ZAP! The Terroir Experiment

Terroir is one of those fun, French words, which autocorrects to “terror,” and is often bandied about with wild abandon by wine “connoisseurs”.

In essence, terroir (pronounced Tear-wahh, with a dash of elitism and a flick of the wrist) is the idea that wines have a distinct, tasteable “somewhere-ness” that comes from unique geographic surroundings.  For example, it’s the idea that soil type+grape variety+microclimate+magical herbs nearby+wind+etc all contribute to the final flavors and aromas of a wine, as opposed to the more simplistic soil+grape variety=wine.

It might seem silly, but I’m a firm believer in the existence of the terroir concept/myth/idea/theory even across tiny geographic areas like Northern California. In fact, I think you can taste the terroir concept over just a handful of wines.


Naturally, Turley made an appearance.

Last week, I swirled, sipped, and swallowed a veritable pile of Zins at the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (affectionately known as ZAP) tasting, and the differences were astounding.  It’s important to note that these were pricey zins as well–$40 and up, roughly, because it’s hard to compare terroir between $10 bottles and $100 bottles because the grapes are just plain different. (It’s like comparing that cute mutt to a purebred Doberman…both loveable, but just plain different breeds)

The Zin grape itself is an interesting breed too–it was always thought to be distinctly American, but new research shows it’s an ancient Croatian grape variety with a wildly complicated name, that American computers can’t even type.  It was originally planted across the Golden State by early Italian immigrants, and continues to be a star here.  Generally, it’s super fruity, bold, and full-bodied–the perfect wine for BBQ or wet spring days.

The 2013 Cline Ancient Vine Zinfandel from Contra Costa county was my pick for the classic, BBQ-friendly Zin. The color was straight up Harvard Crimson, with tons of red licorice and childhood on the nose.  Tart red fruit like dried cherry and cranberry dominated the palate, alongside peppery spice.

My favorite, and an example of the field-blend style of Zinfandel (aka a blend of wine grapes interplanted in a Zin-heavy vineyard, and vinified together) was the 2012 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville from Sonoma County. On the nose, this had all the berry aromas of fancy hard candies–blackberry, raspberry, plum, wildflowers and was just as awesome on the palate where savory herbal tones joined in the dark fruit party.


Zinfandel & Terroir Uncorked:

Laura Loves: Broc Cellars Vine Starr Zinfandel, for a smooth lighter-bodied take on the heavy hitting zin.

Bubo Old Vine Zin! Spending $5 on a bottle never tasted so good! Plum, raspberry, and vanilla with a bright critter label and a downright killer price. Thanks, Whole Foods.

ZAP which brings together great grapes and people! Check out more of their events here.

Fun Facts: The oldest Zinfandel vineyard in the country was planted in 1869, and is still producing grapes in Amador County, California.

The sweet, infamous White Zinfandel outsells the regular red stuff by six times in the United states.

Zinfandels are often part of field blends–or mixed plantings like wildflowers, so the wines can vary insanely.

Discover Terroir at Home:  Go to the store and buy three or four Zinfandels (or any grape variety) in the same price range.  Go home and open them all at the same time–yes, open all four even if you’re the only one drinking…trust me, I do it all the time. Smell everything without tasting anything. Notice how the wines are different (or the same). Smell and taste each wine, again noticing the differences and your favorites. Drink all the wines starting with your favorite.


  • February 9, 2015
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