Mistaken Whites and War of the Worlds

By / Magazine / October 19th, 2007 / 1

Is a White Zinfandel wine made with white grapes?

No, it’s actually made from red fruit. Anyone who’s ever squeezed a grape knows the juice that oozes out is for the most part clear — no matter what the colour of the grape on the outside. It’s the length of time the juice is exposed to the skins after pressing that dictates how a wine will look in the glass, i.e., how long the liquids and solids soak together dictates how dark the wine gets.

It’s all pretty basic stuff — green skins make for pale (or white) wines while purple skins create red wines. The fun part is that when you really limit the red-skin contact you wind up with something pink.

Though rosé wines where nothing new in mid-nineteenth century Europe, it took Californian winemakers — and their favourite adopted red-grape variety Zinfandel — to introduce an original version of rosé to North America around that time.

It turns out that Zin skin is so red that it’s almost black, so in a short time it was able to imprint a distinctive level of pink to the juice while still offering a decent expression of its deep-fruited flavour.

In the 1970s, the Sutter Home Winery was the first to take rosé seriously, ignoring the negative press rosé wines had attracted from the home-grown “wine experts” of the day, and called its creation White Zinfandel, further referring to the style as a “blush” wine. Since its light, slightly sweet flavour demanded to be chilled and chug-a-lugged without any pretension, White Zin opened the wine door to many non-wine drinkers and gave cooler enthusiasts a more sophisticated option while still appealing to fans of red and white.

Today, international copycat versions made with just about every red grape on the vine are available and have helped lift the reputation of all pink wines in the process.

What’s the difference between an Old World wine and a New World wine?

You don’t have to be Columbus to discover the secret behind the two worlds of wine. Back in the day, the Europeans ran the show and just about every bottle on local store shelves was French, Italian or German.

Not that people were complaining. When it came to winemakers, there weren’t many to choose from and these Old World countries (joined in part by Spain and Portugal) rested on their laurels thinking there wasn’t anyone one on the globe that could ever come close to their level of liquid supremacy.

Of course they were wrong. And the first country to show them up was the good old USA. After prohibition ended in the 1930s, Californian wines caught up very quickly to their competition across the pond, with Australia and Chile making major headway in the late 1980s. Those key three, along with Argentina, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, make up team New World.

So what’s the difference? It really all comes down to flavour and marketing.

On average, Old World wines tends to be more complex, with complicated, geographically driven labels. New World wines have made their name by using grape varieties on their front panels and focusing on fruit-forward juice that’s generally (but not always) meant for quick, easy-drinking.

Not to imply that one is better than the other; actually, if you dig the new, you should be focusing on a journey to the old and vice versa. Either way, each shows that Planet Wine is an eclectic, exciting place no matter what part you drink from.

Our Bon Vivant lives hard and leaves no question unanswered. So go ahead and try to stump him ([email protected] ).  Illustration by Shiny Pliers .


Fresh, funny and down-to-earth, Peter Rockwell is the everyman's wine writer. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia he's worked in the liquor industry for over 30 years and has written about wine, spirits & beer since graduating from the School of Journalism at the University of King's College in 1986. His reviews and feature articles have been published in Tidings, Vines, Occasions, Where and on Alliant.net to name a few; he has been a weekly on-air wine feature columnist for both CBC-TV and Global Television and his wine column 'Liquid Assets' appeared weekly in two of Nova Scotia's daily newspapers, 'The Halifax Daily News' and 'The Cape Breton Post.' Today Peter's irreverent answer man column 'Bon Vivant' appears each month in Tidings Magazine and his weekly 'Liquid Assets' column is published across Canada in editions of the METRO newspaper. When not drinking at home, and at work, Peter travels the globe looking for something to fill his glass and put into words.

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