Everything You Need to Know About Zinfandel
Zinfandel has been a California wine for decades. It was the American grape that everyone loved. It was always unknown where the grape originated.
Academics working in the wine trade began to study the subject in the 1960s. It was not until the 1990s that the true origin of Zinfandel was discovered. This article will cover the history and origins of Zinfandel. We also offer some recommendations and tasting notes.
It’s time to search for Italy
It is still a mystery as to the origins of Zinfandel. It was known to have been growing in Northern California since the 19th century. But where did it come from? Although there was evidence that it was grown in New Hampshire, the trail was cold.
Austin Goheen visited Apulia, Southern Italy, in the late 60s. Primitivo was the first thing he tried. He was struck by the similarities between Primitivo and Zinfandel in their aromas and flavor profiles. He was intrigued by this wine.
He wasn’t just a tourist who enjoyed fine wine; he was also a professor at the University of California at Davis, one of the most prestigious universities for winemakers in the world. He arranged for Primitivo grapes from Italy to be returned to UC Davis to be analyzed. It took many generations of researchers to find the answer. The advent of DNA fingerprinting was the key to unlocking the truth: Primitivo is genetically identical to Zinfandel.
Zin was born in Italy. Researchers were not certain.
Crossing the Adriatic
Another conversation began to occur in the UC Davis halls between the ’70s & ’90s. Zinfandel, and Plavac Mali, an obscure Croatian grape, were striking similarities.
A group of American winemakers and scientists came together to solve the mystery. What was the connection between Plavac mali, Primitivo and Zinfandel, you ask? They would be able to crack the code and discover the true story of the grape that was allowed to survive Prohibition and became a uniquely American wine.
Plavac Mali samples were provided by the University of Zagreb, Croatia, to support this research. It was not Zinfandel. DNA testing revealed that it was one of Zin’s children. It was still possible to find the real Zin. They had to find it.
The research was restructured. Researchers were now on the ground in rural areas, searching for the original vine. Although the search was laborious and took many years, it finally paid off. They found an old vine, Crljenak Kastelanski, on a lonely cliff close to the Dalmatian Coast.
Researchers took samples and sent them back home to California for genetic testing. They had found gold after testing hundreds of DNA samples. Crljenak Kastelanski was genetically the same as Primitivo or Zinfandel. They had discovered its ancestral home.
Crljenak Kastelanski in Croatia is also known by the name Tribidrag. It was found to have grown in the area since the 15 th century. It was imported into Italy by the 18 th century and to the United States by 19 th centuries.
The Zinfandel-Primitivo-Crljenak Kastelanski variety flourished in the US and Italy. Due to the phylloxera epidemic in the 19 century, Croatia saw its growth decline. Because Plavac Mali was more suited for the climate and growing conditions, Croats switched to it.
Today, the main wine regions in which Zinfandel can be grown are Northern California, Italy and Puglia, Italy.
A Zinful Tasting
There are many similarities between Primitivo and Zin, as they are both the same grape. They are full-bodied and dry. They are moderately acidic and have moderate tannins. Because they thrive in warm climates and produce enough sugars to ferment into the 16% ABV range,
Zin is known for its boozy fun. Blackberry, strawberry, raspberry, and blackcurrant are some of the aromas. The nose also has black pepper and earthy notes.
You may detect aromas of vanilla or cocoa depending on how the oak was treated. Napa and Sonoma winemakers use American Oak instead. This gives the wine a chocolate-vanilla, hedonistic quality that is difficult to ignore.