I came out in a small gazette a couple of months ago, and received the worst flak of my life for admitting that the first wine I ever liked was a White Zinfandel. Hey, I was young. I guess some of you are wondering; “What’s with all the negativity associated with one’s preference for these sweet, girly wines?”
First of all, to be able to give these wines the adequate respect they need, let’s dig into its history. There is a debate as to whether or not the grapes actually come from Italy or Croatia, since the grapes share similar characteristics with the Primitivo grape (indigineous to Italy) and the Croatian Crjenak Kaštelanski (say that fast, five times, even more challenging after downing a bottle of “White Zin”). These grapes flourished in North America, a region that now enjoys, arguably, the fame of being THE world’s producer of these sweet, succulent wines. It was an accident, really: While trying to produce rose wines using the normal siagnée method (tossing out the skins partway during fermentation, letting the colour “bleed” into the wine, thus producing pink wine), they came up with a bad batch (not a promising start, I know). It was considered bad because the yeast died during the fermentation process, leaving residue, unconsumed sugar, behind.
Backtrack: YEAST?!? DYING?!? WHAT????? Ok, don’t spit out that vino you’re drinking and CHILL.
See, wine is a fermented drink (so is the Filipino staple, beer). Very simply put, yeast (in wine grapes’ case, found on the skin of the grapes as that white substance that coats it) eats sugar (the grape fruit), and chucks out alcohol (the stuff that makes you happy).
The thing with White Zin is, the yeast died before finishing out the sugar. Sugar is sweet. Leftover sugar in a wine will make it sweet.
Hopefully, by this point you start sounding smarter, but try not to talk about this during a dinner conversation, you can easily lose friends that way.
Anyway, this sweet wine slowly developed a following in the United States, and eventually started exporting them abroad.
So what’s with the bad reputation? Most purists and wine-os don’t favour sweet wines, especially ones that really don’t have much character. That’s essentially what White Zin is all about: sweet, easy drinking, “GIRLY PINK” wine (which, in essence is a Rosé, thus creating more controversy for having been called WHITE Zin). In terms of character, there’s really not much nuances in White Zin to merit an academic, snobby wine discussion.
Next question: Why continue to make “awful” wine? Simple: ECONOMICS. There is a market to this wine. Young people like it because it’s easy to drink, kind of like the sweet juice of the wine world. They’re relatively easy to make, and therefore wine makers can make jugs and jugs (and cartons) of it. By nature, most Asians have a sweet tooth when it comes to beverages (just take a look at our gulamans, Vietnamese coffee, iced teas…), hence we tend to favour this over a Cabernet Sauvignon’s rich, bold, high tannin characteristics.
Does it make White Zin lovers uncultured? Not really. At the end of the day, wine is a beverage meant to be consumed, and I firmly believe that one should consume what one likes. I wouldn’t want to start off a potential wine-o’s journey with it. However, I’m a firm believer that once you get someone started with the sweet stuff, you’ll spoil their palates. This would give you a hard time appreciating the greats, which share absolutely no similarities with the White Zin. White Zin is like the wine world’s guilty pleasure, much like porn: people who like it never confess to consuming it. And just like your ice cream, it’s a viable option as a source of comfort on a bad day.
Plus, they’re AWESOME to make Sangrias with. No need to add sugar. 😉