Know Yo Grape | Zinfandel

By Glou Glou  •  Dec 14, 2015 at 4:10am  •  Learn, Reviews, Reviews, Visit

It’s time for the second edition of Know Yo Grape, where we get to grips with the myriad varietals in our wonderful world of wine. This week we’re zoning in on Zinfandel: California’s enigmatic, exotic immigrant. Here’s what you need to know about this hot and heady grape that mysteriously rooted itself in 19th century North America, and why your cellar could do with a bottle or two.

“The story of Zinfandel is like a romantic thriller, a mystery I have been following over the last 30 years and one that was solved only a very few years ago,” said the omniscient wine guru Jancis Robinson, before casting a sultry look direct to camera and taking a slow, seductive sip of Napa Valley Zin (okay, or at least that’s how it plays out in our #WineCrushWednesday fantasies). In all seriousness, though, Jancis is totally right about the mystique of Zinfandel: for a century and a half, nobody in the US could work out how this thriving grape had made its way to US shores. To cut a long (and pretty fascinating) story short, in the 1990s historians and scientists traced its roots back to an Italian varietal called Primitivo (grown in the heel of Italy), and then finally to an ancient and almost extinct Croatian grape called Crljenak Kaštelanski (and please don’t ask us to try and pronounce that).

The mystery of its origin may be solved, but Zinfandel continues to seduce palates inclined to full-bodied, spicy reds. When I visited Robert Biale Vineyards in Napa Valley a few weeks ago, I became intimately acquainted with the Zin. Here’s what I now know:

Who? Ever the intoxicating, foreign paramour, Zinfandel tends to be full-bodied with some of the highest alcohol content possible in wine – so over-indulgence may result in regrets the morning after. That said, Zinfandel does have a lighter, more delicate side when it’s crushed into White Zinfandel,which isn’t white, by the way – it’s actually a kind of blush wine like rosé (because wine wasn’t already complicated enough, right?).

What? Zinfandel tends to be perceived as spicy due to its high levels of acidity. If you’re into notes of ripe blackberry, cloves and cinnamon, look for oak-aged Zinfandel (it should say something about the ageing on the back of the bottle). If you want to try a slightly lighter version more on the strawberry end of the berry spectrum, look for a Zin aged in less oak.

Where? Zinfandel is prolific in California, but can also be found growing in South Africa, South America and Australia – basically anywhere hot enough for Zin to ripen fully.

With? Zinfandel goes well with any food that can match up to its big personality. Anything from the meat locker is a good bet, as well as rich tomato-based pastas. Just be cautious when pairing it with excessively spicy dishes – the high alcohol levels can amplify the burn!

Thanks again to Caitlyn and the team at Robert Biale for letting me taste your delicious Zins! Let us know if you sip on any goodies in the comments section below.

Until the next Know Yo Grape,


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  1. I have had many zins from Robert Biale and also California in general and I can say that the biale zins are among the best I have ever tasted. Monte Rosso, Aldo’s vinyard, black chicken, stagecoach, party line….. all excellent! My only issue is the grueling process to get them into Canada where I can enjoy them more frequently!

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