by Fred McMillin
for December 29, 1998


From Bordeaux to Bombshells


1884—"When grown in the proper soil in well-drained hillsides, Zinfandel yields Bordeaux finesse, flavor and bouquet."

...Charles Wetmore, California's first Chief Viticultural Officer

1970—"Excited by their discovery that the Zinfandel could make varietal rather than jug wines, California winemakers exploited its abundant berries-&-spice flavors to a fault, creating 16% alcohol bombshells."

...David Darlington, author of the Zinfandel book Angels' Visits

However, the bombshells bombed. Critic Bob Thompson noted that "Americans quit drinking Zinfandel for 15 years." So the vintners changed. Bordeaux balance became the role model. By 1991, Fredric Koeppel would write California was finally producing a wine "with depth and fruit qualities that seem more like Cabernet Sauvignon than Zinfandel."

Typical of the transition was the Peachy Canyon Winery. Readers of the Oct. 26, 1998 WineDay know that Doug Beckett said that in the early '80s they were "gorilla winemakers." They switched to a lighter style with great success. To see how successfully, we put another bottle of that Oct. 26 Zin against three Haut Medoc reds in the same price range, all tasted blind. The Peachy Canyon did well, receiving a 6% higher rating than the best of the Bordeauxs. Here's the wine.

The Wine

Zinfandel Cookbook 1996 Zinfandel, Westside, Paso Robles
Peachy Canyon Winery on Peachy Canyon Road
Food Affinities—Call Margaret Smith for a copy of the Zinfandel Cookbook, (pictured) (800) 600-9086...Blue Ribbon Chili...Moroccan Lamb Shanks...Bittersweet Chocolate Cake...a bargain at $14.95.
Wine Contact—(805) 237-1577


About food affinities, there's a chef who strongly favors the berry-spice of Zinfandel with his particular cuisine. The food is Cajian and the chef is Paul Prudhomme.

Credits: Old newsletters of Robert Lawrence Balzer covering early Zinfandels.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.



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