White Zinfandel is the gateway wine for many wine drinkers, an introduction to wine through the light, pink, and delicious accident of winemaking often leads people to try the harder stuff; Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, that other Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

In a future article, I’ll talk about that path to the hard stuff, to Cabernet Sauvignon, but today is all about White Zinfandel.

Zinfandel is a red grape and is used to make the red wine Zinfandel. Squeezing almost any red grape, including the Zinfandel grape produces a clear juice. It is by putting the skins back in contact with the juice during fermentation, sometimes aided by punching the skins down into the juice or pumping the juice over the skins, that the color from the skins is imparted to the juice. This is, in short, how red wine becomes red.

Although there is some evidence that Zinfandel may have been made into a White Zinfandel as early as 1869 in Lodi, CA; Sutter Home Winery in the  Napa Valley is generally credited with making the White Zinfandel you are familiar with in the 1970’s, quite by accident.

Sutter Home had already been making a clear juice white wine from Zinfandel grapes, fermented to dryness in the early 1970’s, which tasted nothing like what you are familiar with today, but was called white Zinfandel.

Alcohol occurs during the fermentation of grape juice into wine when yeasts consume and convert sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

In 1975, Sutter Home has some Zinfandel juice experience a stuck fermentation, where the yeast just stopped consuming sugar. The result was considered to be defective, sweeter and lower in alcohol than desired. The odd wine was put aside for possible blending into other wines later. Before blending, a winemaker tasted the sweet, lower alcohol, pink wine and liked the taste. Thus was born the White Zinfandel everyone is familiar with today.

Sutter Home Winery is the creator of White Zinfandel…by accident.

Now wineries can stop the fermentation cold, literally; freezing the outside of the tank can stop the fermentation process inside the tank. White Zinfandels can be made with very high sugar and low alcohol or very low sugar and high alcohol, or any point in between.

I drink Zinfandel, the original red wine. I do not drink White Zinfandel with much frequency. The reason I drink Zinfandel instead of White Zinfandel is a matter of preference. I prefer all dry red wines to all sweet white and rosé wines. But I do drink sweet white, rosé and White Zinfandel on occasion – often because they are the perfect wine for a pairing.

I found a video with a wine knowledgeable gal spouting some of the most foolishly snobby declarations; she actually spent time to create a video dedicated to putting down White Zinfandel and people who enjoy White Zinfandel. I am saddened to say that she is not alone in her superior attitude. I have written before of my disappointment with the job the wine industry does marketing its product and with the wine writers writing for each other, out snobbing each other, instead of writing for regular folks – there are in fact some very good, unpretentious wine writers out there, but too few make it to print in my opinion.

Snobby wine gal video: http://www.ehow.com/video_2290320_why-avoid-drinking-white-zinfandel.html

Sutter Home claims that 1 in every 10 wine bottles opened in America, a full 10%, is White Zinfandel. Many of the most expensive Champagnes in France are a rosé bubbly. I find the wine snob attitude, a tendency to look down on “lDanesser” wines and the people who enjoy them, is usually from people who think they know wine – but don’t.

People new to wine appreciate the accessibility of White Zinfandel, it is easily enjoyed. People who have been around the industry a long time appreciate that many people would not come to wine at all if it weren’t for White Zinfandel; and take away 1 in 10 wine bottles being opened in America, and you’ll see layoffs in the industry.

It is only the pseudo connoisseur that rushes to judge an entire segment of wine “inferior”. Typical of those who do not have true knowledge or ability, they put something down thinking it builds them up. Neither new to wine, or genuinely wine knowledgeable, these people are asses, plain and simple. Let them sit at home alone fondling their Dana Estates’ 2007 Lotus Vineyard Cab in the dark.

Show me a party with White Zinfandel and I’ll show you a party with some fun people, a party likely to be more animated than a serious consideration of flights from top producers of Pinot Noir. I’m not knocking Pinot Noir, I dearly love it; I’m just saying White Zinfandel is fun. and fun is often too lacking in wine.

White Zinfandel, like any other wine, changes winery to winery, appellation to appellation, and vintage to vintage. Winemaking choices play an even greater role in creating variation between labels. The color varies from a pale golden blush to an orange sunset, from a salmon color, to pink and even a darker purpley pink. White Zinfandel is most often sweet, but again there is variety, with bottles ranging from rather dry to very sweet.

When I worked for Windsor Vineyards, our winemaker Carol Shelton made a White Zinfandel out of 100% Zinfandel grapes, even though she could used just 75% Zinfandel and blended in a much less expensive grape, and still, by law, called it a White Zinfandel. DeLoach Vineyards also made a 100% Zinfandel White Zinfandel at the time. For some wineries, making a quality wine is more important than making an inexpensive wine. Carol Shelton is America’s most awarded winemaker and has been named Winemaker ofthe year on more than one occasion. Carol, who made great white Zinfandel, and an exciting Provence styled rosé, is the epitome of class.

I always enjoyed a crushed strawberries over ice quality when tasting Carol Shelton made Windsor Vineyards White Zinfandel. Other notes you may find when sipping a White Zinfandel include raspberry, cherry, blackberry, and citrus. Lighter in style, this wine pairs well with many of the lighter dishes of summer.

White Zinfandel is the name of one rose or blush wine made from Zinfandel grapes, but the same process of creating a white or rosé wine from red wine grapes can be used to create White Merlot, White Cabernet, White Pinot Noir, or any other white red wine varietal wine.

Put simply, White Zinfandel (and other rosé or blush wine made from red wine grapes) is often the perfect summer sipper, whether at a picnic, a party, or at the table.

Last year, a friend wanted to come out to Sonoma County and spend a week tasting wines together. She does not drink dry red wines and would not have enjoyed a vacation built around tasting Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. She does not drink white wines, so Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc was out. She does enjoy the occasional glass of Beringer White Zinfandel, so I built a vacation throughout the north coast around tasting award winning blush and rosé wines.

White Zinfandel presents many different flavors because there are so many different ways to make a White Zinfandel; blending choices, sweetness levels, and more make for an infinite number of different White Zinfandels. I could suggest pairings, White Zinfandel with Hawaiian pizza, White Zinfandel with pork salad; but the best thing to pair White Zinfandel with is some unpretentious friends.

I would rather drink White Zinfandel from a jelly jar with fun friends with class, than the Lotus Vineyard Cabernet from Riedel stemware with an ass. Just sayin’.

I have not tasted a White Zinfandel, or other blush wine, in too long. In place of personal recommendations, here is a list, by no means complete, of award winning north coast White Zinfandel and other blush or rosé wines:

Adobe Road Winery – www.adoberoadwines.com -2008 Rose, Sonoma Valley $18

Alexander Valley Vineyards – www.avvwine.com – 2008 Rosé of Sangiovese, Wetzel Family Series, Alexander Valley $12.

Balletto Vineyards – www.ballettovineyards.com – 2008 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley $16.

Barefoot Cellars – www.barefootwines.com – NV White Zinfandel, California $7

Beringer – www.beringer.com –  2008 White Zinfandel,California Collection, California $6

Black Stallion Winery – www.blackstallionwinery.com – 2008 Rose, Napa Valley $22

Bonny Doon Vineyard – www.bonnydoonvineyard.com – 2008 Vin Gris de Cigare, California $15.

Bonterra Vineyards – www.bonterra.com – 2008 Rosé, Organic Grapes, Mendocino County $14.

Buena Vista Carneros – www.buenavistacarneros.com – 2008 Rosé of Syrah, Carneros $25.

Charles Creek Vineyard – www.charlescreek.com – 2008 Rose, Napa Valley $16

Dacalier Wine Co. – www.dacalier.com – 2008 Grenache/Carignan, Premier Rose, Lake County $16

Fichtenberg Vineyards – www.fichtenbergvineyards.com – 2008 Pinot Noir Saignee, Carneros $18

Fleur de California – www.fleurdecalifornia.com – 2008 Pinot Noir Rosé, Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, North Coast $13

Folie a Deux – www.folieadeux.com– 2008 Menage a Trois Rose California $12

Forest Glen Winery – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronco_Wine_Company -2007 Shiraz Rose, Magenta Rose, California $9; 2008 White Merlot, Forest Fire, California $9

Gregory Graham – www.ggwines.com – 2008 Estate Rose, Crimson Hill, Red Hills, Lake County $12

D.H. Gustafson Family Vineyards – www.gfvineyard.com – 2008 Rosé of Syrah, Dry Creek Mountain Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley $20

Heitz Wine Cellars – www.heitzcellar.com – 2008 Rosé, Grignolino, Napa Valley $19

Kelley & Young Wines – www.kelleyyoungwines.com – 2008 Kathleen Rose, Alexander Valley, Robert Young Vineyard $24

Kendall-Jackson Winery – www.kj.com – 2008 Malbec Rose, Grand Reserve, Napa Valley $18

Kenwood Vineyards –  www.kenwoodvineyards.com – 2008 Pinot Noir Rose, Russian River Valley $14

McDowell Valley Vineyards – www.mcdowellsyrah.com – 2008 Grenache Rose, McDowell Valley $15

Navarro Vineyards – www.navarrovineyards.com – 2008 Rose, Mendocino County $15

Pedoncelli Winery – www.pedroncelli.com – 2008 Dry Rose of Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley $10

Round Hill – www.roundhillwines.com – 2008 White Zinfandel, California $5

Rutherford Hill – www.rutherfordhill.com – 2008 Rose, Napa Valley $20

V. Sattui Winery – www.vsattui.com – 2008 Rosato, North Coast $16; 2008 Gamay Rouge, California $18

Shannon Ridge Winery – www.shannonridge.com – 2008 Wrangler Rose, Ranch Collection, Lake County $16

Sol Rouge – www.solrouge.com – 2008 Rose, Lake County $18

Sutter Home Winery – www.sutterhome.com – 2007 White Zinfandel, The Original, California $4; 2008 White Zinfandel, The Original, California $4; 2008 White Merlot, California $5

Titus Lombardi – www.titusvineyrds.com – 2008 Rose of Syrah, Mendocino $13

Toad Hollow Vineyards – www.toadhollow.com – 2008 Pinot Rose, Eye of the Toad, Sonoma Coast $9

Valley of the Moon Winery – www.valleyofthemoonwinery.com – 2007 Rosato di Sangiovese, Sonoma County $14; 2008 Rosato di Sangiovese, Sonoma County $14

Waterstone Winery – www.waterstonewines.com – 2008 Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley $12