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What is Zinfandel?

The robust red that’s taken the US by storm has had a slower start down under. But what is Zinfandel wine in Australia? 

It’s got a fancy-sounding name, but what is Zinfandel called in Australia and, more importantly, what does Zinfandel taste like? Let’s explore this bold, intriguing variety.

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The romantics will tell you that Zinfandel is a gift from Italy. Science says it hails from Croatia. Popular culture and a big injection of Americana will tell you that Zinfandel can only come from one country! 


In Australia, Zinfandel is more commonly known by it's Puglian name Primitivo.

Zinfandel has notes of blackberry, strawberry jam, maraschino cherry, vanilla and liquorice.

Zinfandel wine pairs well with smokey and spicy dishes.

Zinfandel wine can be cellared up to 10 years.

Zinfandel's wine profile is full bodied with firm tannins.

Did you know Zinfandel wine, although originating from Europe, has become much more popular in the USA!


Where is Zinfandel from?

For most people, Zinfandel is widely considered an Italian variety. It goes under the name Primitivo, and the southern region of Puglia (the heel of Italy’s boot) is the variety’s hotbed. In Italy you will find Primitivo or Zinfandel as a muscular dry red or as a fortified wine. It is common for the variety to be blended with other red varieties.

Where the variety hailed from was never questioned until the invention of DNA profiling. This new science revealed that it was Croatia rather than Italy that was the mother country. 

History aside, no one can argue that the US has taken the variety and made it their own. It arrived in the US (from Italy) in the early 19th century and has flourished ever since in the Californian sunshine and warmth. It was the most widely planted red grape on the west coast until the second half of the 20th century. 

In the US, Zinfandel is fashioned into red wines at all price points and in the 1970s was responsible for one of the biggest wine crazes ever seen in the USA – White Zinfandel or Zinfandel Blush (Rosé). So, is White Zinfandel a Rosé wine? The simple answer is, yes. White Zin, as it is commonly known, is classed as a Rosé though has a sweeter flavour profile than the modern dry styles that are hugely popular now. Like the Rosés we have come to know and love, White Zin is made using a red wine grape, in this case Zinfandel, with the skins only coming into contact with the juice for a short period of time before being removed.


Zinfandel in Australia

More commonly known in Australia by its Puglian name of Primitivo, Zinfandel is not widely grown here, despite the fact that it suits the dry and warm climate of many of our wine regions.  

Perhaps it struggles to compete with Shiraz for our attention. Both varieties make full flavoured styles and are available at multiple price points.

Margaret River winery Cape Mentelle were the first to introduce Zinfandel to Australia in 1974 from California and today they still produce one of our most famed examples.


Best Australian Zinfandel Regions

Zinfandel thrives in warmer climates like Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Rutherglen, but also look out for examples from Eden Valley in South Australia and the King Valley region in Victoria.


What does Zinfandel taste like?

Zinfandel/Primitivo wines come in a range of styles. The style we most commonly see in Australia is the more robust and muscular style. In the USA a lot of cheaper Zinfandel is lighter in both colour and body. 

All styles share similar aroma/flavour characters. Look for blackberry, plum jam, liquorice strap and red cherry. The more robust styles can have a muscular tannin backbone while the lighter styles can seem a touch jammy. 


Facts about Zinfandel?

Zinfandel was very popular during the US prohibition period as thousands of people shipped grapes east from California to make backyard wine!

This generous and robust red can have a very high alcohol content, sometimes as high as 17%. 


Best Food Pairings for Zinfandel

The fruit richness of Zinfandel makes it a perfect pair with barbecued foods. Pulled pork, brisket and chicken wings are all great matches. Salty ham is another brilliant accompaniment to Zinfandel, and it also pairs well with tomato-based dishes and dishes that feature capsicum.

If you’re looking to match Zinfandel with a delicious meal, we suggest these tasty recipes.



Published on
13 May 2023


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