Zinfandel: The Wine, The Legend

The US is the fourth largest wine producer in the world, and quality is better than ever. Although you’ll find some amount of wine entrepreneurship in every state, California leads the pack with a stunning 81% of the country’s output.

California’s winemakers do it all; they vinify every possible wine grape from the more common Cabernet and Chardonnay to exciting Tempranillo and Vermentino. If there’s a grape variety worth planting, someone is already growing it in the Golden State.

From all varieties, there’s one with the deepest roots, with the most history and significance — the legendary Zinfandel. Here’s all you need to know about it.

Zinfandel’s Ancient History

For many, Zinfandel is the All-American red wine grape—the country’s true flagship varietal, unique to the warm soils of California. The thing is, Vitis vinifera grapes, from which Zinfandel is part of, are uniquely European, yet no one knew when the sturdy grape arrived in California.

It wasn’t until 2001 when Carole Meredith, a grapevine DNA specialist, confirmed Zinfandel was, indeed, not only the same Primitivo grape from Southern Italy but also the ancient Crljenak Kasteljanski grape. The latter, famous in Croatia but has grown in the Caucasus since the year 6,000 BC. 

The resistant grape arrived in the US in the 1820s at the hands of a New Yorker grapevine nursery owner and found its way to California during the 1840s Gold Rush. The vine likes warm soils, so it is found in Central and Northern California, the perfect spot to thrive. 

Then came the Phylloxera in the late 1800s. A vine pest that obliterated most of the world’s vineyards, including California’s Zinfandel. Still, the red grape had earned a place in everyone’s hearts and was one of the first varietals to be replanted. 

Californian wine wasn’t all that good back then, mostly made with ‘field blends,’ all the grapes harvested and vinified together regardless of their personalities. 

Things didn’t get better for a while. By the early 1970s, though, a wine style became madly popular, the White Zinfandel. A pink, often sweet wine made with the free-run juice coming from the press. It took wine lovers a few more decades to realize that Zinfandel shined best when vinified as red wine. The rest, as they say, is history.

What Does Zinfandel Taste Like?

California’s Zinfandel is unique in many ways. For starters, it comes from some of the oldest vines in the wine region. Old, gnarly vines have low yields, but the small amount of fruit is massively concentrated. 

Zinfandel grapes are also notable for the towering amounts of sugar they accumulate during the summer- this led producers to create the semi-sweet rosé styles in the first place. Still, when that sugar ferments entirely, the result is astounding.

Red Zinfandel, especially when it comes from old vines, is robust and powerful. Thick, almost syrupy, and incredibly bold. Dried fruit aromas mingle with fresh red and black fruit for delectable bouquets of immense complexity. On the palate, Zinfandel doesn’t hold back either — it’s layers of ripe fruit and sweet vanilla from American oak that swoons you off your feet.

It comes without saying Zinfandel is compatible with intensely flavored food like barbecues, smoked brisket, sticky ribs, and cranberry sauce. Everything kissed by smoke and fire pairs well with the strong-headed wine. But don’t think for a second Zinfandel lacks finesse — the grape is mighty but always beautifully stratified; it’s contemplative but crowd-pleasing. 

Zinfandel might not be American born, but it undoubtedly personifies everything great in the country. That’s Zinfandel right there, the All-American red wine.

Age and protect your favorite bottles of Zinfandel with a bespoke wine cellar. You can get started with an augmented reality full-color render of your potential custom wine cellar by visiting us at https://winecellars.com/wine-cellar-design/ or calling us at (800) 659-WINE (9463).

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