Varietal 4: Zinfandel | Part A: Background

Categories:  Fresh and Fruity – Packed with a Punch

Zinfandel.  Primitivo.  Zin. Zinfandel.  Different, or the same?  And the answer is… It depends!  In Italy’s Puglia region, the varietal is known as Primitivo.  In the U.S., it is nearly always labeled under the name “Zinfandel”.  As we will discover, the climate and environment in which the grapes grow along with the wine making style and decisions made by the wine maker can dramatically change the wines made from this amazing varietal.  Zinfandel, or Zin for short, was once America’s darling.  Finding its way to California in the mid-1850s, the grape’s ability to produce large crops and its extreme tolerance to disease offered the right combination to make inexpensive, plentiful wine to satisfy the heavy influence of workers flocking to the west coast during the Gold Rush and infrastructure building of railroads and transportation routes. 

When phylloxera struck the U.S. in the late 1800’s, Zin vines were largely immune to the pest and survived while their European cousins (remember Vitus Vinifera varietals) fell prey to the louse and were nearly extinguished.  Many Zinfandel vineyards have grape vines 50, 75, even 100 years old and have inspired wine makers to label wines from these vines as “old vine”.  Technically, there is no official regulation around which wines can or cannot be labeled old vine as it has no legal definition.  Consumers can expect wines from old vines to have more flavor concentration and complexity as they typically produce fewer grapes and lower volumes of wine which ultimately adds informational value even without being an official term.

Over time, U.S. wine growers became enamored with other red varietals, primarily from France, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Fortunately, U.S. consumers took to the “pink wine” trend in the 1970s which once again put Zinfandel in the spotlight.  This time, not for its deep, rich, red wine, but for a sweet pink wine (called White Zinfandel) produced in mass by the very same grape having gone through a quite different wine making process.  Love it, or hate it, White Zinfandel exploded on the U.S. market.  DOMSOM’s focus remains true to the grapes red wine heritage and all further information relates only to the red version of the varietal.

Zinfandel easily earns its reputation as a “wild child” in the red wine category.  Heavily influenced by its climate and vineyard influences, many Zins burst with red and black fruit flavors while having the ability to produce spicy, peppery notes packed with punch.  The fan club for Zinfandel is likely the most diverse of any major U.S. red wine and more and more consumers join every day making Zin the true come-back kid of the last decade.  In true DOMSOM style, we highly suggest grabbing some bottles and seeing for yourself how much this varietal has to offer.

America still loves Zinfandel and like many other grape varietals, Zin has its very own day named after the varietal with National Zinfandel Day being the 3rd Wednesday in November.  For you holiday fanatics out there, you are correct that the day before the U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving, we can all drink to Zin!