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Zinfandel is a red grape varietal grown almost exclusively in California, and as I mentioned in my last post, the wines made from this grape are rarely exported from the U.S. Although it is the most widely planted red grape in California, most of the harvest is used to make something called "white zinfandel" which is a slightly sweet blush wine. This white zinfandel is mass-market fare -- but it sells in large volume to the American public because, frankly, it doesn't taste much like wine.

Now RED zinfandel (often labeled simply "zinfandel") is something else altogether. Zinfandel was first clutivated in California by Italian vintners looking to produce in California something like the grapes grown in their homeland. No one is sure exactly how they came up with the Zinfandel varietal, but it is thought that it is a cousin of the Primitivo grape of Southern Italy. Its heritage gives you some idea of what it tastes like, although the wine itself takes on many different styles. Personally, I think the bolder version taste something like a Cotes de Rhone. One subtler version, a Turley Black Sears Vinyard 1995 remains the best wine I have tasted to date (keep in mind that my pocketbook and my experience are both mid-range -- I haven't tried many of the "world class" type wines yet -- but I have tried many highly rated wines and that one beat all.) The The Wine Spectator website ( describes zinfandel's characteristics as "zesty, spicy pepper, raspberry, cherry, wild berry and plum flavors, and a complex range of tar, earth and leather notes" This seems pretty accurate to me.

If you're interested in trying some, you may be in luck. According to the Wine Spectator, Australian Winemakers are also experimenting with this grape. I don't know if exports of zin are being made to Australia, but perhaps so.

As for the American wine market, I am skeptical. You are right, there is a large untapped market there, but the culture here is such that I expect that it will remain untapped for the forseeable future. As you noted, wine here is generally served only on special occasions. Much of the underlying reason for this is that most Americans are intimidated by wine.

Wine drinkers in the states tend to be at least upper middle class, university educated, professionals (read PEOPLE WITH MONEY). My husband and I are in this group (thanks in part to the Fool), but come from families with working class roots. We have both experienced mild ridicule from relatives who see our love-affair with wine as the trappings of snobbery. This is typical of the American public attitude toward wine -- that people who drink wine and have knowledge of wine are insufferable snobs. Unfortunately, in many cases, this is true.

I grew up in a working class factory town, where wine was a rarity -- even the cheap mass-market stuff that most Americans buy when they buy wine at all. I grew up, got out, went to college, and moved to Washington DC, and all that time managed to learn very little about wine. It was my husband who passed on the me the enjoyment of good wine he developed in college. MY college experience with wine was limited to what my rich and snotty boyfriend taught me so that my working class background wouldn't be so obvious.

A national advertising campaign would have to overcome a lot of bad feelings to capture the imagination of the public at large. Unlike Europe and Australia, wine is not a part of the culture here. (Except in California, where it is big business -- people there are starting to integrate wine into their daily lives.)
Part of this is because many Americans have no experience with quality wine -- the jug wine sold here probably has little in common with what you would consider "wine". Better wines are either out of their price range or just seem too confusing. The ad compaigns I have tried to remedy this somewhat, but what I'm hearing is that they are trying to create a better mass-market type wine. By mass-market, I mean wines that are manufactured for consistency -- the product should taste the same, bottle to bottle, year to year, like a soft drink or a mass market beer. American consumers like consistency, and don't like the fact that wine is anything but consistent.

Some of the wine magazines think this is a good thing -- it helps US wine growers make money, and gets Americans to buy at least SOME kind of wine regularly. I'm not so sure. I don't think that these efforts will bring about a wine-friendly culture in the US, or increase the demand for premium wine. The wines being heavily marketed now show nothing of the potential complexity and beauty of wine. Maybe, though, it will start an attitude shift and encourage more people to be adventurous and to try to learn more about wines (and worry less about what their wine knowledge or lack thereof says about them as people). We can certainly hope!

Okay, that's enough of a diatribe for one day. Hope you're still with me... it's been a pleasure conversing with you.

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