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.
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).
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.
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:
A Wine Family’s Excellent Adventure
Four Brothers and Some Great Young Wines
Your Endless Crush Rosé
Enrique Varela Loves Malbec
This Geologist Knows His Italian
A Chardonnay For Your Mother (and You)
Don’t Dismiss the Peat
Distinctive Whisky Enters a New Era
A Whisky Legend Visits Houston
A Rare Cask, Indeed
Austin Whisky, Strange Name
Here’s Your Texas Rum Goddess
A ZaZa Wine Guy Loves Great Service
A Merlot That Your Snob Friend Will Love
French Couple Make a Sauvignon Blanc in California
A Perfect Afternoon Chardonnay
Terry Theise Talks Reisling
A New Wine Wonderland
Paris Wine Goddess Tells All
Rice Village Wine Bar Has a Cleveland Touch
A Texas White Blend for Your Table
A Pinot Noir Full of Flavor
This Pinot Gris From Oregon Pairs Well With Cheese
A Value Rioja
Underbelly Veteran Goes for Grenache
A Man of Letters and Wine
Ms. Champagne Wants a Nebuchadnezzar
The Wine Artist Goes for Chardonnay
This American Loves Spain and Its Wines
Houston’s Wine Whisperer Has a Soft Touch
Blackberry Farm’s Somm Pours in Splendor
Mr. Pinot Noir: Donald Patz of Patz & Hall
A Cork Dork Wants to Spend More Time in Tuscany
Sommelier Turned Restaurateur Daringly Goes Greek
Texas Master Sommelier Debunks Wine Geeks
A Bottle From Gigondas Changed This Houston Man’s Life
Oil Man Falls in Love, and the Rest is Good-Taste History
Ryan Cooper of Camerata is a Riesling Man
Mixing It Up With Jeremy Parzen, an Ambassador of Italy
Sommelier at One of Houston’s Top Wine Bars Loves Underdogs