What Color is Your Zin?
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed Sept. 28, 2005. For more information go to wineloverspage.com
If you answered "white" to this trick question, you're probably not a wine "geek," but you're certainly not alone: White Zinfandel is the third-largest-selling varietal wine in U.S. food stores, according to a fact sheet that came in today from the California Wine Institute.
White Zin, of course, is not a grape variety but a style of wine - most often pink, not white - that's made by crushing red Zinfandel grapes but removing the skins before they've had time to impart more than an embarrassed blushing color to the wine.
White Zin trails only Chardonnay and Merlot in the supermarket sweepstakes, although the chances are that it ranks much farther back in the pack at the fine-wine shops where more serious wine enthusiasts congregate. Its low-end popularity certainly makes it a money wine for the industry, though, and it's no coincidence that many restaurateurs feel compelled to spell out that the Zinfandel on the wine list is red.
In view of the popularity of White Zin and other, similar "blush" wines, are wine lovers who disdain this pink, low-acid and sweetish style merely being snobs? Well, not exactly. With apologies to anyone in the audience who enjoys a glass of "blush" - and there are millions of fans, particularly among those who haven't acquired a taste for the dry, acidic and sometimes astringent style of traditional table wines - the problem isn't entirely with the style. It's certainly possible to make a quality pink wine from white grapes, a crisp table wine with clean, true fruit flavor and snappy, food-friendly structure. It's done all the time in Provence and spottily elsewhere around the world, and such wines don't even have to be bone-dry.
In practice, though, with blush wine as with so many other consumer products, the marketplace - particularly industrial producers - seems to see no reason to make a smart version when a dumbed-down one will sell.
That's today's story, and I'm sticking to it. If I want a pink wine, I'll drink a Provence rose or a dry rose of similar quality and style from California, Australia, Italy or Spain. And if I want Zinfandel, I'm drinking the real thing.