This may come as news to some Americans, but California is not the only place that produces Zinfandel.
It’s true. Australia makes zin, as does Argentina and South Africa. And guess what? British Columbia has five Zinfandel producers in the Okanagan Valley alone.
Does that mean BC zinfandel poses a threat to the zintellenstia of the Golden State? Hardly. The California-based Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) website lists about 250 zin makers around the world, but probably 200 of them are in California. Not one BC winery is on that list. Right now, BC Zinfandels could not be further below the radar.
Being a zinhead from way back, I decided it was time to round up four of BC’s five or six zinfandels and compare them side by side to see how they match up with their American counterparts.
To the island! We headed to Mudge Island, between Gabriola and Vancouver Islands. Our friend Ruth Shamai and her partner Rob are building a house there and Ruth was planning to cook a lamb feast. I figured, what could be more perfect for a zinfandel tasting than with an elegant meal inside a construction site?
Actually, the house is quite finished, and looks beautiful, especially with Ruth’s new penny floor.
We gave the wines about 30 minutes to breathe and they continued to open up for the next 2 hours.
Covert Farms 2011 Zinfandel
This is the youngest of the bunch, having been introduced as a single varietal just this year. Organically grown at the Covert family farm in Oliver, it was the lightest wine, despite its 12% cabernet sauvignon.
The color is light red and clear. Its nose is kind of shy, but shows bright red fruit.
Covert was the raciest zin, with a TA of 7.4. Its bright red fruit is forward and persistent. t’s a bouncy and youthful zinfandel.
Ruth braised the lamb shanks in tomato sauce and McGuigan’s Black Label red.
How did the Covert pair with the Lamb? Nicely.
The wine’s acidity cut the meat’s protein like the knife we didn’t need to use. The lamb smoothed out the wine’s edginess and fervor like a kid glove. Very tasty.
Alcohol: 14.6% Retail: $25.
Mt Boucherie 2009 Family Reserve Zinfandel
In some ways, Mt Boucherie was the most characteristic BC zinfandel, although I would not call it jammy. Made from fruit grown in Cawston, in the Simillkameen Valley, it was quite elegant and balanced.
Its color is brick red with some transparency. The nose was floral and perfumy with notes of spice and bramble. When I taste bramble – the flavor of thorny wood – it just whispers “zinfandel.” Its spiciness is also zinny, and so is its feel of heat. You can smell the heat.
On the palate, there’s forward red raspberries and blackberries, brambly wood, sweet oak, pepper and spice, in a medium body and full mouthfeel. A nice rush of acidity punctuates the warm, spicy finish.
Excellent with the lamb.
14.8% alcohol, $39 at the winery
Inniskillin 2009 Discovery Series Zinfandel
Inniskillin winemaker Sandor Mayer started making this wine from the Bear Cub Vineyard grapes as part of a company experiment with zin, sangiovese and pinotage. It was the first BC zinfandel I ever tasted.
I had never noticed its sweetness before, but against the others this zin tastes quite sweet. The tech notes say 3.5 grams per liter. Sweetness plus 15% alcohol creates a balance typical of California zins known as fruitbomb.
The color is dark red with a little transparency. Its nose has sweet black fruit and herbal notes. The body is big and full, the texture soft and plush. Sweet oak comes through mid palate on a wave of blackberries and chocolate. It’s a rich, brooding wine with soft tannins and a long, strong finish.
Alas, this one did not taste good with the lamb. Too sweet, too oaky.
However, Ruth made a blackberry pie from Gabriola Island roadside blackberries. The pie and our dark chocolates with hazelnuts made the Inniskillin zin sing an aria.
15% alcohol, $26 VQA
Rustico 2009 Bonanza Old Vine Zinfandel
“Here in the west we’re livin’ the best – Bonanza!”
Sorry, I just have to invoke the Cartwright family when writing about Rustico winery. The wines make me want to cowboy up every time.
Made from grapes grown near Oliver, this is the brawniest BC zinfandel in our lineup. The nose has toasty black fruit, spice and oak. In the mouth it was big, bold and earthy with ripe, integrated black fruit and bramble notes on a soft mouthfeel. The finish is long and earthy with a bit of steeliness in the fruit.
Ruth said it was “Beautiful; a true zin.”
It too paired well with the lamb, but was too dry for the pie.
14.3% alcohol, $35 at winery
So, there you go. Four BC Zinfandel rounded up and compared and paired with lamb, proving that the Okanagan Valley can produce zins almost as good as California. With global warming, we should see the fruit bomb effect soon enough.
Zinfanatics, please tell me what you think. Do you like BC Zinfandels?