White Zinfandel

Bob Trinchero, a winemaker at Sutter Home, initially used some of the free-run juice to enhance the intensity of the family’s esteemed Amador County Zinfandel. He pasteurized and canned the remaining juice and bottled a small amount as a tasting-room exclusive to attract budget-conscious wine enthusiasts.

Inspired by French rosés such as Oeil de Perdrix (“Eye of the Partridge”), Bob intended to label the new wine with a unique name for the American market. Oeil de Perdrix refers to the white wines produced from red grapes in France, which Bob applied to his pink-hued wine. However, U.S. regulations required an English descriptive title for the wine, so he added “White Zinfandel wine” in small print on the family wine label.

White Zinfandel

By the end of the twentieth century, “pink wines” had captured a significant share of the American retail market. According to wine experts like Jancis Robinson, Bob achieved a “marketing triumph” by converting his red Zinfandel into a rosé wine. He salvaged a stuck fermentation of his 1972 red Zinfandel wine and created a lighter, sweeter rosé-colored wine dubbed “White Zinfandel.”

The Success of White Zinfandel

Although Bob was not the first Californian winemaker to produce a rosé version of Zinfandel, he was the one to boldly market it as a new wine style. Consequently, Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel sales skyrocketed from 25,000 cases in 1980 to over 1.5 million cases in 1986. Due to the increased demand for White Zinfandel, Sutter Home sold most of its stored wine at reasonable prices.

The success of Sutter Home White Zinfandel can be largely attributed to word-of-mouth recommendations. In fact, the Trincheros did not host their first official sales meeting until 1987, which took place in Bob Trinchero’s backyard. By that time, Sutter Home White Zinfandel was America’s best-selling wine, with an annual production of 2 million cases.

Beringer held a commanding 37.9 percent dollar share of 750ml White Zinfandel wines sold in U.S. food stores, with a price premium of approximately 15% over the second leading brand. Beringer White Zinfandel also boasted the highest dollar sales of any wine SKU marketed in U.S. grocery stores.

White Zinfandel Breakdown

White Zinfandel typically has a high alcohol content, ranging from 12.5 to 16 percent ABV. Despite its misleading name, White Zinfandel is actually a rosé or pink wine. The original White Zinfandel was generally dry, but as it gained popularity in the 1970s, winemakers started producing sweeter variations more frequently.

Very sweet White Zinfandels deviate from the norm in terms of alcohol content, with some having as little as 10% ABV. Reflecting on the creation of White Zinfandel, when Bob Trinchero stored the excess juice in canisters for two weeks, the wine began fermenting. Before all the grape sugar could be converted to alcohol, the fermentation stopped unexpectedly, leaving 2% residual sugar.

White Zinfandel wine

White Zinfandel consists of 85 percent Zinfandel grapes. This wine has a lower alcohol and calorie content and features a sweet palate that is soothing. For most wine lovers, White Zinfandel is an incredibly sweet, gentle 10% ABV wine, while port Zinfandel reaches 18.5 percent ABV. White Zinfandel can compete with various wines, ranging from high-end, prestigious wines accounting for 15-16% of the market to port wines with an alcohol content of 19% or more. However, ABVs of around 13.5 percent are most commonly found in supermarkets.

White Zinfandel, as well as many reds and rosés, can have similar alcohol percentages – sometimes lower, sometimes higher. However, White Zinfandel is generally considered a potent wine. A great example of this is Terra d’Oro Zinfandel Port, a 19 percent ABV Californian wine.

White Zinfandel in the American Wine Market

The rise of White Zinfandel has significantly impacted the American wine market, introducing many new wine drinkers to the world of rosé wines. Its sweet taste, easy drinkability, and affordable pricing make it an attractive option for a wide range of consumers, from wine novices to seasoned connoisseurs.

In recent years, White Zinfandel has been credited with paving the way for the increasing popularity of other rosé wines. As the public’s interest in rosés continues to grow, many wineries are experimenting with different styles and blends, leading to an even more diverse and vibrant rosé market.

White Zinfandel’s success is a testament to the power of marketing, innovation, and consumer-driven demand. Its rise from an accidental creation to a market leader highlights the importance of adapting to changing consumer tastes and preferences.

Today, White Zinfandel remains a popular choice for many wine lovers, and its legacy can be seen in the ongoing growth and diversification of the rosé wine market. Its impact on the industry serves as an example for winemakers and marketers alike, showcasing the importance of understanding consumer needs and crafting wines that cater to a wide range of palates.

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Categories: WineBy Published On: October 27, 2022Last Updated: February 22, 2024

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