Zinfandel: More Than You Think

Zinfandel: More Than You Think

Many Americans know zinfandel as a blush colored slightly sweet wine that is easy to drink and appeals to many young wine drinkers. The story of zinfandel goes much deeper and has a rich history as one of this country’s most important wine grapes.

Zinfandel is a black exotic grape. Originally thought to be indigenous to California, research at the University of California, Davis has proven that it is genetically identical to the primitivo grape of Italy. Since California had Zinfandel long before Italy it was probably imported to the East coast from Croatia or Hungary as early as the eighteen hundreds. It made its way west when a few gold miners turned to agriculture as a means of sustenance as the gold rush was winding down.

California’s temperate climate and rich soils were perfect for growing zinfandel and it remains one of the nation’s most prolific red varieties. When grown in a hot climate, it usually produces undistinguished wine, suitable for blending in generic table wine. In cooler areas it makes unique and appealing wine with distinctive spice and berry like aroma and taste.

As California’s population grew so to did interest in wine. By the nineteen seventies the wine drinker’s taste for other varietals, mainly white wines such as chardonnay and sauvignon blanc surpassed the once popular red zinfandel. As sales began to diminish growers were considering replanting their vineyards with the better selling varietals. 

In 1972, Sutter Home winemaker, Bob Trinchero, began experimenting with a rose zinfandel and created a light styled easy drinking blush wine that people fell in love with it. During the 1980’s it became the number one selling wine in the US. White zinfandel is an easy wine to make and does not require aging. It was just what cash strapped wineries needed to boost their business as red wine sales dropped.

Thanks to the enormous popularity in white zinfandel the vines were saved and now that red zinfandel is again gaining popularity there are plenty of grapes available to make both shades of the wine.

In contrast to the slightly sweet white zinfandel, most red zinfandels are fermented to dryness and can be very robust. Red zinfandel can be made in many different styles. It can be intensely flavored wine full of berries and spice rich with tannins and worthy of aging or can be a dry fruity wine gushing with raspberry and sweet spice.

The best Zinfandels of California can be found in Napa, Sonoma, and the Sierra Foothills.

When pairing with food, the wine should mimic the intensity and fruit flavors of the food. If you’re serving light pasta with not too heavy of a sauce, try a lighter style of zinfandel. A heavier entrée such as a pepper crusted steak or a beef bourguignon would pair well with a bolder style zinfandel.

Whether you’re a novice or an experienced wine drinker there is a style of zinfandel for everyone!