The Wine That Never Was
Before I ever really knew anything about wine, I bought wine based on price (the lower the better) and the relative cuteness of the animal on the label (wallabies!). But once I started making a serious effort to get to know wine, once I started listening to those co-workers and sales reps that had been around the beverage industry longer than me, once I started to treat myself to nicer wines—with no regard for what animal was on the label or how cute it was, one thing became very clear: White Zinfandel was terrible.
No one really said why it was terrible, it was a generally accepted truth among the ‘experts’ I was talking to. White Zinfandel was a stand in for low-quality, “It’s not the best wine in the world, but it’s not like it’s White Zinfandel!” White Zinfandel was a punchline in the wine world and it was years before I realized that no one had ever told me the joke.
So I got myself to wondering, why all of these people who knew more than I did went to all that effort to hate something that couldn’t possibly hate them back. Why was this simple, slightly sweet, pleasantly pink wine so reviled?
It’s not a terribly complex wine, this is true. It’s light, it’s sweet, it’s over. But wines like Riesling can be sweet without being subject to the same scorn as White Zinfandel. Vino Verde has a notoriously simple flavor profile, but no one hates Vino Verde or looks down at Vino Verde quite like they do White Zinfandel.
So it’s not the wine itself that we seem to hate. There’s something about it that inspires our ire. Originally a by-product of Red Zinfandel production, White Zinfandel was a useful novelty (and quite a bit drier). It was an inoffensive table wine that was produced alongside some extremely fine, robust Reds. But the inexpensive pink stuff outsold the fancy pants red stuff by such a margin that eventually grapes were grown specifically for White Zinfandel production and the robust reds that those grapes could have been used to produce never got made.
And for the true enthusiast, the true wine lover who has learned to love wine for far more than its ability to make a weekend with the in-laws bearable, I can see how that loss of potential would be upsetting. What was once a side-effect, a by-product, a second thought (White Zinfandel), took over center stage and the superstar that was (Red Zinfandel) gets tossed away with the garbage.
Imagine a toddler dumping a whole box of your favorite breakfast cereal out on the counter for the cheap plastic toy in the bottom of the box. The cheap plastic toy—that’s white zinfandel. The not-at-all nutritious sugary deliciousness now headed for the bin—that’s red zinfandel. RIP red zinfandel. We never got to know you.
P.S. Wineries still make Red Zinfadels (and they’re delicious). You should try one. As a matter of fact, you should try this one:
When Zinfandel vines are young, they are bursting with juicy fruit flavors. As the vines age and grow and spread these flavors get more complex—picking up earthy notes and character from the soil in which they are planted. Candor Zinfandel blends the fruity, simple young Zin grapes with his older, more complex cousin for a delicious wine that showcases the best aspects of both kinds of vines. Juicy and rich with a complex and evolving palate that continues to surprise from the first sip to the long, lingering finish.