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Central Coast Wine Insider Blog

Central Coast Wine Insider Blog

California Zinfandel : What you Need to Know!

The Scoop on Zinfandel

Zinfandel Grapes

As we gear up for Vintage Paso: Zinfandel Weekend  March 18-20th 2016, I got a little curious as to the origins of this prolific Paso Robles varietal. Zin and the Paso Robles AVA have gone hand in hand for some time, so I had to wonder: How did this perfect match come about?

The Science

Until relatively recently, Zinfandel was California’s “mystery grape” because its origins were unknown. DNA testing has confirmed that Italy’s Primitivo and Crljenak Kastelanski, an ancient Croatian varietal, are genetically identical to Zin grapes. However, differences in vine vigor and cluster size separate the new world grape from its genetic twins, and further differences in cultivation, terroir, and winemaking techniques combine to give it it’s own particular flavor profile with a truly American name, history and style. On wine labels, U.S. regulations require that Zinfandel and Primitivo be identified separately.

Zinfandel Varietal

The History

Studies indicate that the grape used for making California Zinfandel probably originated in Croatia. Researchers believe that in the 1820s a nursery owner brought vine cuttings that were Croatian in origin to the United States from an Austrian collection. The Zinfandel name, however, is truly American—the earliest and only documented use of the name is in America where a Boston nursery owner advertised Zin cuttings for sale in 1832.

The Stats

Zinfandel was introduced to California during the Gold Rush somewhere between 1852 and 1857 and became widely planted because it thrived so well in the state’s climate and soil. Today, it’s the third-leading wine grape variety in California, with more than 47,000 acres planted and 355,599 tons crushed in 2014, according to California Department of Food and Agriculture. It is grown in 45 of California’s 58 counties. Promoted to the world by the state’s vintners for more than 130 years, it has grown beyond cult status and is now internationally recognized due to the unique character and high quality wines that are produced only in the Golden State!

Popular descriptors for this varietal include blackberry, raspberry, boysenberry, cherry, as well as black pepper, cloves, anise and herbs.

Local Recommendations

For a Zin that has silky tannins and a bit of spice, try Stienbeck Wines 2012 Zinfandel $43,  Fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in neutral French oak, Paydirt’s 2014 Zinfandel $25, shows notes of smoke, dark fruit and anise. If you’re looking to splurge, try Turley’s 2013 Dusi Vineyard Zinfandel $75  Cherry compote, cocoa powder and molasses balanced by a nice acidity.