Learn All About the Zinfandel Grape Variety & Wines it Produces
Red Zinfandel is a black and blue-skinned grape variety that’s most notably grown and incredibly popular within the United States.
In the glass, this grape tends to adhere to lighter-bodied characteristics while simultaneously maintaining big flavors. This is largely due to Zin’s elevated acidic content and classically high alcohol content (up to 17% in some cases).
These two factors can make Zinfandel feel more medium-bodied on the palate.
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This grape variety is packed with flavors resembling ripe red fruit – including raspberry, raisin, cranberry, cassis and plum. These jammy fruit flavors are often backed with distinct black pepper spice, tobacco, dry barnyard door, and coffee.
While these are generalities, Zinfandel flavors can vary and the alcohol content is influential an component.
Depending on ripeness at the time of harvest, it’s believed that cooler climate Zins adhere to more red fruit flavors while warmer climate varietal wines contain more black fruit and pepper nuances.
The United States holds over 70% of Zinfandel acreage worldwide, with Italy (around 27%) and various locations throughout Australia, South Africa, and Mexico holding the remainder.
While Red Zinfandel remains the most popular style worldwide, White Zinfandel, an off-dry rosé made in the United States – is also flying off the shelves.
What Does Zinfandel Taste Like?
Zinfandel is known to produce bold, spicy wines with notable fruit that includes fig, raspberry, cassis, raisin, cherry, plum, and cranberry jam. The earth and spice notes typically include underbrush, red clay minerals, dry herbs, smoke, black pepper, cacao, cinnamon, oak, tobacco, mushroom, and tumbleweed.
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Zinfandel Food Pairings
If you’re snacking and drinking Zinfandel, try it with dark chocolate. The tobacco flavors, acid and raspberry jam notes accent it very nicely. Plus, you’re getting resveratrol from the Zin and additional antioxidants from the chocolate.
Cuban-styled Lechon, barbecue chicken, roasted duck, lamb, or pulled pork will bring out the spicy and savory flavors of warmer-climate Zins. Conversely, the red jammy fruit in cooler climate Zin’s pairs well with grilled heavier grilled fish and cheeseburgers.
For other pairings, try these wines with any tomato-based pasta. Don’t be afraid to utilize your spice cabinet when it comes to Zinfandel. These wines contain plenty of dry herb and cracked pepper flavors.
Spicy or savory Mexican and Indian plates pair nicely with red Zinfandel as well. Make sure you don’t use any bland vegetables. Instead try grilled red bell pepper or seared onion, cilantro, and tomato.
Climate and Terroir for Zinfandel
Some like it hot and that includes Zinfandel! This grape likes heat and thrives in hot, dry climates like southern Italy and eastern California. Its deep color requires plenty of sunshine though it can shrivel with too much. (Not to worry – those make wonderful dessert wines). Because of its high sugar levels, Zinfandel tends to be high in alcohol and winemakers must monitor acidity levels closely to make sure the wines aren’t too hot.
RELATED: In Italy, Zinfandel is Commonly Referred to as Primitivo
How is Zinfandel Aged?
Due to the higher alcohol content, Zinfandels can age for quite a while. It can also stand up to oak well because of its naturally bold flavors. It’s pretty hard to intimidate Zinfandel and even very toasted American oak can impart flavors without overwhelming the wine. Inexpensive Zins are meant to be drunk young, preferably at a barbecue with friends.
Try these fantastic Zinfandel wines from around the world:
- Dashe, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California
- Ridge, Paso Robles, Central Coast, California
- Dry Creek Vineyard, Heritage Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California
- Seghesio, Old Vine Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California
- Renwood Estate, Ranch Zinfandel, Amador, Sierra Foothills, California
- A. Cetto, Mexico
Learn About These Other Wine Grape Varieties
Written By Jamie Metzgar
Jamie Elizabeth Metzgar began her career in wine by pouring in a tasting room on the East End of Long Island, NY. After moving to New York City, she landed a position at Chambers Street Wines where she was encouraged to pursue wine education at the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET). She earned Level III certification there and has since earned California Wine Appellation Specialist and Certified Specialist of Wine certifications as well. After way too many moves, she has recently landed in Northern California where she is compiling an unofficial roster of dog-friendly tasting rooms.
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Zinfandel Wine Profile & Food Pairings
Red & Black (Fig, Raspberry, Blackberry, Cassis, Raisin, Cherry, Plum, Cranberry Jam)
Earth & Mineral Notes:
Underbrush, Red Clay Minerals, Dry Herbs
Smoke, Black Pepper, Cacao, Cinnamon, Oak, Tobacco, Mushroom, Tumbleweed
Sugar Dry, Off-Dry
Alcohol High (13.5%-17.0% ABV)
Finish Bright, Medium
If you're snacking and drinking Zinfandel, try it with dark chocolate. The tobacco, acid and raspberry jam accent it very nicely. Plus, you're getting resveratrol from the Zin and additional antioxidants from the chocolate.
Pork, Poultry, Hamburgers & Lamb
Cuban-styled Lechon, barbecue chicken, roasted duck, lamb or pulled pork will bring out the spicy and savory flavors of warmer-terroired Zin's. Conversely, I think the red jammy fruit in cooler climate Zin's pairs well with grilled redfish and blue cheese burgers.
Tomato Based Pasta
For other pairings, try these wines with any tomato based pasta. Don't be afraid to utilize your spice cabinet when it comes to reds. These wines contain plenty of dry herb and cracked pepper flavors.
Mexican & Indian Food
Spicy or savory Mexican and Indian plates pair nicely with red Zinfandel. Make sure you don't use any bland vegetables. Instead try grilled red bell pepper or seared onion, cilantro and tomato.