Zinfandel (Primitivo) | Elegant and robust red wines from Californian and Puglia
The fascinating history of Zinfandel
A near-native Californian variety
Descendant of an obscure Croatian grape variety called Crljenak Kaštelanski, Zinfandel first disembarked on American soil in the early 1820s and hitched a ride to the Golden State on the backs of enterprising nurserymen during the California Gold Rush just three decades later. Today, Zinfandel is one of California’s most planted varieties.
While much of its popularity and fame is credited to the easy-drinking pink blush rosé White Zinfandel, this grape expresses itself to the fullest through its dry red expressions. The Zinfandel grape variety established itself in California, USA, in the 19th century. In fact, Zinfandel was the most planted grape variety on the west coast of the United States, up until the 20th century when Cabernet Sauvignon became more popular. The origins of this grape variety were unknown for the longest time and historians took on the task of working out how this varietal made it to California and where it came from in the first place. Following this research, they discovered that Zinfandel was identical to the Puglian grape, Primitivo.
Thriving in warm climates, Zinfandel has definitely found its place in America but it enjoys the climate in Puglia, Italy.
What is Primitivo wine?
Produced in Puglia and grown on the heel of Italy, Primitivo grapes are the same as Zinfandel grapes. The only differences are the name and where these grapes thrive.
What do Zinfandel/Primitivo wines taste like?
These are robust red wines with deeply comforting, plush aromas of black cherries, black plums, brambly berry fruit and cranberry jam, with hints of black pepper, sweet tobacco, smoke and exotic spices. They warm the soul and embolden the spirit, pairing beautifully with smoky and spicy dishes, like baby-back ribs in BBQ sauce, a Dhansak chicken curry or Moroccan lamb tagine with prunes and almonds.
Zinfandel wine is a full-bodied, robust red wine with intense aromas of jammy or brambly black fruit (blackberries, black cherries and plums), blue fruit (blueberries) and red fruit (cranberries and small red berries). Typically, Zinfandel grown in cooler climates express more red berry flavors, while warmer climate expressions will show more spicy black fruit on the nose. The fruit-forward profile is complemented by herbaceous, smoky and exotic spice qualities (licorice, star anise, cinnamon, black pepper and sweet tobacco).
On the palate, Zinfandel wines tend to be medium-bodied to full-bodied, with medium to medium-high acidity and medium to medium-high tannins. Dry red Zinfandel wines can be quite high in alcohol (14+% abv), leaving an impression of sweetness on the palate. White Zinfandel wines tend to be off-dry or fairly sweet.
The reputation of Zinfandel wines has increased over the years and winemakers are now valuing the qualities and unique characteristics of this grape variety. The classic red Zinfandel wine is medium-bodied, powerful, and well-structured with a high alcohol content. The wines exude deep flavors of jammy black fruit (blueberry, cherry and plum) with notes of black pepper. These Californian red wines are best drunk in their youth and exhibit a pleasant richness and bold style.
The Zinfandel grape variety also gives rise to Californian Rose wines, which are both light and sweet. This varietal is also used to produce an easy-drinking sweet White Zinfandel, which is very popular in the USA but not as common as red or rose Zinfandel wines.
Today, Zinfandel produces some of the most elegant, complex and unique wines of California, especially in its single-vineyard, old-vine expressions. Some fine Californian Zinfandels stem from the iconic Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs and Turley Wine Cellars.
Primitivo from Puglia
Primitivo wines stemming from the southern part of Italy, in the Manduria area, give rise to spicy, savory and robust wines. Italian Primitivo offers an authentic expression of their terroir of origin and many Puglian bottlings with this varietal have been awarded high scores by wine critics.
Food and wine pairing: Zinfandel & Primitivo
A big bold red wine with brambly, jammy fruit and spice flavors, Zinfandel pairs well with equally robust and flavorful dishes. We recommend dishes with sweet curry spices, like Moroccan lamb tagine, or richly flavored barbecue dishes like pork ribs slathered in a sweet and smoky sauce. Zinfandel wines will also go nicely with pulled pork, a BBQ cheeseburger or even hickory wood-smoked or blackened salmon. Grilled or smoked eggplant and smoky baked beans and rice are classic vegetarian pairings. When it comes to cheese, choose a bold flavor profile: a sharp cheddar or smoked gouda, for example.