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Zinfandel American Heritage

American Heritage: Zinfandel

A strong case could be made thatthe definitive American wine is made from Zinfandel, or a blend of grapes in which Zinfandel is a dominant part of the blend. This grape recently was identified as identical to the Croatian variety Crljenak Kaštelanski, and also is indirectly related to both Primitivo from Italy as well as another Croatian grape, Plavac Mali. The strong raspberry and spice elements of the grape are charming when the wine is made to reflect those aromatic elements. But in the last 15 years or so, a movement by many wine makers to deliver a lot more intensity has rocketed the alcohol levels higher than 15%, some a lot higher than that. The result can be a beefy, brawny wine as reminiscent of Petite Sirah as anything.

Plant Zinfandel in:

Any soil type; it is quite adaptable.

Harvest Expectation:

Zinfandel is best harvested late in the season because the grape clusters ripen unevenly, so there may be some green berries on bunches that also have some raisins!

Climate Regions:

Cool to very warm. As a result of this, the grape has been planted in the coldest regions of California (such as Russian River Valley) and also in the hot, dry central San Joaquin Valley.


The vine is moderately vigorous, but yields can still be high since the vine loves to put out large amounts of fruit including an occasional “second crop,” which ripens a bit later.


Medium to large, cylindrical and heavily winged.

Countries where Zinfandel grows well:

Zinfandel is mainly grown in California, but a few experimental plots in Washington as well as Australia have shown promise.

Details on importance to the world scene:

Zinfandel has a strong fan base in the United States, partly as a result of its higher alcohols. The organization called ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) holds a major series of events in the San Francisco Bay area each year that is attended by thousands.

Classic Zinfandel Styles:

Zinfandel at its best makes a weighty California Beaujolais-like wine with loads of fruit, bright and somewhat elegant. Crisp and food-friendly.

Style made recently (non-classic versions):

Most recent wines have been big, chewy, alcoholic, and soft.

Marketing of Zinfandel:

It is easier to market this wine these days to those who prefer big, chewy, brawny wines. Many of the best wines are from single plots of soil, and are vineyard designated. Such wines are often from older vines, the oldest of which is a plot in Amador County planted in 1869!

Aging (in winery, in consumer cellars):

Aging Zin is not a consideration for most people. Some Zinfandels do age nicely, but with today’s alcohol levels, they are few and far between.

Food suggestions:

Hearty fare (beef stews, pizza, roasted meats).

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