For a century or more, wine has been packaged with a tight cork in the bottle wrapped around with a heavy seal. Until recently, if you wanted a drink, you cut off the foil, screwed down into the cork, heaved and grunted, extracted the cork and poured the wine. Everyone knew how to do it except waiters in some Hong Kong restaurants. Then came high technology. In California, some genius came up with the idea of changing the familiar shape of a bottle top. Instead of narrowing, it flared at the top. The cork was rammed home and sealed with a wax plug. This has complicated life. Try to corkscrew through this stuff and you end up with wax all over your appetiser. The idea is, you prise out the wax or plastic plug, and then attack the cork. But, when I battled to open the 94 Dry Creek zinfandel from William Wheeler's Sonoma winery, I was left with half the cork stuck in the bottle. Struggling on, I eventually strained the wine through a coffee filter and finally got round to tasting it. The effort was worthwhile. Zinfandel is a wine comparatively rare everywhere except in California, where for 130 years it has been one of the sturdy backbones of the industry. It is generally agreed 'zin' developed from southern Italy's primitivo grape, probably taken there by migrants. The reliable wine yields big crops. For decades, hundreds of California wineries used that generous flow of juice to make solid, full-flavoured reds. Some, aged in oak, were elegant wines of distinction; most stuck pretty close to the honest peasant origins. Then along came cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. The trendy winemakers of California suddenly all became seekers after the Holy Grail of upmarket reds. Thousands of hectares of poor old 'zin' grapes were largely unwanted. Some smart marketer found you could press the grapes lightly and make a pinkish wine with little character, call it white zinfandel, slap on a snazzy label and sell it to yuppies who would gladly pay premium prices. Zin was back, with a vengeance. To make a good red zinfandel, you have to pick quality grapes, lay the wine aside for two or three years in expensive oaken barrels, and finally bottle and sell it. For the white, you press it, stick it in stainless-steel vats for a couple of weeks, run it through the bottling line and next week you are getting money back from the supermarkets. Little wonder that the number of red zinfandels produced in California halved and white zins poured out of the Golden State like melting snows cascading down the Sierra Nevada. The William Wheeler red is in the noble old tradition. It has a spicy character but is light on the palate. There is not much of a nose, and the aroma is elusive. The Wheelers, husband and wife, were pioneers of the modern wine era, planting 12 hillside hectares in the Dry Creek area of Sonoma back in 1970. They built quite a reputation for good-quality dry reds. But times were tough for small independent wineries and they sold out. The establishment that still bears their name is now part of a large French-owned combine which has wisely kept the estates' individual status. The 94 wine (on sale at Oliver shops for $228) comes in cherry and berry flavours. I think this will be a lot better in a couple of years or so, if you are the patient type, stick a couple of bottles away. But it tastes just terrific today, and when I tried this with a bit of garlic-grilled chicken the other night it was drinking joyfully.