…unknown in Europe, but highly successful in California…
California Zinfandel has both qualities to be a big full red wine and to be a light refreshing rose wine. People like either one of the true American grape’s qualities and it is the light white Zinfandel which outsells any other rose or blush wine ninety nine to one here in California in these days.
In several books including The New Book of Wine by Terry Robard, also called THE ULTIMATE GUIDE to WINES THROUGHOUT THE WORLD, published 1984 by Putnam Books NY, I found the following information about the origin of the California Zinfandel:
The Hungarian born Agoston Haraszthy was commissioned by the governor of California 1861 to go to Europe and seek out the choicest vines he could find. Setting out with his son Arpad he spent three years doing so and returned with about 100,000 cuttings of some three hundred varieties. When the state government refused to reimburse him, he was keenly disappointed, undaunted, he distributed the vines personally up and down the state. One of them apparently was the famous Zinfandel, whose mysterious origins are as yet in doubt.
1868 Haraszthy, the father of California viticulture, left California for new ventures in Nicaragua. In 1869 he disappeared, allegedly devoured by alligators as he attempted to cross a stream on his property.
Was the Zinfandel one of the 100,000 cuttings or wasn’t it? I have heard different stories from different people. I myself, do like the story of the Hungarian explorer. It has the flair of adventure and pioneer spirit in it and it ends with a mystery.
Fact is that the grape called Zinfandel is unique as it originates in the United States and is mainly grown in California. The vines might as well come from Italy or Austria. Zinfandel could be a hybrid grown somewhere on the East Coast of the United States in a green house. It could as well be the creation of an unknown Californian grower, as some people say. There is plenty of room for speculation and that’s good so. I am a waiter and not a wine expert. I let the ones who think they know it all fight and argue about the Zinfandel’s origin.
Fact, the Zinfandel grape as found in California is unknown in Europe and it has great qualities. It makes for a great blush wine or rose and an even greater red wine.
OZ CLARKE in THE ESSENTIAL WINEBOOK, by Viking Penguin Inc. 40 West 23rd Street, New York, NY, page 245 states:
“ZINFANDEL A fascinating red grape, virtually unknown in Europe, but highly successful in California. It makes a whole gamut of styles, from light, cherrysh and almost Beaujolais-like, deep, strong and peppery, with a wonderful brambly, briar- sweet fruit. It’s big, but it’s beautiful too.”
I fully agree with OZ CLARKE’s description of Zinfandel when he says “It’s big, but it’s beautiful too.” I feel like adding to it that the California Zinfandel has both qualities to be a big full red wine and to be a light refreshing rose wine. People like either one of the true American grape’s qualities and it is the light white Zinfandel which outsells any other rose or blush wine ninety nine to one here in California in these days in 1996.
Leon D. Adams another expert in his book THE WINES OF AMERICA, published 1973 by SAN FRANCISCO BOOK COMPANY/Houghton Mifflin Books, has the following to say about the origin of Zinfandel. Page 167: Herbert B.Leggett, Irving McKee and Vincent Carosso tell the fantastic story of Agoston Haraszthy, Hungarian “count” or “colonel” (he was neither), and credit him with introducing the better Vinifera varieties from Europe to California between 1851 and 1862. But Haraszthy was not the first to do this, nor was he the first to introduce the Zinfandel grape to America.
Page 403: Hundreds of articles have been written about the mystery of Zinfandel. Who brought it from Europe, when, from where, and what was its original name? Most wine writers credit “Count” Agoston Haraszthy with introducing the grape to California from his native Hungary between 1851 and 1862. But Zinfandel was never listed among his importations, and no such red grape has been found in Hungary – only a white grape named Zierfahndler or Zierfandel (which are among the many names of Sylvaner). However a European grape named Zinfandel was grown under glass by William Robert Prince on Long Island New York, as early as 1830, ten years before Haraszthy emigrated to the United States. Prince wrote in his Treatise on Grapes, published in that year, that the Zinfandel came from Hungary. During the 1840s the noted hybridizer, John Fisk Allen, also grew a grape he called “Zinfindal” at Salem, Massachusetts, and his description of it, published in 1848, exactly matches California’s adopted foundling, Zinfandel.