Say It Right: Zin-fan-del
Other Known Aliases: Primitivo (Pree-mee-tee-vo), Tribidrag (Tri-bidd-rag)
Zinfandel may not get the international attention and acclaim that the USA’s Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays do, but it is nevertheless an – if not the – iconic “American” wine. As American as apple pie, you might say. Except, of course, it technically isn’t.
Though it was long thought to be and promoted as an indigenous varietal to the United States, the grape is actually native to Croatia, where it was originally known as Tribidrag. It didn’t land state-side until sometime in the early 19th century, eventually making California its home in the 1850s. The trajectory feels a little like that of the kid who didn’t get much attention in its hometown, but then, given the opportunity to start fresh at a new school in a new town, took on a different identity and flourished. Zinfandel was so popular in California, in fact, that up until 1998, it was the most widely planted red grape in the state (currently it’s number two, with Cabernet Sauvignon in the lead).
Granted, a big chunk of the grape’s production is dedicated to making the maligned semi-sweet, actuallypink- not-white wine known as “white Zinfandel.” While this may be some of Zinfandel’s most recognisable work in California, it is by no means its best. Grown throughout the state, “Zin” is at the top of its game in Sonoma, Napa, the Sierra Foothills and Lodi in the north, as well as Paso Robles in the centre.
Typically, these medium to full-bodied wines are robust and high-octane (aka boozy), delivering a wallop of berry fruit flavours so ripe it borders on jammy and raisinated. Notes of baking spices, sage, pepper, smoked meat and tobacco are also common markers. It’s worth mentioning, too, that Zinfandel’s long history in California makes it possible to find some exceptional, ageworthy old-vine expressions of the grape.
Although producers in parts of Australia, South Africa, South America and Croatia (of course) have had some success with Zinfandel, the varietal’s only other real home of note is in Puglia, otherwise known as the heel to Italy’s boot. There, it goes by yet another name – Primitivo – and is used to produce similarly rich, dark fruit-driven single varietal reds, or to add body and concentrated fruit flavour to blends with the native, highly tannic Negroamaro.
California in the USA, Italy (specifically Puglia), Croatia.
Drink It With
Barbecued meats glazed in a sweeter-style sauce; lamb or steak; chilli con carne; spicy Mexican food such as carnitas tacos and chicken mole; burgers; sausage and pepper sandwiches or pizza.
You like medium to full-bodied reds with moderate tannins; big, juicy, ripe red-berry flavours are your friend; love the idea of something that smells smoky and a little meaty; want to pick a wine that’s smooth but packs a punch.
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Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, American Merlot, Nero d’Avola and Malbec.