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The Perfect Wine to Pair With Hamburgers

This Fascinating Couple Knows That Grapes Needn’t be Fussy

BY // 08.10.18

Zinfandel is a grape with a fascinating history. Genetically, it is identical to Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag, which hail from Croatia, and to the Primitivo variety long grown in Apulia. It has probably been grown longer in Croatia than anywhere else, though the phylloxera epidemic wiped it out in that country. In 2001, scientists determined that Crljenak grapes growing in a vineyard on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast were indeed Zinfandel.

Crljenak Kaštelanski, which means “red grape of Kaštela,” referring to the area in which they were found, is now famous in the wine world.

California is another word uttered alongside Zinfandel, of course, and it’s speculated that the vine made its way to the state via Vienna, after an unsuccessful introduction to the East Coast, where nurserymen and horticulturists attempted to grow it in greenhouses. (Sources state that one George Gibbs of Long Island may have been the first person in the New World to get his hands on Zinfandel, having received shipments of grapes from Europe between 1820 and 1829.)

The Gold Rush spurred countless numbers of men and women to head west, and some of them took Zinfandel with them in the 1850s. By the end of the 19th century, it was the most widely grown variety in California.

Zinfandel has had its ups and downs in the Golden State, which I won’t go into here, but its tale is fascinating. (Take some time to read about John W. Osborne, Bob Trinchero, and White Zinfandel and you’ll likely agree with me.) Which brings me to the 2016 Cline Family Ancient Vines Zinfandel, which I tasted recently.

A couple of wine: Nancy and Fred Cline. (Courtesy Cline Family Cellars)

Fred and Nancy Cline (a fascinating couple indeed) and winemaker Charlie Tsegeletos tend to a collection of old Zinfandel vines (some were planted 100 years ago), and grapes from those Contra Costa County ur-vines make up 94 percent of the wine, which is vibrant and will give you raspberry and cherry aromas with aplomb. These dry-farmed vines are marked by, among other things, low yields, which result in fruit of remarkable concentration and character (drink this now, or cellar it and taste in 2022).

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The 2016 saw seven months in American oak, giving the wine a subtle vanilla note, which my tasting panel found pleasant. The spiciness of warm-climate Zinfandel is also notable here, as well as a touch of licorice and strawberry. I had marinated some lamb chops in olive oil (along with garlic and basil leaves), and the Cline Zinfandel paired with them perfectly (we grilled the chops over flame, and the garlic and basil made the deeper flavors of the wine sing).

Like hamburgers and wine? This bottle is ideal. Bonus: I did not expect this, but there is a minerality in this wine that surprises and complements the subtle tannins.

Pair this with lamb chops or hamburgers.

The Ancient Vines Zinfandel retails for $14.99, and at that price a case is recommended. We tasted immediately upon corking, then after 20 or so minutes of opening, a time period that seemed to increase the licorice note. There is two percent Carignane in the 2016, and alcohol is 15 percent.

Take a look at this video for a look at the vines and their environment:

Want more wine stories? Check out PaperCity’s grape and spirits library:

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