The Life and Times of Red Zinfandel

By: Lindsay Alston

Red Zinfandel, also known as Zinfandel, is a type of red grape that is planted in over 10 percent of California’s vineyards. Usually, it is a robust Red Zinfandel, but in the USA it has also become a blush wine called White Zinfandel. White Zinfandel has over six times the sales of the Red Zinfandel. The taste of the Red Zinfandel relies on the maturity of the grapes from where it is made. Red berry fruits outweigh in wines from cooler areas such as the Napa Valley, while blackberry, anise and pepper notes are more common in wines made in warmer areas such as Sonoma County, and in wines made from the earlier-ripening Primitivo duplicate.


There are little 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 relation to Red Zinfandel was discovered. Now UCD has sent replicas of both Red Zinfandel and Primitivo to Prof Maleti? in Croatia, which he has planted on the island of Hvar. He made his first ZPC wines in Croatia in 2005; there is high demand for red grapes in the country and the government is supportive.


The Red Zinfandel vines are rather vital and like a climate that is warm but not too hot, or else the grapes may shrink in the heat. They create large, tight bunches of thin-skinned fruit, which means that bunch rot can be a problem. The fruit mature rather early, and produce juice with high levels of sugar; if the conditions are right they may be late-harvested for dessert wine. Red Zinfandel is often admired for its ability to not only reflect its terroir but to also reflect the skill and style of its winemaker.


The Red Zinfandel grapes are known for their not level pattern of ripening with a single bunch having the potential to include overripe raisin like, entirely ripen and green, unripe grapes in the same clusters. Some winemakers choose to vilify the bunches with these varying levels of ripeness adding their own distinctive section to the wine while others will hand harvest the bunches, even by single berries through various passes through the vineyards over several weeks. This extensively laborious practice is one component in the high cost of some Zinfandels.

About the Author:

Lindsay Alston is a contributing editor for Classic Wines, specializing in Red Zinfandel wines.

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