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Olly Smith on his ‘zen moment’ with Zinfandel

OLLY SMITH: Despite its reputation, Zinfandel can be silky and elegiac rather than a mere brute

Zinfandel is a butch, domineering, shuddering brute of a wine grape – or so some say. While it’s fair to say that Zinfandel ranks among bolder flavoured red wines, to shun it like it’s an angry ogre with rabies has always seemed a little much to me. At this time of the year, I find it can be as surprisingly warm as a hairdryer powered by the tropics. 

Zinfandel is the same grape as the less famous Italian Primitivo or Croatian Tribidrag and it’s become the emblematic grape of America. In part, this is down to its undeniable success making fruity sweet rosé – which to wine snobs is an affront, but to those who love it, just a tasty way to unwind. 

The reds from this grape have a reputation for enormity but not all of them are as hotly boozy as inhaling aftershave – for elegance, try Broc Vine Starr Sonoma County Zinfandel 2015 (13.5%) £22 from The Wine Society. 

My zen moment with zin came during a visit to Napa’s Frog’s Leap in California. Against a backdrop of environmental sustainability I tasted a wine that was silky, elegiac and game-changing – Waitrose Cellar online stocks the 2016 vintage for £24.99. A bold bit of poetry rather than a rambling epic, it reminds me that zinfandel’s grip can be a handshake rather than a heart attack. 

Old vines in particular seem to produce wines that are more mellow in their profundity. You can also find good blends from top producers such as Ridge with their 2016 Geyserville Zinfandel-led blend £39.60 from Majestic which in spite of the hefty price is well worth a splurge for a Christmas treat this year. But if it’s big as well as beautiful you want, dive into 1000 Stories recommended below – aged in Bourbon casks it’s about as USA as wine gets, proudly flying the flag for memorability and mightiness. 

You can’t help but feel captivated by its brooding presence thanks to some masterful wine-fettling by Bob Blue. At last the brute is tamed.