Let’s take a closer look at both red and white Zinfandel wine and learn the secrets to picking out your favorite styles.
Why is White Zinfandel so popular?
White Zinfandel is often the very first wine someone tries. Today, close to 85% of the total Zinfandel production is White Zin! As much as wine snobs bash it, White Zinfandel offers everything a beginner might want:
- low alcohol – 9-10% ABV
- low calories – 125 calories per 6 oz. serving
- pleasing sweet taste
At $5 a bottle White Zinfandels taste fine, but most lack the complexity to be compared to the red version of the same grape. Red Zinfandel wine can offer serious presence and sophistication.
How Red Zinfandel Tastes
The primary flavors of Zinfandel are jam, blueberry, black pepper, cherry, plum, boysenberry, cranberry, and licorice. When you taste Zinfandel it often explodes with candied fruitiness followed by spice and often a tobacco-like smoky finish.
How Red Zinfandel compares to other red wines
How Bold? Zinfandel is lighter in color than both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. However, although a light-bodied red wine like Pinot Noir, Zin’s moderate tannin and high acidity make it taste bold. Generally speaking, most Zinfandel wines have higher alcohol levels ranging from about 14 – 17% ABV. Higher alcohol adds an oily texture and bigger, bolder body.
Zinfandel Food Pairing
Think curry spice. Since Zinfandel leans on the sweeter side of red wine, it’s a great pairing partner with spiced barbecue dishes and curry. Pro tip: Pick out the spices you taste in the wine and add them to your sauce.
Perfect Zinfandel Food Pairing
Pork tonkatsu is a Japanese dish served with a richly spiced curry sauce. The spicing and savory-sweet quality of this dish make it a perfect wine pairing partner with Zinfandel.
Try pairing with lighter meats including Quail, Turkey, Pork, Bacon, Ham and Veal. Zinfandel works well with Barbecue red meats and lamb.
Spices and Herbs
Ginger, Garlic, Rosemary, Curry, Turmeric, Cayenne, Clove, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Vanilla, Cocoa, Black Pepper, Coriander, Fennel, and Saffron.
Look for hard and richly flavored cow’s and sheep’s milk cheeses such as Manchego, Bandage-wrapped Cheddar and Trentingrana.
Vegetables & Vegetarian Fare
Use highly flavored vegetables to bring out the fruitiness in Zinfandel such as roasted tomato, red peppers, carmelized onion, roasted squash, apricot, peach, cranberry, spiced apple, and beets.
3 Tips to Buying Zinfandel Wine
- Pay attention to ABV
- Best trick when buying Zinfandel is to check the Alcohol by Volume (ABV). A lighter Zinfandel will have about 13.5% ABV whereas a bold and spicy Zinfandel will have around 16% ABV.
- Who makes the best Zinfandel?
- There are several sub-regions in California that make great Zinfandel. Currently, the most popular are Napa Valley, Dry Creek Valley (in Sonoma), Russian River Valley (in Sonoma) and Lodi.
- Hot Tip! High Elevation
- Look for Zinfandels from high elevation areas (such as Howell Mountain or El Dorado County). High elevation Zinfandels tend to have more savory intensity and richness.
Red Zinfandel (Primitivo) Wine Characteristics
- FRUIT FLAVORS (berries, fruit, citrus)
- Raspberry, Black Cherry, Blackberry, Blueberry, Black Currant, Black Plum, Raisin, Fig, Apricot, Cranberry Jam, Jammy/Brambly Fruit
- OTHER AROMAS (herb, spice, flower, mineral, earth, other)
- Licorice, Star Anise, Smoke, Black Pepper, Black Cardamom
- OAK FLAVORS (flavors added with oak aging)
- Vanilla, Coconut, Nutmeg, Peach Yogurt, Mocha, Burnt Sugar, Coffee, Cinnamon, Clove, Tobacco, Fresh Sawdust
- Medium – Medium High
- Medium – Medium High
- SERVING TEMPERATURE
- “Room Temperature” 62 ºF (17 ºC)
- SIMILAR VARIETIES
- Grenache, Plavic Mali, Negroamaro, Blaufrankish (aka Lemberger), Sangiovese, Barbera, Counoise
- Primitivo (Puglia, Italy), Crljenak Kaštelanski (Croatia) and Tribidrag (Croatia), Morellone (Puglia, Italy)
- Zinfandel is sometimes blended to make a California red wine with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. In Italy, it’s not uncommon to find Primitivo blended with another local Puglia grape called Negroamaro.