The triumphant return of White Zinfandel in California
November 18, 2020 — If oats can be milk, then rosé can be an act of protest.
Hear me out.
Over the summer a friend came to me for wine help. July was nearing to a close, and he felt lost in a salmon pink prison of his own making — a Bermuda Triangle of bland Provençal-style rosé. “There must be something else,” he muttered. “Something more.” That’s when he looked at me and asked, “What is the opposite of Whispering Angel?”
This struck me as a deeply philosophical question — and I was therefore surprised to find myself offering an immediate response: “White Zinfandel.”
His expression told me that his deepest fears had been realized — Bermuda Triangle, indeed.
Even to me it sounded like madness. White Zinfandel? I might as well have said that pasta primavera was the secret cure for chicken pox. Yet in the settling silence, my logic became clear.
You see, I wasn’t talking about the original White Zinfandel, that hypnotically smooth rosé popularized by Sutter Home in the 1970s. Instead, I was referring to the new wave of bone-dry White Zinfandel that had begun to emerge from California’s natural wine circles. These small-batch renditions were tongue-in-cheek homages to the original — winking commentaries on the state’s industrial ambition and folksy mystique.
Apart from the fact that both are rosés made from Zinfandel grapes, the two are different in every way. Whereas the original is sweet and perfumy, the reboots are brisk and life-affirming — like getting caught in a spring rain with an attractive stranger. If the old White Zin symbolized the homogeneity of industrial wine, the new one embodies the raucous and idealistic world of American natural wine — a community of mission-driven producers who are drawing new lines around ethical responsibility and freedom of expression.
Which returns us to my friend’s question. Where does Whispering Angel fit in? Considering that it’s both highly processed and mass-produced (with several million bottles produced annually), it has much more in common with Sutter Home’s factory-made White Zinfandel. But unlike the latter, which clearly signals its industrial origins with everything from its screw cap to the $5 price tag, Whispering Angel relies on sleight-of-hand marketing, presenting a contrived sense of European luxury.
At $20 or more a bottle, you’re better off stocking up on Sutter Home. On the other hand, if you’re looking to up your summer rosé game this summer, try something with a sense of humor, courage and adventure — a wine with a person on the other end. Like White Zinfandel.
Coming soon: Ardure’s 2018 Blush of Zinfandel (pictured above) from Beveridge Vineyard in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. Ardure translates to “the heat of passion,” which comes as no surprise if you’ve ever spent five minutes with Jason Ruppert — the incandescent sommelier-turned-vigneron who founded the project in 2018. Jason is known within the industry for helping other achieve their dreams (us included), and so we couldn’t be more excited to watch his own project flourish this coming year.
This piece originally appeared in the August, 2020 issue of Edible Vineyard.