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A Love Letter to Zin on National Red Wine Day!

Here I was thinking conversations on Chardonnay were polarizing......

Zinfandel might just have the golden child beat in that department & then some. This red grape varietal is notorious for being a fruit bombshell: spiced plums, juicy blackberries, and strawberry jam come to mind as flavor profile descriptors. While that fruit forward nature can be appealing to the masses, its overall vibe can rub some palates the wrong way. I'm the kind of person who prefers my reds to vibe on the side of subtlety & reservation, and Zinfandel is often anything but a wallflower in the glass. Its propensity to ripen early & high sugar levels result in a boozy (cause the more sugar for the yeast to eat, the more alcohol created) take on the variety throughout the New World growing wine regions.

While it had been touted as an "American" grape varietal made famous by California, the lineage of Zinfandel had long been shrouded in mystery. In 1994, Dr. Carole Meredith & a team of researchers at UC Davis found that Zinfandel is genetically identical to Tribidrag of Croatia & Primitivo of Southern Italy. The EU has since recognized Zinfandel as a legal synonym for Primitivo in lieu of this discovery. The name Primitivo comes from the Latin root word Primativus & "Primaticcio" an Italian term, both of which mean "early ripener" or "first to ripen"----further evidence of Zinfandel's habits in the vineyard. These twins to the American version of Zinfandel that found infamy in California tend to lean into juicier & fresher fruit tones.

Possibly the only Zin you need to worry about!

Common regions to note when you are shopping for Zinfandel here stateside or when you are overseas experiencing one of its identical twins:

  • Puglia, Italy (Primitivo)

  • Croatia (Tribidrag or Crljenak)

  • Lodi, California (some of the oldest vines of Zinfandel!)

  • North Coast, California

  • Sierra Foothills, California

FUN FACT: The sweet pink libation that rose in prominence in the 1970s, White Zinfandel, was created entirely on accident via Sutter Home's Rosé getting stuck mid-fermentation----the yeast didn't eat all the sugars, resulting in a sweeter final product.

I've been reminded the past couple of months that Zinfandel doesn't always have to be cranked up to 100 in the fruit department. When done right, Zin can be a glorious marriage of developed fruit tones and big, bold tannins that make you feel as if you've been wrapped in velvet. Terra D'Oro Winery (TDO) is a small producer I discovered this year that is echoing that idea and changing the tune consumers sing about Zinfandel. Terra D'Oro Winery was established during the Prohibition era by OG winemaker Cary Gott with a renewed focus on quality Zinfandel production & a shocking knack for working with Italian grape varietals. While the business has grown and gone through many changes including an acquisition by Trinchero Family Estates, the goal has not changed when it comes to the wines they create.

The work that TDO is doing in Amador County, a little pocket within the Sierra Foothills, is in my opinion, world class. "Putting some respect on Zinfandel's name" should be their slogan, truly. Much of their finesse can be attributed to an intimate understanding of this grape's inherent nature & the damn near mystical touch from their current winemaker, Emily Haines. The TDO Zinfandel is carefully picked at nighttime (picking in the cooler parts of the day helps to preserve acidity in the grapes!) from the estate vineyards then pressed for juice & fermented in stainless steel before seeing any oak integration. The freshness that is maintained through the fermentation process is what allows this Zinfandel to be big in style but have a much tamer fruit structure. I also suspect that Emily is taking advantage of the fact that Zinfandel not only ripens early but will also ripen unevenly which leads to these flecks of white fruit notes on the palate to keep things interesting. While I don't often take wine ratings into consideration when choosing a bottle to drink, James Suckling did award the wine a much deserved 91 points for the 2020 vintage!

FUN FACT: Amador County was actually heavily associated with the gold rush hence the golden mining axe on the label.

Burgers on National Wine Day

I got to taste through a few sample bottles of this Zinfandel and even got to taste the 2019 & 2020 vintages side by side to really get a feel for what flavors would pair best with it. There are distinct notes of not quite peach preserves but more like stewed apricots, and Chinese five spice that accent the firm tannins on the palate. The pairing potential honestly felt endless. I bounced back & forth between something adventurous like Korean BBQ ribs to a left field pumpkin pie pairing because the wine is so food friendly. I settled on burgers as the side car for my wine glass. I wanted to riff on the idea of Zinfandel being seen as an American varietal--------and what's more American than a burger? Sandwiched between toasted brioche buns were juicy ground beef patties with caramelized onions & salty-garlicky cheeses that the TDO Zinfandel seemed to caress lovingly when the two tangoed on my palate. I'll be craving this for the next century & will not tolerate any judgement regarding the matter, thank you very much! Of course, I'll share the ingredients so you can make your own.... or make one for me so I can skip a step, ha!

  • 1/4 lb Angus Beef Patties x2 (prepared to your liking)

  • Brioche Buns

  • Caramelized Onions (thinly sliced red onions deglazed with TDO Zinfandel & finished with balsamic glaze)

  • Boursin Garlic & Herb Cheese (the chive flavor would also work, just add garlic puree to it!)

  • Smoked White Cheddar Cheese

  • Heirloom Tomato (sliced)

  • Bibb Lettuce

The Amador County Zinfandel was just the first stop of many as we explore this producer. Be sure to stay tuned to the blog for interviews with the winemaker & highlights on the other wines in the TDO portfolio!

Happy National Red Wine Day from Terra D'Oro & The Certified Wino!

You can really reign in the holiday today & through the rest of the year using my discount code BRION15 at checkout for 15% off all your bottle purchases on the Terra D'Oro Winery website.


The Certified Wino

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Jan Harrod
Jan Harrod
Aug 29, 2023

The wine info is always interesting for sure, but that burger is KILLER!! ;)

Aug 30, 2023
Replying to

Haha thanks Jan! It was sooooo good <3

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