All About the Zinfandel Grape

Zinfandel wine is a robust, flavorful, and easy to drink red wine with a unique, spice-accented flavor profile, that’s distinctly American in name and origin (well, origin of the wine itself, anyway; we’ll talk about the grapes and the plants that produce them in a moment). It also has a close cousin, which is—contrary to popular belief—made form the same grape; white zinfandel, a mellow yet complex rosé with a healthy dose of sweetness.

But other than the fact that it’s a popular American-born wine grape varietal that produces two well-loved classics in the wine world, how much do you really know about the zinfandel grape? Considering it has a rich and fascinating legacy and has inspired one of our resveratrol skincare collections, Vine Vera has decided to give this grape and its story a good, hard look.

Zinfandel grapes in a vineyard

Mysterious Origins
Zinfandel grape vines first popped up in the mid 19th century, called alternately Zinfandel and Zenfandal. It was popular in northern California because it actually thrived in the warm climate and sandy soil. It grew increasingly popular when the gold rush came into full swing, and the increased population that the gold rush brought to California gave wine-makers in the area continued business and ensured the survival of the varietal.

However, the weird thing about Zinfandel at the time was that no one knew where the hell it came from. It just sort of popped up in California without explanation. At the time, France was known to have an extensive and well-kept vine collections, but no one could find a match to Zinfandel within them. This was before the time of genome sequencing or DNA fingerprinting, so in the absence of effective technology to track down Zinfandel’s origin, various historians took a stab at the task.

Vineyard in Napa Valley, California

Solving the Mystery
One historian in particular, by the name of Charles L Sullivan, was able to figure out through extensive searching of records, that the Zinfandel vine was imported to the states in the 1820s from the Austrian Imperial Nursery. This was all that could be discovered at the time, though, and didn’t paint the full picture.

Just recently, in the early 1990s, DNA fingerprinting promised the potential to finally solve the mystery. It revealed that Zifandel was genetically identical to the Italian varietal Primativo, which was, as the time, somewhat obscure. This left some questions unanswered still, but eventually, it was discovered that Zinfandel and Primativo were also genetically identical to an almost unheard of and almost extinct Croatian varietal known as Crljenak Kastelanski, finally solving the mystery of Zin’s heritage, even if it didn’t quite answer how it got here (we will likely never know exactly how). It should be noted that despite the genetic identicalness, these three varietals have different flavor profiles by virtue of differences in vine vigor, cluster size and grape size.

Red and white wines

Zinfandel Today
Zinfandel has had many peaks and valleys in its popularity over the years, but today both red and “white” (actually pink) wines derived from the Zinfandel grape have a unique place in the wine world. Red Zinfandel in particular has a rich and robust profile while remaining fairly easy to drink, and pairs well with a variety of foods such as red meat, burgers, and even pizza! Old vine Zinfandel is especially prized and sought after, because older grape vines produce wines with more pronounced spice overtones.

So the next time you’re looking for a fun red wine with a taste as rich as it’s history, grab a bottle or three of the mysterious and uniquely American Zinfandel, and drink to good health!

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