Zinfandel wine is one of the most popular types of wine, with many of us opening up a bottle to share with friends or family (or just to drink it all ourselves!) But what exactly are we drinking? What is Zinfandel wine?

Zinfandel is the national grape of California (USA) thanks to a certain macho Mr Schwarzenegger! Many say that this grape is the distant cousin of the Italian Primitivo. Genetically, these two grapes are extremely similar—it took some DNA fingerprinting to figure it out—but Primitivo and Zinfandel are actually both clones of a Croatian grape called Crljenak. 

White Zinfandel is often the very first wine someone tries. Today, close to 85% of the total Zinfandel production is white Zin! As much as wine snobs bash it, white Zinfandel offers everything a beginner might want. However, most lack the complexity to be compared to the red version of the same grape. Red Zinfandel wine can offer serious presence and sophistication.

Red Zinfandel

The primary flavours of Red Zinfandel are jam, blueberry, black pepper, cherry, plum, boysenberry, cranberry, and liquorice. When you taste Zinfandel it often explodes with candied fruitiness followed by spice and often a tobacco-like smoky finish.

How Red Zinfandel compares to other Red Wines

How bold? Zinfandel is lighter in colour than both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. However, although a light-bodied red wine like Pinot Noir, Zin’s moderate tannin and high acidity make it taste bold. Generally speaking, most red Zinfandel wines have higher alcohol levels ranging from about 14 – 17% ABV. Higher alcohol adds an oily texture and bigger, bolder body. This wine is also not shy of oak maturation and the better wines are almost all  matured in American or French oak 225 litre barrels new and old. This wine and grape is so revered in California that it has its own festival dedicated to it.

Zinfandel food pairing


Think curry spice. Since Zinfandel leans on the sweeter side of red wine, it’s a great pairing partner with spiced barbecue dishes and curry. Here is a ‘Pro’ tip for you: Pick out the spices you taste in the wine and add them to your sauce. Pork tonkatsu is a Japanese dish served with a richly spiced curry sauce. The spicing and savoury-sweet quality of this dish make it a perfect wine pairing partner with red Zinfandel.

Perfect Zinfandel Food Pairing

Meat Pairings – Try pairing with lighter meats including quail, turkey, pork, bacon, ham and veal. Zinfandel works well with barbecue red meats and lamb.

Spices and Herbs – Ginger, garlic, rosemary, curry, turmeric, cayenne, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa, black pepper, coriander, fennel, and saffron.

Cheese Pairings – Look for hard and richly flavoured cow’s and sheep’s milk cheeses such as Manchego, bandage-wrapped Cheddar, Parmiggiano, peppered Maltese Ġbejna and Trentingrana etc…the choice is endless.

Vegetables & Vegetarian Fayre – Use highly flavoured vegetables to bring out the fruitiness in Zinfandel such as roasted tomato, red peppers, caramelised onion, roasted squash, apricot, peach, cranberry, spiced apple, and beets.

3 tips for buying Zinfandel Wine

1. Pay attention to ABV – Best trick when buying Zinfandel is to check the Alcohol by Volume (ABV). A lighter Zinfandel will have about 13.5% ABV whereas a bold and spicy Zinfandel will have around 16% ABV.

2. Who makes the best Zinfandel? – There are several sub-regions in California that make great Zinfandel. Currently, the most popular are Napa Valley, Dry Creek Valley (in Sonoma), Russian River Valley (in Sonoma) and Lodi.

3. High Elevation or Cooler Climate Areas – In many respects, Napa Valley produces California’s best Zinfandels. However the Russian River valley AVA offers a cooler  growing  micro climate giving wines that offload a vibrant and more savoury intensity and richness of style.

VIDA Magazine©