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Guide to Zinfandel Wine and How To Find Great Quality

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.

Meat Pairings

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.

Cheese Pairings

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
ACIDITY
Medium – Medium High
TANNIN
Medium – Medium High
SERVING TEMPERATURE
“Room Temperature” 62 ºF (17 ºC)
SIMILAR VARIETIES
Grenache, Plavic Mali, Negroamaro, Blaufrankish (aka Lemberger), Sangiovese, Barbera, Counoise
SYNONYMS
Primitivo (Puglia, Italy), Crljenak Kaštelanski (Croatia) and Tribidrag (Croatia), Morellone (Puglia, Italy)
BLENDING
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.