WHAT: Many of the wines I drank 40 years ago are difficult or impossible to find today, mostly because of changing tastes of wine drinkers. But this classic White Zinfandel is still going strong.
To mark the 40th anniversary of Sutter Home’s first release of White Zin, which got the craze started, the winery has created a special label with a stylized American flag. It would be a great wine with any Fourth of July celebrations.
This is not a wine made for wine critics or snobs. Some wine drinkers look down their noses at White Zin, but if it hadn’t been for its popularity, many Zinfandel vines might have been destroyed. After I got past my Ripple and Boone’s Farm phase I jumped into Rosé wines like Mateus and Sutter Home and never looked back.
I wasn’t alone, because White Zinfandel zoomed in popularity during the 1980s.
The wine is soft, very approachable and affordable. There’s no pretense about this wine; it just tastes good. In the glass it is a very pretty pink with delicate floral and berry aromas. On the palate it is medium sweet with creamy strawberry and melon flavors. Despite the sweetness, the finish is fresh and crisp.
You can enjoy it by itself or with food, or even mixed in a cocktail.
WINERY: The Sutter Home Winery was founded in 1890 and closed during Prohibition. Mario Trinchero moved his family from New York and purchased it in 1948. The family still owns the winery. Mario’s son Bob developed a passion for Zinfandel. In 1972, he experimented with ways to improve his popular Amador County Zinfandel. He tried a French method of drawing off some of the free-run juice from the skins before fermentation to increase the effect of compounds in the grape skins on the rest of the wine. The skins add color and body to wine.
Bob enjoyed French Rosés, so he made a similar wine with the excess juice. He fermented the free-run juice and barrel-aged it. Trinchero called it Oeil de Perdrix (Eye of the Partridge), a French term used to describe white wine made from red grapes. Then, in 1975, fermentation of the Rosé stalled before all the grape sugar could be converted into alcohol. When he could not restart the fermentation, Trinchero bottled it with the residual sugar and called it White Zinfandel.
The wine became a huge hit and spawned an army of imitators. The new name and slight increase in sugar had customers clamoring for more. People had a wine they liked and a name they could pronounce, and they started buying bottles, then cases.
During the 1980s, Sutter Home White Zinfandel became the single most popular premium wine in the United States with sales growing from 25,000 cases in 1981 to more than 4.5 million by 1987. The winery says during the past 40 years the wine has represented more than $6 billion in U.S. retail sales.
An original Sutter Home bottle even is in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., with the story of what Bob Trinchero calls the “Divine Intervention” that led to the sweeter White Zinfandel.
Sutter Home seems to have a good feel for American wine tastes, producing sweet Moscato long before it became a cool drink. They offer Bubbly Pink Moscato, Red Moscato and a range of 20 varietals.
When asked about the secret of his success, Bob says simply, “There is really no big secret. Give your customers what they want at a fair price. If we would have listened to the wine critics years ago, we would have never made White Zinfandel, but our customers wanted it, and that was good enough for us.”
If you are in California on July 25, you might stop by the Sutter Home Winery in St. Helena in Napa Valley. The family will celebrate the 40th anniversary of White Zinfandel with a party from 5-7 p.m. They’re even encouraging visitors to break out their 1970s clothes. I wonder if I can still find my bell bottoms and wide white belt?
GOES WITH: We had this with a rotisserie chicken my wife, Teri, picked up at the grocery store. I have a rotisserie cooker and love to make chicken in it, but it takes so long, it’s usually easier to buy one. And we usually have enough chicken for dinner one night and sandwiches for lunch.
We added baked potatoes, creamed corn and big salads to round out the meal. It was a nice combination with the wine, which is versatile but a little tricky. The sweetness of the wine makes it tough to pair with some cream sauces or herb rubs on poultry.
It would be good with fried chicken, grilled chicken, cold seafood and light cheeses. It would be especially good with spicy Asian, Indian or Latin dishes. It’s perfect for sipping by itself on hot summer evenings.
Serve it well chilled.