1 small black grape grown chiefly in California; transplanted from Europe
2 dry fruity red wine from California
Etymology: Coined by a California grape grower, to describe an unknown variety.
Zinfandel is a variety of red grape planted in over 10 percent of California wine vineyards. DNA fingerprinting revealed that it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kaštelanski, and also the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in the 'heel' of Italy (Puglia).
It is typically made into a robust red wine, but in the USA a semi-sweet rosé (blush-style) wine called White Zinfandel has six times the sales of the red wine. Zinfandel has such high sugar levels that it was originally grown for table grapes in the USA, and this sugar can be fermented into high levels of alcohol, sometimes 15% or more.
The taste of the red wine depends on the ripeness of the grapes from which it is made. Red berry fruits like raspberry predominate in wines from cooler areas such as the Napa Valley, whereas blackberry, anise and pepper notes are more common in wines made in warmer areas such as Sonoma County, From there it spread to the Mediterranean, and then along the coast to Greece, the Balkans and Italy. It is now known that Croatia has many indigenous varieties that are quite closely related to Crljenak Kaštelanski, which formed the basis of a considerable wine industry in the 1800s. This diversity suggests that these grapes have been in Croatia for a long time. However, these varieties were almost entirely wiped out by the phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century, and Crljenak Kaštelanski was reduced to just a few vines on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Italians claim Primitivo as the descendant of the grape that made "merum", a wine brought to Puglia by Illyrian colonists before the Greeks arrived in the 7th century BC. Horace and other Roman writers mention "mera tarantina" from Taranto, and Pliny the Elder describes Manduria as viticulosa (full of vineyards). But after the fall of the Roman Empire winemaking declined until it was only kept alive in the monasteries — Benedictine in Murgia and Greek Orthodox in Salento. New grape varieties could have been brought across the Adriatic at any time during the Middle Ages; the first official mention of Primitivo is not until Italian governmental publications of the 1870s. Don Francesco Filippo Indellicati, the priest of the church at Gioia del Colle near Bari, selected an early ("primo") ripening plant of the Zagarese ("from Zagreb") variety and planted it in Liponti. Sullivan suggests that the "Black Zinfardel of Hungary" mentioned by William Robert Prince in A Treatise on the Vine (1830) may have referred to one of Gibbs 1829 acquisitions. Webster suggests that the name is a corruption of tzinifándli (czirifandli), a Hungarian word derived from the German Zierfandler. Since Zierfandler (Spätrot) is a white grape from Austria's Thermenregion, someone must have mixed up labels along the way.
Gibbs visited Boston in 1830 and soon afterwards, Samuel Perkins of that city started selling "Zenfendal". The same year, he supplied Prince with a similar variety called "Black St. Peters" which appears to have come from England. Little is known about this second grape, but the name suggests an origin in a religious house, so it may represent a clone of Primitivo that had come to England via Gibraltar.
These Zinfandel old vines are now treasured for the production of premium red wine, but many were ripped up in the 1920s, during Prohibition, but not for the obvious reason. Section 29 of the National Prohibition Act (Volstead Act) allowed 200 gallons (757 l) of "non-intoxicating...fruit juice" to be made each year at home. Initially "intoxicating" was defined as anything over 0.5%, but the Internal Revenue Bureau soon struck that down and this effectively legalised home winemaking. The thick skins of Alicante Bouschet were less susceptible to rot, so this and similar varieties were widely planted for the home winemaking market. 3000 cars (about 38000 t) of Zinfandel grapes were shipped in 1931, compared to 6000 cars of Alicante Bouschet. Many of the vineyards that survived by supplying the home market were in the Central Valley, not the best place for quality Zinfandel. He vinified this juice as a dry wine, and tried to sell it under the name of Oeil de Perdrix, a French wine made by this "saignée" method.
However in 1975 Trinchero's wine experienced a stuck fermentation, a problem in which the yeast dies off before all the sugar is turned to alcohol. Its popularity is now in decline, but it still accounts for 9.9% of US wine sales by volume (only 6.3% by value). Others also made the connection about that time. Primitivo was brought to California in 1968, ampelographers declared it identical to Zinfandel in 1972, and the first wine was made from the vines in 1975 which also suggested that they were identical. The same year PhD student Wade Wolfe showed that the two varieties had identical isozyme fingerprints.
In 1993, UCD colleague Carole Meredith used a DNA fingerprinting technique that gave the same result, indicating that Primitivo and Zinfandel should be regarded as different clones of the same variety. Comparative field trials have found that "Primitivo selections were generally superior to those of Zinfandel, having earlier fruit maturity, similar or higher yield, and similar or lower bunch rot susceptibility." This fits the suggestion that Primitivo was selected as an early-ripening clone of a Croatian grape.
The search was now on for the original Primitivo/Zinfandel. Dr. Lamberti of Bari had suggested to Goheen in 1976 that Primitivo might be the Croatian variety Plavac Mali. throughout Dalmatia, in collaboration with Ivan Pejić, Edi Maletić, Jasminka Karoglan Kontić and Nikola Mirošević of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Zagreb.
This one Croatian vineyard contained just 9 Crljenak Kaštelanski vines mixed with thousands of other vines. In 2002, additional vines known locally as Pribidrag were found in the Dalmatian coastal town of Omiš. Both clones are being propagated in California under the aegis of Ridge Vineyards, although virus infections have delayed their release. The first Croatian ZPC wine was made by Edi Maletić in 2005. Meanwhile plantings of Primitivo have been increasing in California, where it seems to grow a little less vigorously than its sibling. In turn its wines have more of the blackberry and spice flavors.
Local regulations are slowly catching up with the DNA evidence, but have become bogged down in trade disputes. The European Union recognised Zinfandel as a synonym for Primitivo in January 1999, The Italians have taken advantage of these rules and shipped Primitivo wines to the US labelled as Zinfandels,
However as of December 2007, the TTB lists both Zinfandel and Primitivo in 27 CFR § 4.91 as approved grape varieties for American wines, but they are not listed as synonyms. This means that US producers can produce Primitivo wine, but not label it as Zinfandel, and vice versa. appears to be postponed indefinitely.
Distribution and wines
There are small plantings in South Africa, Western Australia and the Mclaren Southern Vales area of South Australia. The Croatian form Crljenak Kaštelanski was not bottled as a varietal in its own right in Croatia before the link to Zinfandel was revealed. The Manduria DOC covers still red wine as well as sweet (Dolce Naturale) and fortified (Liquoroso Dolce Naturale, Liquoroso Secco) wine.
United StatesWhile it is most widely known in the California wine industry, Zinfandel is also grown in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington.
California Zinfandel regions
In California, 20% of the Zinfandel-growing counties hold 80% of the Zinfandel growing area; however, major producing areas such as San Joaquin county and Madera county produce Zinfandel primarily for blends or jug wine.
Certain California regions are regarded as "exceptional" for Zinfandel, each with identifiable flavor characteristics.
- Amador has a reputation for big, full-bodied Zinfandel. These extra-ripe Zinfandels are the source of descriptors such as jammy, briary, and brambly, having aromas of sweet berries. ZPC, Black St. Peters, Zenfendal, Zinfardel, Zinfindal, Taranto, Zeinfandall, Zinfardell, Zinfindel, Zinfandal.
- Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine Chapter 2, covering the early history on the East Coast, is available online.
- Vines, Grapes and Wines: The Wine Drinker's Guide to Grape Varieties
- Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP)
- Zinfandel Wine Grape History and Character - Appellation America
- VIVC Bibliography - Vitis International Variety Catalogue
- A History of Zinfandel - Avenue Vine
- Strada del Primitivo - Information on touring the vineyards of Puglia (lots of refs for Primitivo too)
zinfandel in German: Zinfandel
zinfandel in Estonian: Primitivo
zinfandel in Esperanto: Primitivo
zinfandel in Persian: زینفندل
zinfandel in French: Zinfandel
zinfandel in Croatian: Crljenak
zinfandel in Italian: Primitivo (vitigno)
zinfandel in Hebrew: זינפנדל
zinfandel in Luxembourgish: Zinfandel
zinfandel in Norwegian: Zinfandel
zinfandel in Portuguese: Zinfandel
zinfandel in Romanian: Zinfandel
zinfandel in Swedish: Zinfandel