The letter ‘z’ is a bit off-kilter, wouldn’t you say? It lurks in the rear of the classroom, rarely raising its crooked hand, and when called upon by the teacher to answer a question, ‘z’ frequently bullies ‘x’ into doing the talking. If the letter ‘z’ contributes anything at all to our mother tongue, it’s to jump start conceptual aberrations like ‘zebra’ (a horse in a prison uniform) or ‘zeppelin’ (a bad idea from the git-go) or ‘zorilla’ (a skunk-like polecat that marks its territory with feces and the anal emission of fumes).
‘Z’ is like the ex-planet Pluto—not really ‘one of us’. In fact, it is only by a stroke of serendipity that the letter remains in the English language at all. In 2006, the International Alphabetonomical Union (IAU) voted on a resolution creating an official definition of ‘grapheme’, which is as follows:
- A letter must be valuable to words that really matter; words like beer, Comcast and schtupp—not crap words like zyzzyvas (a destructive South American weevil) and ziggurat (what’s wrong with ‘pyramid’, Babylonians??)
- A letter must have a place in phonology beyond the sound a bee makes just before it stings you.
- A letter must be massive enough to be a sphere by its own gravitational force, and more specifically, a letter’s own gravity should pull it into a shape of hydrostatic equilibrium.
The only thing that saved ‘z’ from total annihilation was that the vote is required by IAU statute to be unanimous and it fell one vote short. Stephen Hawking, Ph.D, Companions of Honour, Most Excellent Order of British Mushmouths, Fellows of The Royal Society of Gimps had nodded out during the debate, and when asked for his ‘aye’ responded, ‘Zzzzzzz,’’ which the Union took as a ‘nay’.
And That’s A Good Thing For Zsa Zsa and Zabaco Zinfandel
I have this theory that the overwhelming sense of sanity exuded by the Budapestian GILF (Great-Grandmother I’d Like To Flay) Zsa Zsa Gabor is the result of her parents being so proud of her that they named her twice; a single Zsa just didn’t do her beauty, talent and ambition justice. No doubt, Sirhan Sirhan’s folks felt like this too.
But, what do Zsa Zsa Gabor and Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel have in common other than an affinity for dwarf letters, you ask with your patronizing, supercilious smirk?
I’ll tell you what, Señor Zilchy Zorilla: Both are Eastern European by derivation, and both came to California in 1843.
As the Rancho Z story goes, in 1843 the teenage son of a Spanish soldier was given one of the first Mexican land grants in Sonoma County: 17,000 acres in Dry Creek Valley in the heart of what is now referred to the ‘Zin Zone’. * That land—with some of the original outbuildings still standing—makes up a portion of Rancho Zabaco.
* The Zin Zone came by its alliterative autonym because the appellations it encompasses—Amador, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, etc.—produce 80% of California’s annual zinfandel harvest
As the Zsa Zsa Gabor story goes, the slutty Slavic superstar left her twenty-seventh husband Frédéric Zippy von Zeitgeist to begin an illicit affair with the great-great-granddaughter of silent movie star Zasu Zitts. When Zsa² was asked why, if she’s actually gay, she expressed such terror of lesbians when she was sentenced to serve jail time in 1989 for slapping a cop, she replied, “Dahling, I didn’t say I was afraid of ‘lesbians’, I said I was afraid of ‘thespians’.”
Cinnamon Boy Makes Good
Does winemaker Eric Cinnamon have any such theatrical trepidation? Thyme will tell, although in the grand scheme of things, it does nutmeg any difference: The Sacramento native, who was mint to make world-class zinfandels, has been kicking anise in the Zin Zone for a while now, and in Sonoma is considered something of a sage.
In a recent interview with Jeff Siegel, the Wine Cur, Eric explained, “With winemaking, there is no mysterious science or alchemy; as a winemaker, my job is to preserve the flavors and aromas that exist in the beautiful grapes we are lucky enough to grow out in Sonoma County. My vision for Rancho Zabaco Heritage Vine zinfandel is a wine full of black fruit—blackberry, black cherry, along with soft, subtle tannins that we can deliver at a great value…”
A zinger of an interview, Jeff—and kudos for avoiding overusing the letter ‘z’. But good as it was, it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi that those of us versed in the mysterious science of humor alchemy just sort of ‘get’.
But Zsa Zsa? God bless that ninety-six year old bag of Bozgor bones! Despite the profusion of zeds trailing behind her Hoveround, she’s one of us! She gets it!
Here’s a quick * quorum of quotes from the Queen of Quotable Quips:
* (‘Q’ is another funky, pestilent and unnecessary letter, but that’s another column…)
‘Macho does not prove mucho.’ – Zsa Zsa Gabor
‘I’m a great housekeeper. I get divorced. I keep the house.’ – Zsa Zsa Gabor
‘I call everyone ‘Darling’ because I can’t remember their names.’ – Zsa Zsa Gabor
‘A man in love is incomplete until he has married. Then he’s finished.’ – Zsa Zsa Gabor
‘How many husbands have I had? You mean apart from my own?’ – Zsa Zsa Gabor
(Final element that may be uttered in isolation with semantic or pragmatic content in a sentence on the grapheme ‘z’: As it relates to wine writing, only one individual receives a papal ‘z’ dispensation from moi—the Pope of Punditry:
Why? Because she’s pretty cool and I’m the Pope of Punditry and I say so, that’s why. Now, zip it up and zip it out, you bunch of zikes and zirf-heads; I have some zoot to zazzle.)
Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel, Sonoma Heritage Vines, Sonoma County, 2011, about $13: Inky and brooding to look upon, but bright and brisk to taste. Aromas of blueberry syrup, black cherries dipped in chocolate, vanilla and some elusive Indian spice—not cinnamon (apologies, Eric), perhaps cardamom. In any case, it’s a youthful, fruit-focused zin with touches of caramel and vanilla; silky in the mouth and a moderately long finish. A beautiful wine for the price.