Zinfandel Wine

Zinfandel (or "Zin", as it is affectionately known in the United States) is a dark-skinned red wine grape variety widely cultivated in California. It arrived in the Americas from Europe in the early years of the 19th Century, and was an immediate success in both Napa and Sonoma counties, which remain its strongholds today.

After 30 years of discussion and disagreements (including legal intervention by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), DNA research carried out by Carole Meredith of the University of California at Davis from the early 1990s to 2002 (known as the Zinquest) confirmed that Zinfandel is identical to Italy's Primitivo. But although this research closed the debate over whether Zinfandel is Primitivo, it opened up an even older chapter of the variety's history.

Zinfandel Grapes

We know that Primitivo arrived in Italy via Croatia, where it was known by various names including Tribidrag and Crljenak Kastelanski. But the question of whether Zinfandel arrived in the U.S. from Italy or via another route remains unanswered. So the question is now: is American Zinfandel based on Primitivo cuttings, or Tribidrag, or both? Another unsolved mystery is the linguistic origin of the word Zinfandel.

Zinfandel has been used to make various wine styles since it arrived in the USA, including dry and sweet red wines and the famous White Zinfandel blush, created to cater for a white wine-drinking American consumer base of the 1970s. The arrival of this new wine style in the early 1970s led to an explosion of Zinfandel plantings – perhaps ironic given that the style of wine was created to find a use for the swathes of underused Zinfandel vines already in existence.

By the 1990s the popularity of dry red Zinfandel had given these plantings a new raison d'etre, although they were still being used to generate many millions of liters of sweet pink blush every year. Today, red Zinfandel has risen to become the signature wine of the U.S., not due to the quality of wine it produces, but because it is as close to an "American" variety as vinifera vines get. The discovery that it was an Italian variety in disguise led to mixed reactions, including pride at the association with a prestigious wine nation, but also a certain uneasiness that Zinfandel had lost some of its American individuality.

Outside the U.S., the variety is grown in South Africa and Australia, where it has been bottled as both Zinfandel and Primitivo. It hasn't acquired any particular significance in either of these countries – more a product of a few key producers than an independent grape variety. Also, as Australia has a developed a strong tradition in Shiraz, there is little motivation to bring in and develop a similar variety to compete with it. The Cape Mentelle winery of Margaret River has taken up the reins as an Australian pioneer of Zinfandel.

During the 1970s, various Italian producers began labeling their Primitivo wines as Zinfandel, to cash in on Zinfandel's popularity in the U.S. market. Now, the reverse is happening; as Primitivo's star rises once again in Italy (most notably in Manduria), a number of Californian vineyards (mostly those of Italian heritage) now label their Zinfandel wines as Primitivo.

Almost unaffected by the politics and wranglings between Italy and the U.S., the winemakers of Croatia have carried on producing deeply colored, full-bodied red wines from their Crljenak Kastelanski and Tribidrag grapes. Interest in these wines has naturally increased following the Primitivo/Zinfandel debate, so many of them are now available in various countries around the world.

Synonyms include: Primitivo, Crljenak Kastelanski, Pribidrag, Tribidrag, Kratosija.

Food matches for Zinfandel include:

  • Puglian spit-roasted lamb
  • East Texas-style barbecue
  • Dark chocolate cake

Enjoy this video about Zinfandel wine...

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Most Popular Zinfandel Wine

Based on search frequency, updated monthly
Wine Name
Avg Price
Saini Vineyards Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, USA Dry Creek Valley 1,160th 88 $29
Grande Alberone Zinfandel, Italy Vino da Tavola 1,330th 88 $14
Black Saint Peter Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, USA Lodi 1,827th 88 $18
The Prisoner Wine Co. 'Saldo' Zinfandel, California, USA California 2,243rd 89 $29
Caymus Vineyards Zinfandel, Napa Valley, USA Napa Valley 2,324th 90 $50
Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel, Sonoma County, USA Sonoma County 2,836th 89 $24
1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel, Mendocino County, USA Mendocino County 2,897th 88 $17
A. Rafanelli Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, USA Dry Creek Valley 2,920th 90 $59
Turley Wine Cellars Juvenile Zinfandel, California, USA California 2,936th 90 $33
Venge Vineyards Scout's Honor Proprietary Red, Napa Valley, USA Napa Valley 2,999th 91 $40
Turley Wine Cellars Old Vines Zinfandel, California, USA California 3,557th 90 $38
Rombauer Vineyards Zinfandel, Napa Valley, USA Napa Valley 3,653rd 89 $36
Martinelli Jackass Hill Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, USA Russian River Valley 3,757th 94 $155
Martinelli Giuseppe & Luisa Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, USA Russian River Valley 3,831st 92 $60
Sula Vineyards Zinfandel, Nashik, India Nashik 4,263rd 87 $13
Martinelli Jackass Vineyard Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, USA Russian River Valley 4,443rd 93 $118
Bedrock Wine Co. Old Vine Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley, USA Sonoma Valley 4,627th 90 $26
Ridge Vineyards East Bench Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, USA Dry Creek Valley 4,724th 90 $33
Robert Biale Vineyards Black Chicken Zinfandel, Napa Valley, USA Napa Valley 5,000th 90 $49
Chateau Montelena Estate Zinfandel, Calistoga, USA Calistoga 5,139th 89 $39
Beringer Vineyards White Zinfandel, California, USA California 5,433rd 85 $6
Wingspan 'Moons of Neptune' Old Vine Zinfandel, Contra Costa County, USA Contra Costa County 5,433rd 90 $42
Gnarly Head Wines 'Old Vine Zin' Zinfandel, Lodi, USA Lodi 5,768th 88 $10
Seven Deadly Wines 'The Seven Deadly Zins' Zinfandel, Lodi, USA Lodi 5,888th 88 $14
Bogle Vineyards Old Vines Zinfandel, California, USA California 5,903rd 87 $10
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To see how Wine-Searcher uses average pricing and professional wine critic scores on this page, please see Average Wine Prices and Wine Scores. To find out about popularity, please see Wine Ranks.
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