18 things you didn’t know about Zinfandel

You must have heard a lot about Zinfandel before. But probably not everything.

Zinfandel is probably the world’s most misunderstood grape. Until recently, many wine enthusiasts thought that the red grape could only produce a pink syrup, and didn’t realize that it was also capable of creating dense, opulent, structured red wine.

You may not believe it, but there is no white Zinfandel grape. Both white and red Zinfandel wines are made from the same Zinfandel grape.

White Zinfandel found its beginning when it started as an accident. Bob Trinchero, a Californian winemaker was trying to make a dry white wine in the 1970s. Customers complained that the resulting wine was too dry, so he sweetened it. Finally, it ended up with a pink, sweet wine under the Sutter Home label and the rest is history. By the mid-1980s, Sutter Home White Zinfandel was the most-popular premium wine in the United States. Holy shit!

The 40th president of the United States (from 1981 to 1989) Ronald Reagan was crazy for California wine and he introduced the first Zinfandel to the White House. It was even reported that the Cold War was ended with Gorbachev over glasses of some Sonoma wines.

Styles of Zinfandel wines can range from sweet and fruity to the dry and savory even among the most expensive wines.

California legislature designated Zinfandel as California’s official historical wine in 2006. No doubt, California is recognized as having the best Zinfandel grapes in the world.

Contrary to popular belief, Zinfandel is actually a black-skinned wine grape and not red. It is lighter in color than both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but deeper than a Pinot Noir.

Zinfandel is the name of a real horse mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses which is known as a modernist novel and was first serialized in parts in the American journal The Little Review from 1918 to 1920.

Zinfandel often reaches its peak within 3-5 years of its vintage but it depends on the terroir and weather conditions of its plantings.

Zinfandel is really the most European wine in California and is extremely old. The origin of Zinfandel has long been unknown, but recent DNA research shows that its ancestors are a Croatian and an Italian grape variety. These are Crljenak Kaštelanski and Primitivo. Crljenak Kaštelanski literally means ‘red grape of Kaštela’, which is an agglomeration of seven small towns in Croatia. Crljenak probably got to Vienna for the first time, where all the monarchy grape varieties were collected and could leave for America from Vienna. So it came from Croatia to Austria to Long Island, New York to Boston, and to California. Evidence suggests the first Zinfandel was made in the Caucasus around 6000 BC.

You can get medium to medium-high tannins from a good Zinfandel and with its high acidity Zinfandel would be a great pairing with food especially to Italian, Spanish and Mexican cuisines. Zinfandel is an excellent option for pizza, grilled, barbeque meats, hearty meat meals and thick pasta dishes with tomato sauce: lasagne, spaghetti Bolognese. It also pairs well with cheeses such as gouda, muenster, asiago, goats cheese, and gruyere.

Zinfandel originally became introduced to California through the gold rush. Wine has been made from Zinfandel in California since the mid-1800s and it was the most planted grape in California in the 1880s. Now it’s only the third one planted in over 10 percent of all Californian vineyards (Carbernet Sauvignon is number two and Chardonnays are in the first place).

It is a rarity outside of America. It is only grown in a few other countries, such as Australia, South Africa, Mexico, and Croatia. But Zinfandel is grown other places in the US, including Washington, New York, Texas, and Oregon.

Some celebrities who own wineries and vineyards in California (maybe with Zinfandel plantings): Francis Ford Coppola, Drew Barrymore, Vince Neil (Mötley Crüe), Jim Nantz, Dave Mustaine (Megadeth), Fergie Ferguson, Guy Fieri, Emilio Estevez, Earl Stevens (E-40), Mario Andretti.

Imagine that a California wine grape survived the prohibition and it was Zinfandel. It was shipped to home winemakers who were able to make about 200 gallons of wine to enjoy at home. True story.

Extremely versatile. Zinfandel is used to make white wine, late harvest, sweet wine, light new wine, full-bodied red wine, but there is even a port type. And what you won’t believe is that white Zinfandel has six times as many sales as red Zinfandel in the United States.

Common Blending Partners: Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mission, and Cabernet Sauvignon (the Cabernet-Zinfandel blends are very popular in California) but Zinfandel can often be found blended with other grapes like Sangiovese, Carignane, and Barbera. 

Old Vine (or Ancient Vine Zin) is one of the most popular types of Zinfandel; these wines have grown on at least 50-year-old vines. It’s so important because these old vines produce less fruit which means more concentrated flavors. So these Old Vines are even bigger in flavor and intensity than other Zinfandels and it means a more premium version of the wine. No surprise that Old Vine Zinfandel commands a higher price.