What Is Zinfandel?
Zinfandel is a black-skinned grape grown primarily in California that produces red wines, rosés or Port-styled fortified wines. Its grapes grow in large, compact cones with berries of varying ripeness levels. Because grapes ripen at different times, the resulting wines can have a mix of dried and fresh fruit flavors, however some winemakers hand select the clusters to hone the flavor profile.
The grape, known as Primitivo in Italy, thrives in warm, dry climates and can produce wines from 12% to nearly 20% alcohol-by-volume (abv). Wines are often made from old vines that have matured in the vineyard for as long as a century.
What Is Red Zinfandel?
Ranging from fruity and approachable to tannic and bold, there’s pretty much a red Zinfandel for every palate.
For a classic Italian example of this red, look for a bottle from the Primitivo di Manduria. These bottles tend to be dense and exhibit notes of fig jam and dried citrus.
In California, Zinfandels tend to be between 14 to 16% abv. You can expect them to be full-bodied, jammy and spicy, but not very tannic. For a classic New World example, check out bottles from Amador County.
What Is White Zinfandel?
Contrary to the name, white Zinfandel isn’t actually white. It’s a rosé, usually semi-sweet in style. And this wine has made many a person into a wine lover.
White Zinfandel was made accidentally by Sutter Home in the 1970s, when a batch of must, bled from a red-wine fermentation, failed to ferment dry. In other words, it was a sweet rosé made by the saignée method.
White Zin tends to be juicy, fruity and easy for new wine drinkers to appreciate. This style has undergone many a transition since its accidental inception. But some newer examples are similar to Primitivo-based rosatos from Southern Italy.
Where the Grapes Appear in Beverages
Zinfandel produces red wines, rosés or Port-styled fortified wine.
Many grape varieties have several different names, depending on where they are grown. And Zinfandel is no exception.
This versatile grape is known as Tribidrag or Crljenak Kaštelanski in Croatia and Montenegro. Travel over to Italy, and you’ll hear it called Primitivo in Puglia. Some producers in California label their wines as Primitivo, too.
Other lesser-used names for Zinfandel include Kratošija, Morellone, Pribidrag, Primaticcio Primitivo di Gioia, Primativo, Trebidrag, Uva di Corato and Zagarese.
Zinfandel is grown throughout the world, but some of the best examples from Italy and California.
Zinfandel in Italy
Known as Primitivo in Italy, the grape is most well known in the southern region of Puglia. The generally warm climate of the area produces richly fruited wines that show lots of jammy cherry and blackberry tones, alongside lifted accents of spice, violet and orange rind.
The most well-known expression from Puglia is Primitivo di Manduria, which is from a region that sits alongside the Ionian Sea. In more central Puglia, Primitivo from the Gioia del Colle appellation can be lighter and more elegant in style. Well-priced, accessible options abound in the Salento Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) too.
Zinfandel in California
Production of Zinfandel began to surge in California following the Gold Rush of 1849. It is now grown across the state, with notable examples coming from Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, the Sierra Foothills, Mendocino County and Paso Robles.
Styles vary among these regions, with some of the hotter climates yielding powerful wines with muscle and depth, and the cooler climates like Russian River Valley providing more nuanced, expressive and even peppery wines
Zinfandel Tasting Notes
Typically, Zinfandel displays a signature spice profile, as well as jammy fruit flavors, like blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. They are typically full-bodied and not very tannic, unless blended with Petite Sirah, which is common.
White Zinfandel is often juicy and fruity. Port-style fortified Zinfandel tends to be sweet and chocolaty.
Zinfandel Pairs Well With
The most important rule of pairing wine and food? Find what you like. But if you happen to have some Zinfandel on hand here are some pairing tips.
With such a wide range of styles, Zinfandel can pair with a whole host of foods.
If you’re grilling up some burgers, steaks, lamb chops or other meats reach for a tannic and hearty Zinfandel (like a bottle from Primitivo di Manduria).
If you have a Zinfandel on the lighter- to medium- bodied side, try it with cheeses as well as turkey and pasta dishes with tomato sauce.
White Zinfandel is also great for serving with lighter appetizers, charcuterie boards, fruit salad or seafood kebabs.
Another thing to keep in mind is that more peppery Zinfandels, grown in cooler climates, will also go great with Indian dishes like Palak paneer, a classic curry from Northern India.
Zinfandel Fun Facts
- There is evidence that the earliest Zinfandel wine was made around 6000 B.C.E.
- Zinfandel was planted heavily in California during the 19th-century Gold Rush.
- Zinfandel originated in Croatia, where it is known as Crljenak Kaštelanski.
- Zinfandel is called Primitivo in Italy because it ripens early in the season.
Similar Varieties to Zinfandel
Hendry 2019 Block 28 Zinfandel (Napa Valley)NapaFloral scents and vivid, jammy blackberry and black-pepper flavors highlight this full-bodied, ...Editors’ ChoiceSee Full Review$38
Michael David 2019 Lust Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyBeautiful aromas of fresh and dried violets, fresh blackberry, blueberry, and boysenberry, ...See Full Review$59
Allan Hancock 2021 ZinfandelCalifornia OtherIntriguing and lovely aromas of elderberry, elderflower, acia and violet make for ...Best BuySee Full Review$18
Klinker Brick 2020 Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyA twinge of bitter oak tannin underlies this Zinfandel—it's absolutely well integrated ...See Full Review$40
Peirano 2021 The Immortal Zin Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyA bit shy on the nose, this Zin really comes to life ...Best BuySee Full Review$15
Klinker Brick 2020 Marisa Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyThe elevated acidity and soft tannic structure gives this robust red wine ...See Full Review$28
Rombauer 2020 Twin Rivers Single Vineyard Zinfandel (El Dorado)Sierra FoothillsA full-bodied Zinfandel with plushy tannins that hug that palate, well balanced ...See Full Review$45
Michael David 2020 Earthquake Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyA solid Zinfandel expression that's sure to please lovers of big, bold ...See Full Review$26
Big Smooth 2020 Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyWith 80% Zinfandel and 20% Petite Sirah, this is a full-bodied red ...Best BuySee Full Review$17
Grady Family Vineyards 2019 Estate Grown Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyFull bodied and robust, find initial aromas of red cherry, red plum, ...Best BuySee Full Review$15
Michael David 2020 Freakshow Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyAn overall well-balanced Zinfandel with notes of black cherry, black plum, river ...Best BuySee Full Review$18
McManis 2021 Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyAn overall well-balanced Zinfandel incorporating small percentages of Petit Verdot, Teroldego and ...Best BuySee Full Review$12
Oak Farm 2020 Tievoli Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyFull bodied with an aggressive tannic structure, find aromas and flavors of ...See Full Review$20
ZinPhomaniac 2021 Old Vines Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyAn overall well-balanced and quaffable Zinfandel showcasing notes of black and red ...Best BuySee Full Review$18
Artezin 2020 Zinfandel (Mendocino County)Mendocino CountyA very simple Zinfandel with straight-forward aromas and flavors of fresh and ...See Full Review$20
Rombauer 2020 Zinfandel (California)California OtherA well-balanced and simple Zinfandel in which the oak adds minor tones ...See Full Review$38
Precision Wine 2021 Hierogram Vineyard Block No. 8 Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyThis wine incorporates both fresh- and dried-fruit notes of cranberry, boysenberry, prune ...Best BuySee Full Review$13
Peltzer Family 2018 Aged Bourbon Barrel Zinfandel (California)California OtherThis is a relatively pleasant version of this essentially flavored style of ...See Full Review$64
Precision Wine 2020 Gearbox Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyA fairly simple red wine with rich, almost sweet, aromas and flavors ...Best BuySee Full Review$10
Twisted Cedar 2020 Native American Owned Zinfandel (Lodi)Central ValleyThis Zinfandel includes small percentages of Barbera, Petite Sirah and Teroldego. On ...Best BuySee Full Review$15
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