HOW I SOLVED THE HISTORICAL MYSTERIES
SURROUNDING ZINFANDEL—SORT OF
I HAVE NOT ALWAYS BEEN A WINE LOVER. IN FACT, UNTIL I WAS WELL into my twenties, I drank beer at family dinners while others drank wine. But that changed in the mid-1950s when my wife, Rosslyn, and I were caught up by the early enthusiasm of what is often called the modern “wine revolution. ” This was the time in the 1960s and 1970s when table wines became the dominant product of the California wine industry and when drinking wine with meals became a regular part of the lives of many Americans.
Our first love was for slightly sweet German whites, but this passion was softened in the late 1950s as we began discovering California Cabernet Sauvignon and red Bordeaux. Our first case of great claret was sold to us personally by André Tchelistcheff, the famed winemaker at Napa's Beaulieu Vineyards. He happened to be in the tasting room at BV when we stopped there in 1961 on our first trip to the Napa Valley. The wine was the BV 1956 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
On that trip we also visited Lee Stewart's Souverain Cellars on Napa's Howell Mountain. I had heard of Zinfandel, though in my mind I associated it with inexpensive jug wine. But when I tasted Stewart's 1959 Zinfandel, I knew that there was much more to that strange-sounding variety than I had