Sweet vs Dry White Zinfandel Wine Tasting (Review)

Sweet and Dry White Zinfandel Wines from Halleck Vineyard and Sutter Home
Sweet and Dry White Zinfandel Wines from Halleck Vineyard and Sutter Home and Halleck Vineyard

Ross Halleck and Harris Miner are back at the estate in Sebastopol for a sweet and dry White Zinfandel wine tasting, and discussing about their differences, similarities, and pairing possibilities.

One one side of the table, we have the wine that has come to be synonymous with White Zinfandel over the years, Sutter Home White Zinfandel.

Sebastopol California is where Sonoma Coast wines are made
Sebastopol California is where Sonoma Coast wines are made.

On the other, we’ve got a new wine by Halleck Vineyard crafted with old school traditions that we call “Not Your Mother’s White Zinfandel.”

But before we talk about the sweet and dry White Zinfandel wine tasting, some backstory on the evolution of White Zinfandel in New World viticulture. 

History of New World White Zinfandel

Although Sutter Home is widely credited with being the first New World winery to produce White Zinfandel, the honor actually goes to El Pinal Winery in Lodi, which began producing rosé Zinfandel in 1869.

Rosé Zinfandel evolved as the result of a process known as “bleeding off,” which was used in the production of red Zinfandel wine. Excess grape juice was drained to elevate the concentration of tannins, and the leftover juice was fermented to make a dry rosé.

Sebastopol Vineyard where White Zinfandel grapes are grown in the state of California.
Sebastopol Vineyard where the White Zinfandel varietal grapes are grown.

The result was well-regarded, and other wineries soon followed suit. California vintners continued producing dry rosé Zinfandel for decades. Sutter Home started producing off-dry rosé Zinfandel in 1948 and called it White Zinfandel for marketing purposes. In 1975, an overnight — and accidental — sensation was born. 

Sutter Home White Zinfandel is the result of what’s known in the wine world as stuck fermentation — which simply means that the yeast prematurely stopped converting sugars into alcohol.

Vintner decided to bottle it anyway the sweet stuff anyway, and it became an overnight sensation, and people who’d never drank much wine before were buying it by the case. In 1994, Wine Spectator awarded Sutter Hom with its Distinguished Service Award for introducing more consumers to the pleasure of the grape than any other wine in history. It’s even displayed in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

White Zinfandel’s story is still evolving, however. Russian River Valley Dry White Zinfandel from Halleck Vineyard takes it back to its roots in the New World and gives it a 21st-century twist. 

Sutter Home Sweet White Zinfandel Wine Tasting Notes

Sutter Home Sweet White Zinfandel Wine from California
Sutter Home Sweet White Zinfandel Wine from California, Nonvintage

We liked the way this wine’s light, almost amber color mimicked the onion-skin hues traditionally associated with French winemaking tradition.

However, that’s where the similarity ended — the nose was pure marshmallow, followed by notes of sugared peaches, strawberry cream, and ripe melon. It’s a happy, sweet, uncomplicated wine

Although Sutter Home White Zinfandel doesn’t have the structure necessary for successful main course pairings, we can see it with a summer fruit course, light salads, and mild cheese.

We think that where it really shines is as a warm-season cocktail wine served cold with a side of sunlight.

  • Brand: Sutter Home
  • Country/State: California
  • Vintage: Non-vintage
  • Appellation: California
  • Varietal: White Zinfandel
  • Body: Light Bodied
  • Style: Sweet
  • Alcohol By Volume (ABV): 9.5%
  • Retail Price: $5
  • Restaurant Price: $15
  • Food Pairings: Fruit course, mild cheese, summer salads
  • BUY Sutter Home White Zinfandel

Halleck Vineyard Dry White Zinfandel Wine Tasting Notes

Halleck Vineyard Dry White Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley in California
Halleck Vineyard Dry White Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley in California, 2021 Vintage

A new school wine crafted with old school traditions, this is Not Your Mother’s White Zinfandel.

We noticed the difference in color before we even poured the wine — instead of light pink with pale amber tones, this wine was the color of cotton candy. The nose was white flowers followed by honeyed nectarine, strawberries, rose petals, and hints of maraschino cherry. However, this isn’t a sweet wine. It’s elegantly dry with balanced minerality and a crisp, refreshing finish.

Halleck Vineyard Dry White Zinfandel is a seriously structured wine with bright acidity that makes it an excellent pairing partner for a variety of foods. It’s strong enough to stand up to strong flavors such as Mexican tacos and white meat barbecue, and we also think it’s a good choice for the hors d’oeuvres course. It shouldn’t be discounted as a front porch or poolside sipping wine because it’s superb all on its own. 

  • Brand: Halleck Vineyard
  • Country/State: California
  • Vintage: 2021
  • Appellation: Russian River Valley
  • Style: Crisp
  • Body: Light Bodied
  • Alcohol By Volume (ABV): 13.7%
  • Retail Price: $37
  • Restaurant Price: Approximately $56
  • Pairings: Chicken, seafood, or pork barbecue, Mexican tacos
  • BUY Halleck Vineyard Dry White Zinfandel

Wine Review Video

Ross Halleck and Harris Miner in their sweet and dry White Zinfandel wine tasting.

White Zinfandel Wrap Up

Halleck Vineyard Dry White Zinfandel definitely lives up to its name — it’s far from the Koolaid-like sweet wine that made such a splash in the 1970s. This is a complex, sophisticated wine worthy of a place at the grown-ups’ table. While we understand that sweet White Zinfandel will always have a special place in the hearts of many people, we encourage you to introduce your mother to Dry White Zinfandel — perhaps at a Mother’s Day brunch with a seafood omelet or at an festive dinner in her honor with crab cakes or roast lamb. 

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Marta Heacock

Marta Heacock

Marta spends her time between her home on the West Coast and a salmon cannery on the southern tip of Alaska’s panhandle that she co-owns with her son. She frequently brings these worlds together by pairing wild Alaska salmon with Pinot Noir.

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