Guy Downes
February 16, 2011 | Wine | Guy Downes

The Origins of Zinfandel

Of all the grape varietals, Zinfandel is the one with perhaps the most confusing history and lineage. For years experts have weighed in with their opinions on the origins Zinfandel with many believing it had to have originated in southern Italy's Apulia region, where you can find the genetically related Primitivo (di Goia) variety. Yet other research suggested that there was a possible parent/offspring relationship with the Plavic Mai grape from Croatia.

The current accepted theory is that the roots of Zinfandel are most likely in the Dalmatian province of Croatia where DNA matches have been made with a variety locally known as Crljenak Kasteljanski. Research work completed in both Croatia and UC Davis certainly supports this theory. California's Zinfandel and Italy's Primitivo certainly share a genetic link but their long geographic separation has meant they evolved with quite different vine and wine characteristics. 

When you consider the wine style of Zinfandel, or 'Zin' as it's so often known these days, the story is equally engrossing. Zinfandel can show so many different characteristics and can have an almost chameleon like quality. From up front, berry-fruity reds to spicy tannic blockbusters and even tart roses this variety is certainly versatile. The range of soft, simple blushes, unique sparkling wines, desert and fortified wines means you can never really categorize Zinfandel which is perhaps part of it's wide appeal to so many wine enthusiasts.

Here in California Zinfandel has always been a steady favorite even as consumer tastes move from one trend to the next. yes it's true that here in Napa we are well known as home to some majestic Cabernet Sauvignons (we produce one or two ourselves!) but Zinfandel comes pretty close in terms of total acreage and volume of grapes crushed. Today Zinfandel is recognized as one of the stars of Californian wine production planted all over the state in a wide variety of climactic zones. Outside our state you will be able to find Zinfandel planted in Oregon, Mexico and South America but I'm sure you'll forgive us if we still think Californian 'Zin' is the best of the bunch!

(Sources AppellationAmerica / Flickr)


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variety locally known as Crljenak Kasteljanski

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