Food & Wine Pairings: Zinfandel Edition

Zinfandel has been steadily growing in popularity over the years. The majority of production of Zinfandel is in the United States, within California although its roots are in Europe. It’s fruity, full bodied, but still has a nice level of freshness, which makes it a versatile wine for pairing with food.

What is Zinfandel and what does it taste like?

Zinfandel is a red wine grape that originated in Croatia, where it’s known as Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag. It’s also known as Primitivo in Italy. Nowadays, California is the largest producer of Zinfandel wines. Italy’s Puglia region is the second largest producer.

Zinfandel grows beautifully in warm climates. The resulting wines are dry, full bodied, high in alcohol, moderate in tannins, and moderately high in acidity.

Primary aromas are black and blue fruits like blueberry, black cherry, and cassis in addition to black pepper, earth, and oaky baking spice notes like cinnamon, vanilla, and caramel. In the US, Zinfandel wines tend to be a little jammier on the nose, while European Zinfandel wines are a little more tart with meatier, earthier aromas. Younger Zinfandel wines are a little fruitier, while Zinfandel wines with some age tend to show more of their non-fruit characteristics. Zinfandel wines are very cellar-friendly, particularly if you enjoy drinking wines with more complex non-fruit aromas.

Zinfandel is also used to make rosé wines, known as “White Zinfandel,” which are not as full bodied and take on more red fruit characteristics. They also tend to be a little sweet.

Classic Zinfandel Food Pairings

Given its full body and fruity aromas, classic red Zinfandel pairs beautifully with grilled, roasted, or braised meats as well as tomato-based dishes.

Try California Zinfandel with:

  • Barbecued meats
  • Braised beef
  • Grilled pork tenderloin
  • Roast turkey or chicken
  • Steak
  • Leg of lamb
  • Brisket
  • Sausages
  • Spicy curry dishes

Try Italian Primitivo with:

  • Charcuterie
  • Sharp and rich cheeses
  • Spaghetti with marinara
  • Lasagna
  • Pizza with a tomato-based sauce
  • Grilled and roasted vegetables

White Zinfandel wines, which are really rosés, are excellent to enjoy during cocktail hour or with savory cured meats. The sweetness of White Zinfandel can be quite nice with a salty salami and sharp aged cheeses.

Unexpected Zinfandel Food Pairings

Generally, you would not expect that a full-bodied red wine like Zinfandel would pair with fish, however, Zinfandel is one unique exception.

Some seafood dishes to try with Zinfandel are:

  • Rich fish with darker meat, like tuna, salmon, and mackerel
  • Fish soups and stews, like gumbo, bouillabaisse, and cioppino

When pairing Zinfandel with seafood, stick to wines from Croatia and Italy. They are a little less jammy, with more earthy notes and restrained sweetness. They tend to be a little lighter bodied as well.

Zinfandel wines are excellent for pairing with a wide variety of foods. Keep in mind regional differences when looking for a meal to cook to pair with your Zinfandel. Additionally, note the age of the Zinfandel. For a fruitier pairing, go for a younger Zinfandel. For an earthy or spice pairing, pull a Zinfandel that you’ve been cellaring for a decade or more. Bon appétit!

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