Zinfandel is wine’s wild child, and Sonoma County’s wide diversity of hills and swales, of climate range, gives this swashbuckling variety the opportunity to show itself in all of its many guises. It does best on shallow, rocky, mountain top soils, where the variety’s tendency toward uneven ripening can be harnessed.
In Sonoma County you will see Zinfandel expressing its brash self most often in Sonoma Valley and Dry Creek Valley, but it’s there on Sonoma Mountain and the Russian River Valley, in Chalk Hill, along the ridges of Alexander Valley, on over the hill in Knights Valley as well. Zinfandel has been grown in California since the 1850s and was originally was from Croatia. Today in Sonoma County there are still vines that are over 100 years-old. For more information about Old Vine Zinfandel, view the May “Wine-Grape Chronicle" video on this website, or the Old Vine Zinfandel article.
Some make the wine light and fruity, others go for Cabernet Sauvignon-like substance, and those of the sweet tooth cadre employ the grape for a Port-like dessert wine. Raspberry and blackberry fruit of berry patch freshness are often at the core of Sonoma County Zins, but you’ll also see these reds show Cabernet-like notes of black currant and cassis. Black pepper is a spicy quality that is almost a constant with the variety, even as it goes into the dessert wine category. Hillside fruit can show a tart, tangy blueberry character that is utterly charming.
Zinfandel’s array of stylistic expression makes it amenable to a vast range of foods, from burritos to steak, from burgers to the spiciest of sausages. Going on a picnic? Zin’s good to go. Putting out the good silver? Zinfandel can handle sophistication just fine. And when the cheese tray is ready, so is the Zinfandel. Sonoma County Zinfandel, that is.