Food & Wine

Zinfandel School – Learning about a California wine favourite

March 14, 2016
California Zinfandel

I love a lot of California wines but I have a soft spot for really good Zinfandel, so I was so excited to receive an invitation to attend iYellow Wine School’s recent Zinfandel class. Two hours dedicated to sipping one of my favourite grapes? Yes, please.

Gallo Family White ZinfandelWe started the class with a wine that hides in my shameful pre-wine-school past: white Zinfandel. Most of the Zinfandel in California is grown to make this super sweet pink sipper and it remains hugely popular, despite my palate having long outgrown it. But I do understand that some people really enjoy it and, hey, I used to drink Arbour Mist before I decided to learn about wine, so who am I to judge? Angela Aiello did a really good job of presenting two white Zinfandels (a Beringer and a Gallo) to showcase two different styles both in colour and flavour profile. It’s a tool to introduce the subject of maceration, but done in way that makes those who love white Zin know that it’s OK, you’re in a wine judgement free zone here. I kind of love that about iYellow events.

From white Zin we quickly moved on to five red Zins. We start out with another Beringer, the 2013 Founders’ Estate Zinfandel, which has vanilla, dark red fruit, pepper and smoke on the nose and, while fruit forward on the palate, has a bit of a mushroomy note to it. An affordable medium-bodied wine with six months in oak, this one was not to my tastes.

Ravenswood Old Vines ZinfandelUp next is the 2013 Ravenswood Old Vines Zinfandel, a wine that I call my “cola wine” because, if left to my own devices, I could knock this back like a glass of soda. With 10 months in French and American oak, it has a nose of smoked meat, dark red fruit and wet soil. There are baking spices and deep red fruit on the palate and it’s definitely an easy-drinker.


Kenwood Vineyards ZinfandelWe followed this one with the 2013 Kenwood Zinfandel, which has 20 months in oak and notes of tar, earth, chocolate and mocha on the nose. This is a more savoury Zinfandel with herbaceous notes cutting through the red fruit on the palate.

After a cheese break to refresh our palates and give us some time to chat about the first wines, we move on to the last two wines, which are much bigger and bolder in style.

The 2014 McManis Zinfandel from Lodi, California has chocolate, tobacco, pepper and dark red fruit on the nose. At 14 percent, this is a big wine and it’s got tons of fruit on the palate to showcase that. With its rich mouthfeel and burst of dark red fruits on the palate (lots of raspberry here), this has me looking very forward to my upcoming visit to Lodi.

McManis Family Vineyards ZinfandelWe finished up with one that’s familiar to anyone who has gone to the LCBO Vintages section looking for a Zinfandel. The 7 Deadly Zins is well-known for its fun name and big, full-bodied Zinfandel experience. With smoked meat, chocolate and cherry on the nose, this has great promise, but I honestly find it much too hot for my tastes. I found the McManis to be more balanced, even though it also had a very high alcohol content.

My favouite locally-available Zinfandel is from Liberty School in Paso Robles, so I was disappointed not to have that one on our tasting list, but this was a great chance to try some new-to-me Zinfandels and chat about wine with my friendly and fun tablemates. iYellow makes learning about wine a really fun experience and I left that night having learned a little more and met some great people. A win-win.

Want to try more of California’s finest? The California Wine Fair will be in Canada this April – you can find more information and a list of cities on the tour here:

Many thanks to iYellow Wine Club and Wines of California Canada for the invitation to this event. All opinions, especially the judge-y ones about white Zinfandel are my own.

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  • Reply The Gourmez March 15, 2016 at 1:52 am

    I love that they included white zinfandels! Honestly, I think I need more wine education on them myself, and when I waited tables, they were still very popular. I may have to fight you on the Beringer, though. I quite enjoy it. 😉

    • Reply krista March 16, 2016 at 7:19 am

      I think it’s great that they included white zin too, even if it’s not my thing. Lots of people do enjoy it, I just find it so sweet these days. Not sure what was up with the Beringer – could have just been the bottle we had that night, but definitely not working for me. I’ve had some of their wines that I really like, though.

  • Reply Anne Louise Bannon March 15, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    I’d like to think white zins are getting better. You can make a perfectly lovely dry rose of zinfandel, although I don’t think I’ve tried one. I’d like to. As for your “cola wine,” Krista, that’s one of the reasons zins can knock you on your backside. Of course, back in the day, the wineries were making them insanely hot, alcohol-wise, 15 percent and even higher. They were fruit bombs that tasted harsh and extremely jammy. Hence my assertion that jam belongs on toast, not in my glass. I’m so glad winemakers are backing off that profile, because a nice lighter zin is very tasty.

    • Reply krista March 16, 2016 at 7:23 am

      I think the quality has improved for sure (especially if you’re not buying the super cheap ones), I just tend to gravitate towards Moscato d’Asti or a Moscato these days if I want a sweeter rosé. I totally get why people like White Zinfandel, it’s just not something that works for me so much. Would happily try more, though, if there were any really good ones available here. As for the big zins, I’ve definitely felt that kick more than once! I like the Liberty School one because it’s not as hot. The Ravenswood is pretty balanced too, but it’s so easy drinking that it’s easy to drink too fast, hence why we don’t keep it in the house all that often. 🙂

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