Zinfandel gets a really bad rap, which is unfortunate because it is more or less known as America’s grape, even if more recent research says that is probably not really true. When done right a good Zinfandel is a truly lovely wine bursting with rich fruit and complex flavors. But Zinfandel is a chameleon; it can be made into white wine, big reds and even port style wines. So why the bad reputation? White Zin is the first thing an entire generation of people think of when they here the word Zinfandel and that sweet, orangey pink liquid probably brings back some not so pleasant memories of some very rough mornings. Fun fact though, white Zin still out sells red Zinfandel to this day.
For decades Zinfandel was the most planted grape in California, right up until Cabernet Sauvignon passed it up in the late 1990s. In fact, Zinfandel vineyards are some of the oldest in the state. These old and gnarled vines produce, albeit a very small quantity, of some of the most complex and concentrated grapes. And even though it has been confirmed through DNA testing that Zinfandel probably originated in Croatia rather than America (it is also identical to the Italian grape Primitivo) California produces some of the best Zinfandel in the world.
True Zinfandel is a dry red wine loaded with jammy dark fruits like blackberry, boysenberry, and plums. It is thick, chewy and notorious for staining your entire mouth a vibrant bright red. Zinfandel tends to have big fruit, with a nice amount of acidity, without a lot of tannin. Meaning that lush fruit carries through to a smooth finish with not a lot of bite. This is a wine that is complex yet highly approachable. And this big fruit with low tannins is what makes Zinfandel a great wine to pair with food. Since Zinfandel has a good amount of dark fruit mixed with a good bit of oak and spice from barrel aging it can offer compatibility to a wide range of foods that other wines would not. These characters allows it partner with grilled meat dishes and spicier food. Zin is also great with a wide range of cheese, especially ones with some sharpness.
Did you know that grilling has been called the unofficial religion of California? So this weekend fire up the barbecue, crack open a bottle of Zin and consider yourself a Californian.