--Daily Alta California, July 9, 1878 (referring to Napa)
Have you ever tasted a wine made from the Crljenak Kaštelanski or Tribidrag grape? You probably have, though didn't know it, because you're aware of the grape by a different name, Zinfandel.
The historical origins of Zinfandel had been a mystery for some time, with plenty of speculation and study efforts. Finally, DNA research, through an endeavor by Dr. Carole Meredith, a professor and geneticist at the University of California at Davis, and her team determined that Zinfandel is actually a Croatian grape, known as Crljenak Kaštelanski, Tribidrag and Pribidrag. The oldest known name for this grape is Tribidrag, extending back to the early 16th century, so that is the primary name of which it is now known. This term has roots in a Greek word which means "early ripening."
Within California, Zinfandel has long been a popular grape, as can be seen in the newspaper reference, from 1878, I earlier quoted. During the late 19th century, Zinfandel was one of the kings of the California vineyards, and there are thousands of references to it in newspapers of that period. Though nowadays, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have garnered much of the attention, Zinfandel remains an important grape in California.
The wine is made from 100% Zinfandel, a blend of old and new vines, with the oldest having been planted in 1972 when Jim Barrett founded Chateau Montelena. The wine spent about 16 months in French, Irish and American oak, 15% new, and has a 14.5% ABV. This is one of the first wines I've seen using Irish oak. The wine has a dark red color, though still partially translucent, with an intriguing aroma of spice and black fruit, an alluring blend that will tantalize your nose. On the palate, the spice notes are initially predominant, merging into flavors of ripe plum, black cherry, vanilla, and a certain meatiness, with a smoky edge. The lingering finish presents some chocolate notes along with more spice. The wine is well balanced, complex, and absolutely delicious, especially paired with some dry aged steak tips.
Though this is a big wine, it isn't overly so, and the alcohol level is lower than a number of other Zinfandels which seem to be pushing 16%. I especially liked the meaty element to this wine, its more savage nature, which I haven't found in many other California wines. This wine earns a hearty recommendation, and is well worth its price point.
"The better the claret the less alcohol it contains, and our wine-makers have already reached, in the Zinfandel, a brand which is certainly as light and non-alcoholic as the best light brands of Bordeaux. If all the people of California drank Zinfandel, the temperance problem would be practically solved,..."
--Sacramento Daily Record-Union, July 15, 1882