18 things you didn’t know about Zinfandel

There is a lot of buzz around the secret of zinfandel but no one has been able to discern what it is. The palate would tingle, the senses would be set on edge, and the world would turn orange. What could it be? Everyone has their own theory.

You’ve probably heard a lot about Zinfandel before. But we’ll bet there is still something surprising and delicious for you to learn. Here are just a few reasons – 18 to be precise – why you need Zinfandel in your life:

For years, the lovely fruit that is zinfandel has been misunderstood and discarded. This is unfortunate, mainly because zinfandel has some of the most delicious properties in America. Until recently, it was thought that the fruit only produced pink wine that was syrupy and over-sweet. Wine drinkers didn’t realize that the grape was also capable of producing dense, opulent, structured red wine.

Most wine drinkers don’t know that there isn’t actually a white Zinfandel grape. Both white and red Zinfandel are made from the same grape.

White Zinfandel originated because of an accident. During the 1970s, Bob Trinchero, a Californian winemaker was trying to make a dry white wine. However, the wines’ customers complained that they were too dry, so he sweetened them. Finally, the result was a pink-colored, sweet wine named White Zinfandel. The sweetness attracted a lot of attention and by the mid-1980s, Sutter Home White Zinfandel became one of the most popular premium wines in the United States — the rest is history.

In the 1980s, the 40th president of the United States fell in love with California wine. It was so important that he even introduced the first Zinfandel to the White House. Regan himself was said to have ended both wine and nuclear wars with Gorbachev over glasses of Californian wine from Sonoma County. Ronald Reagan was really crazy for California wines.

It can be difficult to find the perfect Zinfandel because the wines often range from dry and savory to sweet and fruity even in the most expensive bottles.

In 2006, the California legislature officially declared that Zinfandel was the state’s official historical wine. The Golden State has primacy in the production of this noble grape variety due to its ideal weather conditions and soil that allow it to reach peak ripeness and flavor maturity.

To general consumers, Zinfandel is known as a black-skinned wine grape. However, in reality, it is actually red with light coloring. It is lighter than both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but darker than Pinot Noir.

James Joyce’s modernist novel Ulysses has a real-life character named Zinfandel, an obese horse mentioned in the text. This character is important to both the plot and the themes of the book. Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses is a complex and modernist novel with many themes that are relevant today.

Zinfandel is ripe for drinking about 3-5 years after its vintage, but it can vary. Factors impacting ripeness include the soil and weather where it was grown.

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.

With medium to medium-high tannin and high acidity, Zinfandel is an excellent pairing with Italian, Spanish, and Mexican cuisines. And what’s great about a good Zinfandel is its versatility. Whether you’re eating Italian, Spanish, or Mexican food, it pairs wonderfully with it. It is also fantastic with pizza, grilled meats, barbequed meat meals, heavy pasta dishes with tomato sauce: lasagna and spaghetti Bolognese. It also pairs well with cheeses such as gouda, Muenster, asiago, goat’s cheese, and gruyere.

Zinfandel is the red wine that was introduced to California during the gold rush. In fact, it was originally planted in the state in the 1840s. By 1880, it outgrew all other red grapes in California. Now, however, Zinfandel only makes up around 10 percent of California vineyards. The second most popular red grape is Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay is still the number one in California.

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.