Ryan Chartrand

So, you’re hanging out with your friends who you endearingly call “wine-a-holics” and you’re discussing your favorite wines. Everyone is quick to name their favorite red and what seems to be the “in” varietal at the moment. All of the sudden your mom walks in on the conversation and drops her opine. “Well, gosh darn it, I just L-O-V-E White Zinfandel.”

At this moment in time you are left wondering where she came from and how she just embarrassed you more than her collection of baby photos ever could. So why the faux pas? Why do people shy away from sharing their true feelings on White Zinfandel?

Two Words: Jug Wine. We’ve all been there before on our quest for better wine. That’s right, we’ve all done the “Blush Slumping,” just admit it. You’ve got to start somewhere. I believe White Zinfandel is the perfect starter. It’s young, it’s sweet and it certainly will never complain about your lack of expertise.

White Zin is fresh, fun, exuberant and best of all uncomplicated…perhaps reminiscent of your crush from the dorm’s. So why the looks of disgust and disapproval? Most likely because White Zinfandel started as a fad wine to evangelically convert beer drinkers into wine drinkers. It was also there around the time of wine coolers, spritzers and those hideous spandex aerobics outfits. Twenty years ago White Zin was the “it” drink – as long as you brought it to a party in a jug for everyone to share.

In the 1970s a Napa Valley winery by the name of Sutter Homes began experimenting on how to perfect their ultra-gourmet Zinfandels by draining juices in order to concentrate color and flavor in the remaining wine. Well, one particular winemaker accidentally tasted this runoff juice and was surprised by its sweet and mild nature.

White Zinfandel is grown from Zinfandel grapes and is not a separate varietal, rather a method of production. This blush wine goes through a “Stuck Fermentation,” in other words, the yeast dies before it has a chance to turn most of the sugar into alcohol.

In essence, White Zinfandel is a stunted version of Zinfandel with a milder, sweet taste. Because of its more subdued nature, it is easy to see why White Zin is the third most popular wine bought in the United States as of 2006, according to Wikipedia.

For all those readers out there who have never tried wine but would like to, I would recommend to you this “Wine on Training Wheels.” The transition from there to white wines is a very smooth one.

Well, maybe if you’ve been around the vineyard block a few times, you might prefer the good old-fashioned original. That’s right, Zinfandel, the bold, spicy and passionate older sister. She’s the more complicated, drier and experienced of the two.

But Zin’s not one you can learn to love overnight. White Zin’s your best bet if you’re looking for something fun and short lived. So for those of you who secretly have a “Blush Crush,” I have a few recommendations.

If you enjoy sweet, smooth wines, check out Beringer’s 2005 White Zinfandel ($5 to $7). However, if you enjoy a crisper, drier spin on Zin, try Turning Leaf’s 2005 Reserve White Zinfandel ($4 to $6) on for size. This little blush wine works with just about any meal, specifically light pastas. Try out Rachel Ray’s recipe “You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta” (Foodnetwork.com ) along with your newly found pal White Zinfandel tonight.

Feel free to submit any recommendations, favorite wines or recipes to laurenjeter@gmail.com.

Lauren Jeter is a 2005 wine and viticulture graduate and is currently pursuing a master’s in ag business.

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