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The Zinfandel
Wine Grape:
An American Phenomenon with European Roots

Zinfandel Wine Grape

The Zinfandel wine grape has what can only be described as a split personality - there can hardly be two more different styles of wine than White Zinfandel (light, sweet) and Red Zinfandel (spicy, intense). Many people are first introduced to wine through White Zin so it serves a laudable purpose - but its innocuous character seems to bear no resemblance to the complex, bold flavors of a fine Red Zin.

The History of Zinfandel

Zinfandel is predominantly grown in America, although it's now been discovered that the grape has European origins in Croatia. A very popular wine grape pre-Prohibition (as well as during Prohibition since it shipped well for home winemaking around the country), this grape came back into vogue in the 1970s when Sutter Home accidentally made their first batch of "White Zin", a slightly sweet blush version. This style is still ubiquitous but many finer red Zinfandels are celebrated today as well.

Qualities of the Zinfandel Grape

Zinfandel vines are prolific, and can produce a fair crop into ripe old age - from 30 to even more than 100 years! For better quality wines, vineyards should be managed to set a smaller crop by thinning bunches or planting in an area that will curb its productivity. Grape bunches are large with large berries and thin skins. Berries on the same cluster often don't ripen at the same rate, so you'll often see small green unripe berries, ripe berries and overripe raisins intermixed on the same bunch.

Zinfandel Wine Characteristics

Body: medium to heavy
Tannins: light to medium
Acidity: medium
Flavors: wild berries and plum with generous peppery notes - sometimes fruit flavors border on overripe with prune and raisin

Regions Where Zinfandel is Grown

- Throughout California in the U.S., with bulk wine production focused on the hot Central Valley, and finer versions from Sonoma and Napa, particularly old vine plantings in the Russian River Valley 
- Italy's Puglia region
- Croatia's Dalmatian Coast

Zinfandel Fast Facts

- Bottled by varietal name in U.S.
- Bottled by local varietal name in Italy ('Primitivo')
- Bottled by local varietal name in Croatia ('Crljenak Kaštelanski')
- Famous Producers: Rosenblum Cellars, Cline, Ridge Vineyards
- Generally best drunk young for its vibrant fruity character, although some more exceptional wines can be aged 10 years or more

Zinfandel Wine & Food Pairing

- Delicious paired with full-flavored sauces such as marina or BBQ, as well as with grilled meats
- Easy Food and Wine pairings with Zinfandel:
     Smoked Turkey Chili

Here are some of our favorites:

  2004 Gloria's "Old Vines" Zinfandel, Mendocino
Exotically spicy, with hints of cinnamon and baking spices on the nose. Rich, slightly raisiny. ($18)

 2005 Renwood Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills
Effusive and cheery, this is a crowdpleaser. More balanced than your average Zin. ($12)


Next Variety:  Chardonnay Wine Grape

 



 

 


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