The True Color Of Zinfandel

When it comes to wine, many people will jokingly tell you that there are just two kinds: red and white. It is true that varietals, all 7,000 plus of them, can be broken down to light skinned and dark skinned grapes, but that does not answer the question of where pink wines come from. Blush wines, also known as Rosé, have been popular since the mid 1960's. Today, dry Rosé wines are experiencing a resurgence, but for many decades the leading style of blush was a sweet table wine, personified by the astounding popularity of White Zinfandel. None of this, however, answers the question of where exactly blush wine comes from.

The color of red wines comes from the skins themselves. Part of that color is determined by the thickness of the skins - one of the reason why some of the heartiest Cabernet Sauvignons also have a color so red as to resemble a dark purple - and part of the color comes from how long the skins stay in contact with the wine. Blush wine is made from red grapes being pressed and allowing the skins to stay in the juice just long enough to impart a little bit of color before they are strained. It seems surprising to most people, because they tend to associate white wines with being sweeter, and yet anyone who has had White Zinfandel will tell you, blush wines tend to be some of the sweetest wines on the market.

The history of White Zinfandel goes back to at least the 1860's when a California winemaker in Lodi released a Rosé made from Zinfandel grapes. At the time, however, most Rosé wines were simply labeled as blush table wines and the varietal used was rarely noted. It was not until the 1970's when California winemakers began to experiment with using Zinfandel grapes again. This was due in part to the fact that Zinfandel was planted in vineyards all across the state, but the popularity of it had dropped dramatically. Stuck with an excess harvest, winemakers had to do something with all the grapes.

A happy accident in 1975 changed everything. A stuck fermentation - what happens when the yeast dies before all the sugar is consumed - resulted in an overly sweet blush that the winemakers preferred. They created the term White Zinfandel to separate it from other blush wines, and it quickly became one of the most popular California wines, accounting for 10% of all wine sold from the state.

Not only did this stop vineyards from ripping out their old growth Zinfandel vines, it also reignited interest in traditional Zinfandel. Today it has become a popular choice among wine lovers, especially as the perfect pairing for hearty meals and is a staple at the finest steak houses around the country.

Jack Terry is a freelance writer who has been covering the food and beverage industry for over 20 years.

This article was published on 27 May 2015 and has been viewed 463 times
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