My wine for this week is a red Zinfandel: Kunde Estate 2005 Zinfandel. Zinfandel is a red grape varietal that has been planted in the United States since the mid-19th century. Although its origins were a mystery for many years, DNA research recently revealed it to be a clone of the Croatian grape, Crljenak Kaštelanski (Crljenak Kaštelanski is also the source for the Italian Primitivo grape.) It is unknown where the name Zinfandel came from. Zinfandel is most closely associated with California, where it makes up approximately 10% of that state’s vineyards. It is grown in many other states as well, including some that we don’t normally think of when it comes to wine (Arizona, Texas, and Tennessee for example.)

In addition to red wine, Zinfandel grapes are used to make sparkling wine, late harvest dessert wine, a fortified wine similar to port, and the ever popular White Zinfandel, a semi-sweet, blush wine that is commonly sold as an inexpensive “jug wine” (although sales have declined some over the years, White Zinfandel continues to outsell its red counter part by six to one.) Zinfandel grapes are hardy and thrive in warm climates. They tend to ripen rather unevenly: a single cluster of grapes may contain both green grapes and overly ripe, “raisined” grapes. In order to harvest the fruit at the same level of maturity, they must be hand-picked over several weeks. It is a laborious process and is one reason that some Zinfandels are able to command a high price.

Red Zinfandel comes in a wide range of flavors and styles depending, in part, on the ripeness of the grapes. Wines from cooler climates, where the grapes ripen to a lesser degree, tend to have soft, red berry flavors (similar to Beaujolais Nouveau.) Wines from warmer climates have more intense dark berry and pepper profiles. Zinfandel grapes have even been known to produce robust, tannic, high-alcohol wines reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite this broad range of styles, the fruit-forward quality common to most Zinfandels makes them good food wines. Casual foods such as grilled steaks, burgers and spicy fare all work well with Zinfandel. Because it can be paired with such a variety of foods, Zinfandel is commonly suggested as a Thanksgiving wine.

Kunde Estate is a family-owned and operated winery in the renowned Sonoma Valley of California. The 2005 Zinfandel is actually a blend of 89% Zinfandel, 4% Petite Syrah, 3% Syrah, and 4% mixed varietals. According to Kunde Estate’s website, the grapes were harvested over a one-month period at full maturity. It is specifically noted that there weren’t too many “raisins” included in the harvest. The winemaker describes the wine as follows: “Boysenberry, cardamom, pepper, and a hint of chocolate combine to make a distinct wine that is instantly enjoyable.” Suggested food pairings include barbecued baby back pork ribs and greens with roasted beets and goat cheese.

For dinner, I made macaroni and cheese with a twist: winter squash! It sounds unusual but there are actually quite a few recipes for this dish available on the internet. I came up with my own simple version using pureed sweet dumpling squash, milk, nutmeg and cheddar cheese. The squash adds a nice texture and flavor to the dish and also allows you to get away with using less cheese, thereby reducing the fat content significantly. Guilt-free mac & cheese! The wine was true to the description on Kunde Estate’s website with obvious dark berry flavors and just a touch of pepper. Despite its high alcohol content (14.5%) it tasted almost like fruit juice (don’t let your kids near this wine!) Medium-bodied with soft tannins, this proved to be a good food wine; it went especially well with my fun winter squash mac & cheese.


  1. I think that the name of ‘zinfandel’ is often attributed to being of Austrian origin as when the grape was brought over to California, Croatia was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. As for the Croatian name origin, that’s quite easy as it means something like, “Castle Black” which is understandable given that it’s from a series of seven towns near Split, Croatia that once were a series of of Kašteli (castle, frontier towns) along the coast. The Crljenak comes from the fact that they call red wine ‘black’ wine there as is the case is a lot of Europe. If you venture to other parts of Croatia the name shifts such as on Vis island where it is called, Carnjenak. Historically, it was grown a great deal more in Croatia, but tapered off given that it wasn’t really hardy enough for the environment. This is why its child, Plavac Mali took off in popularity a great deal more.

    Anyways, just a dump of info, since I’ve spent a good deal of time researching Croatian wines.


    Comment by Miquel — November 16, 2008 @ 8:29 pm

  2. Thanks for the interesting history, Miquel! I may need to seek out some of your Croatian wine recommendations. I love trying wines from smaller regions. Being one-fourth Croatian myself, wines from that country are particularly interesting to me.

    Comment by elliemay — November 16, 2008 @ 9:19 pm

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