10 Essential Facts on Zinfandel

While Zinfandel may bookend an alphabetical roll call of grape varieties, that doesn’t make it last place in our hearts. Sometimes called “America’s Grape,” Zinfandel is considered an American, and particularly Californian, vinous specialty with a history in the Golden State dating back to the pioneering Gold Rush era. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Zinfandel was the state’s 3rd most harvested variety in 2017, trailing only Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon . But even though the United States cultivates more Zinfandel than anywhere else on earth, this grape’s story neither begins nor ends there. From Croatia to Italy to California, get to know Zinfandel in ten essential facts. 1. AMERICA’S GRAPE? —Despite its epithet as “America’s Grape,” Zinfandel is of European descent. Like Pinot Noir , Sauvignon Blanc , and essentially every quality European wine grape, it is of the same species, Vitis vinifera. Zinfandel’s exact parentage remains unconfirmed, but it is believed to be one of the most ancient varieties from which wine is made today. 2. CROATIAN HERITAGE—Zinfandel was born in Croatia on the Dalmatian Coast , where it is called by the names Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag. Despite its origins, the grape grew nearly extinct in its homeland by the turn of the 21st century, with supposedly a mere 22 Tribidrag vines remaining in Dalmatia. Once DNA studies revealed the variety to be genetically identical to Zinfandel, Dalmatian producers found a resurgence of interest in their indigenous grape. Today, over 200,000 Tribidrag vines grow in the region. 3. ITALY TO BOOT—Zinfandel’s more famous Old World home, however, is Puglia – the high heel of Italy’s boot. Here, it goes by the alias Primitivo , and the region boasts two appellations for the grape: Primitivo di Manduria and Gioia del Colle Primitivo . 4. COMING TO AMERICA—Zinfandel first reached America’s shores in 1829, when George Gibbs imported vine cuttings from a Viennese nursery to Long Island. Less than a quarter-century later, the variety crossed the continent in an 1852 shipment to Gold Rush-era settlers who had just begun to experiment with winegrowing in California. 5. OLD VINE ZIN—Extraordinarily, a tremendous number of 19th century Zinfandel vineyards survive in California and count among America’s greatest viticultural treasures. These gnarled bush vines are some of the oldest in the world to remain actively in production, yielding wines (often labeled “Old Vines”) of concentration and structure. 6. ZIN IN THE MIX—While Zinfandel can be vinified on its own into outstanding varietal wines, in some of California’s most historic vineyards, the grape is cultivated as part of a field blend. In these vineyards, different varieties are interspersed over the same stretch of land, and Zinfandel will often find the company of such other grapes as Petite Sirah , Alicante Bouschet , Carignan , and dozens of others. Sometimes referred to as “mixed blacks,” these California field blends can include white varieties as well. 7. RISK OF JAMMINESS—Growing Zinfandel can often prove to be a headache for viticulturists, as the grape bears a propensity for uneven ripening. In a single cluster, individual berries can reach maturity at shockingly different rates. If that time gap is too wide, the earliest grapes to ripen can turn overripe while waiting for the slowest grapes to catch up. Taming this inclination is a chief objective for producers of Zinfandel, as otherwise the variety can give way to wines that are overly “jammy” and sky high in alcohol. 8. THE RISE OF WHITE ZINFANDEL—While Zinfandel is most respected as a dry red wine, in the 1970s a new style for the variety emerged: White Zinfandel. In 1975, Bob Trinchero invented White Zinfandel by accident in the cellars of Sutter Home when the yeasts stopped fermenting his Zinfandel rosé, yielding a not-yet-dry wine. This sweet, pink “blush” wine skyrocketed in popularity, swiftly becoming America’s most consumed “premium” wine by the late 1980s. In 2006, White Zinfandel still outsold red Zinfandel six bottles to one. While White Zinfandel is rarely considered a serious wine, the phenomenon is credited for saving California’s old Zinfandel vineyards, which easily could have been ripped out in favor of more fashionable grapes. 9. THE SWEET STUFF—Beyond white (or, “blush”) and dry red, Zinfandel can also come in dessert form. A number of California producers will make sweet late harvest or fortified wines from Zinfandel, the latter often labeled as “Zinfandel Port.” While bearing little semblance to authentic Port from Portugal, Zinfandel’s dessert offerings can nonetheless satisfy with their own raisiny, fruit-laden, unctuous profile. 10. A CELLAR-WORTHY ADDITION—Zinfandel rarely commands the same prices as California’s top Cabernets, but it should not be ruled out as a candidate for the cellar. Although juicy and gratifying when young – not to mention an essential accompaniment to hamburgers or other grilled fare – the best Zinfandels have the ability to age gracefully for decades, evolving into wines of nuance and purity, with a complex yet rustic spiciness. — Bryce Wiatrak Are you planning on uncorking a bottle of Zinfandel? We can’t wait to see what’s in your glass! Scan the label or search by name to add your tasting notes on Delectable.

Green & Red Vineyards

Chiles Canyon Vineyards Zinfandel 2012

Deep dark bold. Plum and Blackberry. Woody resin with mild tannins. Excellent when paired with steak off the grill drizzled with Olive Oil and a squeezed Lemon. — 5 years ago

Carlisle Winery & Vineyards

Carlisle Vineyard Zinfandel 2015

Not as open as the 14s were in their youth. 15 is more structured where 14 was more plush. The petit sirah seems to show more in this vintage as black fruits and spice dominate. Drinks well with a couple hour decant, but this one is built for age. — 2 years ago

Shay, Mark and 1 other liked this

Bedrock Wine Co.

Evangelho Vineyard Heritage Zinfandel Blend 2013

Jörgen Lindström Carlvik
9.2

It just keeps getting more interesting! Now, when the baby fat, is gone, its true vineyard quality shines thru. Long life ahead. 92+ — 3 years ago

Greg, Carla and 12 others liked this

Càntele

Salento Primitivo 2013

Dark red / purple tones in color, blackberry notes with a hint of bitter (but not off-putting) notes, smooth but some depth to it. — 2 years ago

Tony liked this

Martinelli

Vellutini Ranch Zinfandel 2010

This wonderful wine opens slowly and the breathes its fruity musk out the top of your glass. A nosey baryard that then blows tobacco across your tongue and dissolves into a brilliance of cherry and black currant. Yum. — 3 years ago

Marion McHugh
with Marion
Marion, Larry and 1 other liked this

Castello Monaci

Pilùna Salento Primitivo 2015

Full bodied babe alert! Raspberries bathing in sensual chocolate. It puts the leather on the skin or else it gets the hose again. — 3 years ago

Katie Larsen
with Katie

Joseph Swan Vineyards

Mancini Ranch Zinfandel 2012

Perfumed fresh red fruits - crushed raspberry, kumquat, rose petal. Jam is there but not jammy. Showcase in restraint and my favorite type of zin. — 2 years ago

Chris, Severn and 2 others liked this

Turley

Old Vines California Zinfandel 2014

A little hot and peppery initially, but this settled down nicely with an hour or so of air, showing lovely red fruits and a silky mouthfeel. This is excellent already and will likely be even better with another 1-2 years in the cellar. Terrific value. — 2 years ago

Jason, Eric and 9 others liked this

Williams Selyem

Bacigalupi Vineyard Zinfandel 2000

#Zinfandel ageworthy? It’s possible, as the loveliness of this 15-yr-old Williams Selyem Bacigalupi Vineyard shows. Almost Port-like with a swirl of pomegranate, brown sugar, cedar. 16.7% alcohol but still fresh, balanced. — 4 years ago

Rodolphe, Tony and 2 others liked this

Ridge Vineyards

Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Blend 2014

Our friends shared anecdotes about hanging out with Paul Draper in the 1970s, so it had to be a Ridge night. What a stunner with masses of tannins and acidity, rich with black cherries. It could do with a few years but fun to try now. — 2 years ago

James, Bill and 4 others liked this
Bill Bender

Bill Bender Influencer Badge Premium Badge

You weren’t kidding about loading a huge amount of entries. You are going to get carpal tunnel.