Ratings: Jammy, Juicy and More: 10 California Zinfandels to Try | Wine Enthusiast
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About Zinfandel

Although Zinfandel—known as Primitivo in Italy—hails from Europe, its most famous incarnations come from the United States. In California, this black grape produces spicy, unctuous red wines. A version of Zinfandel, known as white Zinfandel, is extremely popular in the United States.

In the vineyard, Zinfandel is a black grape with thin skin. Grapes grow in large, compact cones with berries of varying ripeness levels. Because grapes ripen at different times, the resulting wines can have a mix of dried and fresh fruit flavors, however some winemakers hand select the berries to hone the flavor profile. The grape thrives in warm, dry climates and can produce wines that are close to 20% alcohol-by-volume (abv). Wines are often made from old vines that have matured in the vineyard for as long as a century.

Zinfandel can be vinified into red and rosé wines. Red wines are red-purple in color, and display a signature spice profile, as well as jammy red fruits, like blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.

Zinfandel in California

Production of Zinfandel began to surge in California during the 1840s. It is now grown across the state, with notable examples coming from Napa, Sonoma, the Sierra Foothills, Amador County and Paso Robles. Styles vary among these regions, with some of the hotter climates yielding powerful wines with muscle and depth.

Zinfandel in Italy

Known as Primitivo in Italy, the grape is most well known in the southern region of Puglia. The generally warm climate of the area produces richly fruited wines that show lots of jammy cherry and blackberry tones, alongside lifted accents of spice, violet and orange rind. The most well-known expression from Puglia is Primitivo di Manduria, which is from a region that sits alongside the Ionian Sea. There are the richest, broadest examples from an area. In more central Puglia, Primitivo from the Gioia del Colle appellation can be lighter and more elegant in style. Well-priced, accessible options abound in the Salento Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT).

Zinfandel’s Origins

The grape originated in Croatia, where it is known as Crljenak Kaštelanski. From there, it spread to southern Italy. Italian immigrants brought the vine to the United States, where it eventually became widely planted in California.

Synonyms: Crljenak Kaštelanski, Kratošija, Morellone, Pribidrag, Primaticcio, Primitivo, Primitivo di Gioia, Primativo, Trebidrag, Tribidrag, Uva di Corato, Zagarese

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