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Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
What is the origin of white Zinfandel? I heard that it was made by accident and want to know if this is true, or just a modern-day myth?
—Sue S., Michigan
Even though rosé, blush and pale red wines have been made for centuries, white Zinfandel as we know it was invented in the early 1970s at Sutter Home by Bob Trinchero, and yes, it started as a mistake. Trinchero had been making a dry version of a white Zinfandel, but then a batch stopped fermenting. It’s known as a “stuck fermentation”—when the sugar doesn’t completely converted to alcohol—so the wine remains a little bit sweet. A winemaker can try to get the fermentation going again by inoculating it with more yeast or adjusting the temperature, or decide to blend it with other wines. In this case, Trinchero bottled it solo. By 1987, Sutter Home White Zinfandel was the best-selling premium wine in the United States.
Even though some wine snobs like to hate on white Zin, I understand its appeal. Drinking white Zinfandel is what got me hanging out in wine shops in the first place, and for that I will always be grateful.
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