The California Red: Zinfandel

In the state of California, Zinfandel is the number two most widely planted red wine grape. For many, many years, Zinfandel was a mystery grape, its origins unconfirmed. The latest DNA profiling from the University of California at Davis suggests that the grape actually originated in Croatia and not in the south of Italy, which was previously a common misconception. Continued research has shown that the possible original plantings migrated from Greece or even Albania.

Zinfandel arrived in the United States in the 1820’s, when George Gibbs, a New York nurseryman, brought cuts from the Imperial Austrian plant species assortment. Throughout the following two decades, Zinfandel became a widespread table grape in North Eastern America. Although there is some controversy over the actual individual who first brought Zinfandel to the states, it has regardless been thriving since the middle of the nineteenth century.

Its popularity in the United States has lead Zinfandel to be referred to by the masses as the first true "California Red." Although California is the premier grower of Zinfandel, it is also widely grown in Italy as well.

It is a difficult grape to grow, due to the small, berry-like grapes that grow in tight clusters and ripen unevenly. Water management is essential in growing Zinfandel grapesâ€"if these grapes do not get enough moisture, they will become stressed and will be more likely to raisin.

Zinfandel grapes however, are very resistant to vine disease and it is not uncommon for Zinfandel vineyards to be in existence for 75 or even 100 years. Wine connoisseurs believe that these "old vines" create the best wines because the older vineyards tend to be smaller, causing the grapes to ripen more evenly.

Zinfandels’ preferable growing climate is in warm, coastal valleys, such as Dry Creek Valley, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Paso Robles.

Zinfandel varies in taste from light and fruity to intense and peppery. It is a common variety to blend with other grapes. At its ideal state, Zinfandel is fruity, with hints of raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, cranberry, or black cherry. Common herbal tastes include briar, licorice, and nettle, while cinnamon and black pepper are both prevalent spices.

Depending on the region the grapes are grown in, the berry flavors will vary. Zinfandels produced in the Napa Valley tend to have hints of raspberry while warmer areas like Sonoma County will tend to have more of a strong blackberry flavor. The cooler the environment, the lighter and more fruity the grape will be.

A varietal best consumed within three to five years of the vintage, Zinfandel can become somewhat acidic and develop a higher alcohol level, leading it to have a "hot" taste if it isn’t drank within five years of being bottled. Although typically Zinfandel is a hearty, red wine, in the United States a semi-sweet blush style wine known as "White Zinfandel" is also extremely popular

Recommended food pairings include outdoor grilled steaks, chops, or fruit stewed or stuffed meats. Zinfandels are not usually recommended for seafood and lighter tasting cuisines such as chicken, but more appropriately with full-bodied meats, potatoes, and pastas.

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About The Author, Sarah Martin
Sarah Martin is a freelance marketing writer based out of San Diego, CA. She specializes in travel, leisure, home improvement, life insurance, and fine wines. She enjoys wine tasting, particularly a nice Petite Sirah, traveling, and gardening in her spare time. For great deals on countless varietals, please visit