This robust red that’s taken the US by storm has had a slower start down under.
The romantic 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!
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.
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).
In Italy you will find it as a muscular dry red or as a fortified wine. It is common for Primitivo to be blended with other red varieties.
Despite the fact that it suits the dry and warm climate of many of our wine regions, Zinfandel is not widely grown here. Perhaps its 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 and today they still produce one of our most famed examples.
Look out for examples from the Barossa Valley, Eden Valley, McLaren Vale in South Australia and the King Valley region in Victoria.
Did you know?
Zinfandel was very popular during prohibition as thousands of people shipped grapes east from California to make backyard wine!
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. High alcohol is a common trait of 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.
It also pairs well with tomato based dishes and dishes that feature capsicum.