About Zinfandel Wines
The Californians have always claimed the Zinfandel for their own, effectively seeing it as their national, or signature grape. However it has been the subject of hot debate in recent years, when it was claimed that this grape, on which Californian wine producers staked national pride, was in fact, the Italian Primitivo grape, grown in Puglia and throughout Southern Italy. Research has now proved that the grapes are genetically identical.
Amidst lots of excitement and some perturbation from the Californians, further research was undertaken, and it emerged, recently, that both Primitivo and Zinfandel originate from a barely known, and even less pronounceable Croatian grape variety, Crljevak Kasteljanski, which was brought to both southern Italy and California, by Croatian immigrants. Therefore whilst it has now been proved not to be identical, the links are unquestionable, and there are many similarities in style.
Background of Zinfandel Wines
The powerful, dark skinned grape Zinfandel is grown extensively in California. History has now proved that it is fact the Primitivo grape, but although a few Californian producers leapt onto the bandwagon in the wake of Southern Italy’s Primitivo rise in popularity, the majority have stayed true to the name that they have always called this grape, that they believed for years, was unique to California.
For decades California produced millions of gallons of jug wine, dry and sweet red wines and sweet Rose from this grape, which was not well known, and difficult to market. It was in the 1970s that the phenomenon that was to become ‘White Zinfandel Blush’ was first created. During the massive wine sales explosion of the 80s and 90s, love it or hate it, the brand ‘white Zinfandel blush’ has to be one of the most successful and longest lasting launches and trends, above and beyond almost all of the exciting new wines that were hitting our shores from around the world – with the only exception being the spectacular early success of ‘Brand Australia’, which really did take the country by storm.
Today Zinfandel is still used to produce millions of bottles of sweet blush wine, mainly for the huge big brand boys of California. It’s also used as a blending wine in the cheaper Californian reds, and also to produce soft, easy – drinking, juicy reds, which an edge of sweetness.
But Zinfandel is far more than that – made with care, quality and craftsmanship, it produces some of the most iconic, and high quality reds that California has to offer – championed by’ king of Zin’ Joel Petersen, and made in top spots such as Lodi, Sonoma and Amador County, the Zinfandel produces some intense, sumptuous, structured and complex styles of red.
What Does Zinfandel Taste Like?
The Zinfandel grape is one that copes well with the heat and strength of the Californian sunshine – it ripens well, with full, fleshy, sweetly spiced black fruit and bitter chocolate character, but has a high level of natural acidity, which keeps the wine balanced and fresh.
Zinfandel produces 3 distinct styles of wine:
White Zinfandel – love it or hate it, you can’t decry its success! Blush wines or White Zinfandel account for over half of all Rose wine sales in the UK, and are part of the reason for the dramatic growth in sales of Californian wine in the last 10 years, seeing this category overtake France in the sales stakes. Ranging from pale pink to neon, these pink wines have high sugar levels, and are fruitily sweet. Made famous by the Blossom Hill and Gallo, they are now firmly established on supermarket shelves.
If you enjoy this style, you still need to be careful in what you choose – there are some revolting, sticky, cloying Californian pink wines out there; but, somewhat surprisingly, chilled down well, the better wines, whilst sweet, have a decent freshness, and floral gentleness – if there is enough acidity in the wine, the natural sweet fruit will be dominant,, and the wine lively and fruity.
Red Zinfandel and blends – there are lots of inexpensive Red zins on the market today; generally these are soft, approachable, and relatively low tannin, with a natural warmth, sweet spice and ripe loganberry fruit.
Top quality Zinfandel – these are superb, carefully crafted wines, which truly bring out the character and individuality of the grape. Rich, bold, bursting with dense black cherry and blackberry fruit, with bitter chocolate and mocha – sinewy, yet soft, complex and velvety.
Where Is Zinfandel From?
The Zinfandel grape is genetically the same as the Primitivo, which itself links back to an unknown Croatian grape. It was brought to California either from Puglia, or directly from Croatia – that is the one part of the jigsaw that has not yet been solved. Regardless of how it arrived on Californian soil, the origin of Zinfandel goes back to the remote area of Crljevak Kasteljanski in Croatia, but it has become the national grape of California, who still view it as their own.
What Does Zinfandel Go With?
White Zinfandel is best drunk on its own, well chilled, or would be delicious with a bowl of strawberries, or a summery dessert. Somewhat surprisingly, the best of the white zins are also oddly good with hotly spiced Indian curries.
Red Zinfandel is a terrific wine for barbecues, sausages and meaty stews, with its intensity, and rich fleshiness; it’s also a great steak wine, and perfect with mature cheeses; once again, because of its natural sweet edge, it’s a great red for spicy food.