchero, co-founder of Sutter Home.(Get the full story here: Wine Spectator, May 1994, http://www.winespectator.com/magazine/show/id/6117)
And White Zin’s popularity continues today. I interviewed the head sommelier on a cruise ship a couple of years ago and of the many things I learned, one shouldn’t have been a surprise but was: The number one selling wine on a cruise ship is White Zinfandel.
In my own “wine enlightenment” I never got into White Zin, however I could easily recommend a French or American rosé to anyone in need. I explained that a rosé will be less sweet but more floral, and that seems to do the trick in fooling white zin-hungry pals. The real trick being that in my own little way I feel that I’m helping to bring the masses over to rosé.
With that said, I do make sure not to poo-poo someone’s tastes. And frankly, if it weren’t for the rise of White Zin being served to large crowds at Sutter Home’s Napa tasting rooms would Highway 29, and its sister road, the Silverado Trail, have grown in popularity when it did? Sure, now you can’t go on any day but a weekday, and the Silverado Trail is more desirable to those trying to avoid crowds, but would we give up wine tasting trips altogether because of it? Like here in Santa Clarita, the town of NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard), do we just want to get in on a great place to live (or a great winery to visit) and then close the gates on anyone else looking for the same? I hope not.
We’ve come far since the 80s; it’s not just about White Zin anymore at all. I no longer have to have to clarify red over white, finally, when ordering Zinfandel in a restaurant. And, on the other hand, my husband actually prefers the stuff to Marsala when he makes his famous Chicken Marsala as he says Marsala is too sweet.
And we’ve even learned that White Zin, through our own local newspaper, doesn’t grow on…vines. (The article was since corrected when someone enlightened the editor, that there is no White Zin grape: http://www.signalscv.com/archives/114630)
So give that White Zin some respect. Drink it or not, but at least credit it for getting wine into more hands which I truly believe serves us all.
(Editor’s note: Lest the reader think that all White Zinfandels are sugar bombs, premier Zinfandel producer Turley Wine Cellars has started producing a dry White Zinfandel that is in the style that Eve — and I — prefer. And, thanks to the demand that Sutter Home created, a lot of Zinfandel vines were saved that would otherwise have been torn out for more profitable varietals.]
Eve Bushman has been reading, writing, taking coursework and tasting wine for over 20 years. She has obtained a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, has been the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video, authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and recently served as a guest judge for the L.A. International Wine Competition. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits that may be answered in a future column. You can also seek her marketing advice via Eve@EveBushmanConsulting.com