Wine with Food: White Zinfandel
By Paul Kalemkiarian Sr. | February 1984
The other day, as I was arriving for a meeting at a hotel, a luncheon meeting of a women’s club must have been letting out. I ran into an acquaintance who was carrying a bottle of wine. She stopped me and said “Paul, I just won this in a raffle! Is it any good? I have never heard of it! How shall I serve it?”
Two very good questions, and two very interesting comments.
The comments first. I have seen an increase in wine being used as a door prize or raffle prize. I say … thank goodness! How many times have I won some widget that I had no use for! In fact I suspect they are recycled. Wine seems to interest more people these days, and it evokes a genteel reaction!
As to having heard about it! There is no way we will hear about all of them. There are over 500 wineries in California alone, and most all make more than one wine. Add all the other wine producing states and countries, and you have numbers into six digits I am sure. I suspect the comment was directed to not having heard about the variety. The wine was a White Zinfandel by a well known Napa Valley Winery.
Unfamiliarity with White Zinfandel is understandable. It has only been a few years since the practice of making white wine from red grapes has come into vogue. Many of the red wine grape varieties are being used to produce light, white or pinkish wines, in addition to the traditional red wines that are usually made.
Now for her question … is it good? Since I had not had that wine recently, I gave my standard to that question. “Of all the wines I taste professionally, day in and day out, 5% are poor and a few of them bad, 85% are average and some are good, and 10% are exceptional.” Since there is a 95% chance that the wine will be acceptable, the question in fact is more a matter of personal preference. Chances are what she really meant was … will I like it? … And that is a subjective matter.
What I was pleased about was the last question she asked. “How shall I serve it?” It is an important one.
“How” raises the question of temperature.
It also can include the glasses to be used. The matter of “when” also comes into play. You must not forget “with what” as a natural sequel. (Which of course is the heart of these series of columns).
White Zinfandel and other white or pink wines made from red grapes should be served well chilled (but not iced).
I like to see them served in the bubble shaped glasses. The oversize ones are particularly nice to use. One gets a good chance to swirl and sniff deep to capture the young fruit aroma.
“When” is a dual question for wine. First it has to do with the stage of maturity, and second it addresses itself to what time of day and/or meal accompaniment. Regarding the stage of maturity, most White Zinfandels are made for drinking now, and not for ageing. Same with the other white or pink wines from red grapes. The younger the vintage, the better. The fruit is the important flavor element. As to the time of day: my recommendation is to serve it with a brunch, a light lunch, or as a summer afternoon sipper. It is not meant to be a dinner wine.
And now for the important part. I consider it important because I firmly believe wine is made for food, and the joy of good food is enhanced by wine. White Zinfandel can handle a brunch with scrambled eggs and sausages quite well. It usually has enough strength to its flavor to hold up. Try it sometime. It would be great with fruit, milder cheeses, and ham. Great finger sandwich companion. When you serve it solo, as an afternoon sipping wine, a tid-bit of crackers and fruit cream cheese would be well suited. The wine along can be assertive and usually yearns for a munchy!
A note of caution. The variety of White Zinfandels that have been surfacing from various vineyards during the last couple of years show from the slightly sweet to bone dry styles. Be prepared to match the food you serve to be compatible with the dryness level of the wine.
The basic varietal flavor of the Zinfandel grape is well demonstrated in these white versions. A fun wine to play with.