If you want a boldly flavored wine suitable for nearly every situation, zinfandel wine is what you’ve been looking for. You can get zinfandel wine in a range of styles, from powerful and spice-laden to bright and fruit-forward. While having such a wide variety of zinfandel wines to choose from is exciting, it can be overwhelming. This guide is here to help you navigate the different types of zinfandel and select the perfect bottle for your next get-together.
In the sections below, you’ll discover what kind of wine zinfandel is, what grapes make zinfandel, its most notable characteristics, where it comes from and what type of meals zinfandel pairs well with. Keep reading for a complete zinfandel wine description and helpful tips for enjoying zinfandel to its fullest.
What Is Zinfandel Wine?
What kind of wine is zinfandel? Zinfandel wine is a variety of black-skinned grape wine that typically produces a robust and flavorful taste. Depending on the process used to make it, zinfandel can be a strong, dry red wine or a lighter, semi-sweet blush-style wine. Zinfandel’s versatility makes it a favorite among wine novices and enthusiasts alike.
Where Does Zinfandel Wine Come From?
Zinfandel wine comes from zinfandel grapes, a thin-skinned and richly colored variety of grape. Zinfandel grapes are susceptible to rot, making adequate draining and planting them on a slope crucial to their success. Typically, zinfandel vines grow in the summer, and their fruit gets harvested as early as mid-August or during a late harvest, which occurs well into the fall.
Once winemakers have harvested zinfandel grapes, they remove the stems and crush the grapes to get them ready to become wine. Then, they leave the mashed-up grapes and their juices to ferment with yeast as the fruit’s natural sugar gets converted to alcohol. During this fermentation period, the vibrant zinfandel grape skins give the wine its deep red color.
After the wine has fully fermented, it gets separated from the zinfandel grape solids by pressing or draining them away. Next, winemakers age it in an oak barrel for a couple of years to intensify its flavors. As the zinfandel wine ages, the winemaker may transfer it from its barrel to intermittently aerate and clarify the wine.
At the conclusion of the barrel-aging process, the vintner bottles the wine and labels it as zinfandel. Some winemakers set aside zinfandel wine to age a bit more in the bottle before placing it on the market.
What Type of Wine Is Zinfandel?
Vintners have used zinfandel grapes to make numerous wine styles since the grapes arrived in the United States, including red and rosé varieties. From dry and sweet red wines to white zinfandel blush wines, zinfandel has something to offer any wine lover. Below, we’ll explore the wide variety of zinfandel wine types.
What Is Red Zinfandel Wine?
Naturally, zinfandel is a red wine because it comes from black-skinned zinfandel grapes. Zinfandel grapes’ deep shade results in a richly colored, complex and medium-bodied red wine. Making red zinfandel wines typically requires extreme consideration to give them such a sophisticated taste profile.
Because winemakers ferment red zinfandel wines with great care to preserve integrity, they tend to be extremely dry. Red zinfandel ranks among the highest alcohol content red wines on the market. So if you’re looking for a flavorful and memorable red wine to serve your dinner guests, red zinfandel is a good wine that will stand out and make an impact.
Is White Zinfandel a White Wine?
Despite its name, white zinfandel is not a white wine. White zinfandel is a blush wine, which means it is an extremely light red wine that only incorporates some reddish color from grape skins. Also known as rosé, blush wine does not have quite enough red coloring to qualify as red wine, so it gets placed in a category by itself.
Because white zinfandel is a rosé wine, it is a bit lighter than red zinfandel. A bottle of white zinfandel is refreshingly bright, fruity and floral. Like most other rosé wines, white zinfandel is naturally dry. However, most winemakers choose to give their white zinfandel wines a sweeter taste.
White zinfandel is a sweet wine thanks to a method known as stuck fermentation. During stuck fermentation, yeast organisms die before they finish turning the zinfandel grape juice sugars into alcohol. The resulting underfermented zinfandel white wine has a higher residual sugar content than other types of zinfandel wine and tastes more like a dessert wine.
For many people, white zinfandel was the first wine they tried because its low alcohol content, sweet, easy-drinking taste and affordable price make white zinfandel an accessible option for new wine drinkers. While more experienced wine connoisseurs may turn up their noses at white zinfandel’s low-quality production style and lack of complexity, it’s still a widely popular variety of wine. As a result, white zinfandel sales are six times higher than regular red zinfandel sales.
Though red wine gets most of the attention for its cardiovascular health benefits, white zinfandel boasts an equal amount of heart-healthy qualities. Research has found that white wine is equally as effective as red wine in protecting against cardiovascular disease and promoting healthy blood vessels. In this sense, white zinfandel wine is good for you in moderation and when combined with routine exercise.
Zinfandel Wine History
Zinfandel arrived in America from Europe during the early years of the 19th century. The wine immediately became a hit in the California counties of Napa and Sonoma, both of which are still leading zinfandel wine producers to this day. Despite the wine’s rampant popularity, the grape’s European origins remained a mystery for a long time.
After decades of disagreements and discussion over zinfandel’s origins, Carole Meredith of the University of California at Davis decided to conduct extensive DNA research known as the Zin quest to settle the debate once and for all. The Zin quest lasted from the early 1990s to 2002 before finally concluding that the Californian zinfandel DNA matches Italy’s primitivo wine.
This discovery means that we ultimately have Croatia to thank for zinfandel wine because primitivo wine arrived in Italy from Croatia. As we now know, it’s possible to trace the history of zinfandel wine back to the invention of wine itself when humans began to domesticate wine grapes around 6,000 BCE.
The first grapes used for wine grew along the border of Asia and Europe, and the popular grape variety quickly spread to surrounding sunny areas, including the Mediterranean. These sun-filled climates provided the perfect conditions for growing flavor-packed grapes. The earliest recordings of a zinfandel-like grape come from Croatia, and by the 19th century, Croatian winemaking essentially revolved around zinfandel-related grapes.
More intensive DNA testing by the Zin quest team revealed that the zinfandel grape originated along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast and most likely migrated to Italy sometime in the 1700s. Italian winemakers quickly took to this delicious variety of grape and began producing primitivo, the Italian version of American zinfandel wine.
Eventually, zinfandel made its way to America in the 1800s and became an instant success. In the 1970s, winemaker Bob Trinchero accidentally created the now-famous white zinfandel blush when a batch of regular red zinfandel wine stopped fermenting prematurely. Instead of throwing the wine out, Trinchero bottled and sold it. The lighter zinfandel instantly became a hit among the 1970s white wine-drinking American consumer base.
Today, California’s Sonoma County boasts about 5,200 acres of zinfandel vineyards, which means zinfandel accounts for approximately 12% of the county’s red wine grape acreage. Overall, zinfandel wine’s complicated past led to a triumphant present and points toward a promising future.
Where Are Zinfandel Wines From?
While zinfandel grapes grow successfully in many places, California is the most notable hotspot for zinfandel wine. Zinfandel is one of the most popular wine grapes in California, especially along the central coast and in northern California. Zinfandel grapes are perfect for the coastal California climate because the vines like warm, sunny days without too much intense heat.
Over the years, California vintners have perfected the art of harvesting zinfandel grapes and producing world-class wine. Today, more than 10% of California’s vineyards are growing zinfandel grapes. While most wine aficionados view red zinfandel as a more sophisticated wine, California wineries produce approximately six times more bottles of white zinfandel than regular zinfandel.
These are the top five regions in California for producing high-quality zinfandel wine:
- Sonoma County — specifically Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley
- Napa Valley
- Paso Robles
- Amador County
Though zinfandel is essentially the signature wine of the United States, you can still get a good bottle of zinfandel abroad. For example, Nashik — India’s most prolific wine-producing region, located northeast of Mumbai — makes a sophisticated and flavorful zinfandel that could rival anything put out by California.
Of course, there’s also the complicated detail that primitivo is an identical wine to zinfandel that primarily comes from Italy. The two wines are so similar that some Italian wine producers marketed their primitivo as zinfandel to cash in on the booming American zinfandel wine market. Nowadays, some Californian winemakers have begun labeling their zinfandel wines as primitivo to appeal to Italian wine buyers.
Because the two wines are virtually interchangeable, Puglia, Italy — which makes the world’s most popular primitivo — often earns a top spot on any list of zinfandel wine producers. If you want a good zinfandel or primitivo wine, any bottle from a southern Italian region will live up to your expectations.
Other places outside the U.S. that grow zinfandel grapes include South Africa and Australia. Both countries have small pockets of zinfandel vineyards, but neither are notable producers of the wine. In each of these nations, you can find the wine bottled as both zinfandel and primitivo.
What Are the Best Zinfandel Wines?
With so many great zinfandel regions to choose from, it can be challenging to know which bottle will be best. A simple tip is to look for a zinfandel from a high-elevation area like the California regions of El Dorado County and Howell Mountain. High-elevation zinfandels typically have more richness and savory intensity.
What Does Zinfandel Wine Taste Like?
Red zinfandel’s taste is rich and complex. Zinfandel’s bold flavors come from the wine’s moderate tannin and high acidity. In general, a bottle of red zinfandel will have a higher alcohol level than most wines, ranging from about 13 to 17% ABV. This higher alcohol content gives zinfandel an oily texture and a bolder body than most red wines. Typically, red zinfandel is medium-bodied, depending on the techniques used to produce it.
The most notable flavors of red zinfandel are rich, jammy fruits like blueberry, raspberry, blackberry, cherry and plum, along with spices like licorice, cinnamon and black pepper. A smoky finish rounds out the red zinfandel wine taste description. While your first taste of zinfandel will be an explosion of sweet candied fruitiness, you’ll soon notice a subtle spice and tobacco-like aftertaste.
Fuller zinfandel wines will have a bolder pop of spice, whereas lighter zinfandel wines will be a bit brighter and more fruit-forward. A fuller zinfandel will also feature firm tannins, a characteristic that lighter versions of zinfandel do not have.
While white zinfandel comes from the same grape, this lighter wine offers a slightly different flavor profile. This lighter-hued and lighter-bodied wine comes with fewer tannins and a lower alcohol level, which means the wine is less dry. Due to this lack of bitterness, white zinfandel wine is sweet and easy to sip.
Many novice wine drinkers enjoy white zinfandel because it is a bit less complex than most wines. White zinfandel usually includes the sweet flavors of strawberry, cherry and citrus fruits, along with some underlying floral notes. The easy-drinking and light-bodied nature of white zinfandel make it a quaffable wine that’s bound to please nearly palate.
Red Zinfandel Wine Characteristics
To sum it up, these are the most notable qualities of red zinfandel wine.
- Fruit flavors: Raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, black cherry, cranberry, black current, plum, apricot, fig, and other jammy fruit
- Other flavors: Star anise, black cardamom, black pepper, licorice and smoke
- Oak flavors: Vanilla, burned sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, mocha, coffee, coconut, peach yogurt, tobacco and fresh sawdust
- Acidity: Medium to medium high
- Tannins: Medium to medium high
White Zinfandel Wine Characteristics
Here’s a cheat sheet for white zinfandel wine’s standout characteristics.
- Fruit flavors: Fresh strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, melon and citrus fruits, such as lemon, lime and orange
- Other flavors: Clove, nutmeg, black pepper and anise
- Oak flavors: Subtle spicy notes like cinnamon and nutmeg
- Acidity: Low
- Tannins: Low
How to Serve Zinfandel Wine
Now that you’ve learned everything you need to know about zinfandel’s taste and how to choose a high-quality bottle, all that’s left is learning how to serve it. This section will go over all the essentials, including how to serve a glass of zinfandel and your best zinfandel wine food pairing options.
Do You Chill Zinfandel Wine?
When serving zinfandel wine, you want to moderately chill it, but not make it overly cold. Ideally, you should chill zinfandel wine to about 57 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit before serving. To achieve this temperature, try to store your bottle of zinfandel at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. For the best zinfandel sipping experience, pour the wine into a glass with a small bowl and a slightly smaller opening.
What Food Goes Well With Zinfandel Wine?
Whether you’re serving zinfandel at your next dinner party or want to order a glass at a restaurant, you need to know which foods are the perfect partner for zinfandel. Pairing zinfandel can enhance your meal by bringing out the flavors of your wine and food. You’ll want to have your zinfandel alongside foods that complement the wine’s naturally rich flavors without overpowering them.
In general, red zinfandel wine pairs well with boldly flavored foods like pizza, sausage and peppers, lasagna and other kinds of pasta with red sauce. The dryness, spicy character and sweet fruity flavors of red zinfandel also make it an outstanding match for strongly spiced foods like curry and barbecue dishes. If you’re cooking the meal you plan to pair with red zinfandel, try to identify the spices you taste in the wine and sprinkle them into your sauce.
Fuller-bodied red zinfandel also goes well with nearly any meat. From pork and poultry to lamb and game, red zinfandel wine’s light sweetness works nicely with various cuts of meat. In particular, zinfandel wine pairs well with barbecued or grilled meats, such as pork chops, ribs or brisket. For those who don’t eat meat, red zinfandel goes perfectly with roasted, richly flavored vegetables, such as tomatoes and beets.
More specifically, try cooking with the following foods and spices to create the perfect zinfandel wine pairing.
- Meat: Lighter meats like turkey, quail, veal, pork, bacon and ham, as well as barbecued red meats and lamb
- Spices and herbs: Garlic, ginger, rosemary, turmeric, curry, clove, cayenne, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, vanilla, cocoa, coriander, saffron and fennel
- Cheese: Hard and richly flavored cheese from cows or sheep, including Manchego, bandage-wrapped cheddar, Swiss and Pecorino Romano
- Fruits and vegetables: Flavorful fruits and veggies like peaches, apricot, cranberries, spiced apple, roasted tomatoes, red peppers, roasted squash and caramelized onion, which will bring out the natural fruitiness in zinfandel wine
Lighter white zinfandel wine also pairs well with a range of savory foods. Similar to red zinfandel, white zinfandel goes excellently with the spices found in most Cajun, Asian and barbecue recipes because the wine’s sweetness balances out the food’s spiciness. Again, try to serve dishes that bring out the naturally occurring flavors already found in the white zinfandel.
However, because white zinfandel is a bit sweeter and less dry than red zinfandel, a glass of white zinfandel can be better for milder dishes with cream sauces and lighter meats like fish. White zinfandel’s less acidic nature also makes the wine suitable for highly acidic foods, such as citrus fruit.
Incorporate some of these elements into your meal if you plan on having white zinfandel.
- Meat: Fish, crab, shrimp, poultry, pork, eggs
- Spices and herbs: Creole or tandoori spices, za’atar, nutmeg and clove
- Cheese: Mild cheeses, such as creamy Havarti, Emmental, brie and ricotta
- Fruits and vegetables: Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemon and lime, and highly acidic vegetables like tomatoes, arugula, artichokes and radishes
Order Zinfandel Wine Online From Marketview Liquor
If you’re ready to give this American staple a try, find the perfect zinfandel wine for you at Marketview Liquor. We offer a wide range of red and white zinfandel wines from some of the top zinfandel-producing regions. Our inventory of zinfandel wines includes bottles from Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Amador County and more.
Whether you’re looking for a sophisticated red zinfandel or a light and refreshing white zinfandel, we’ve got you covered. Our zinfandel wines are high-quality and affordable, with some bottles available for less than $5. It’s easy to order our wines online, and you can get your zinfandel shipped to you anywhere in the United States.
Find your new favorite wine today by browsing the extensive selection of zinfandel wines at Marketview Liquor.