Grasping the Grape: Zinfandel

Find out why this boozy, iconic American wine technically isn’t as American as you might think, and how it got so popular in the States.

| September 2019


Say It Right: Zin-fan-del

Other Known Aliases: Primitivo (Pree-mee-tee-vo), Tribidrag (Tri-bidd-rag)

Zinfandel may not get the international attention and acclaim that the USA’s Pinot Noirs, Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays do, but it is nevertheless an – if not the – iconic “American” wine. As American as apple pie, you might say. Except, of course, it technically isn’t.

Though it was long thought to be and promoted as an indigenous varietal to the United States, the grape is actually native to Croatia, where it was originally known as Tribidrag. It didn’t land state-side until sometime in the early 19th century, eventually making California its home in the 1850s. The trajectory feels a little like that of the kid who didn’t get much attention in its hometown, but then, given the opportunity to start fresh at a new school in a new town, took on a different identity and flourished. Zinfandel was so popular in California, in fact, that up until 1998, it was the most widely planted red grape in the state (currently it’s number two, with Cabernet Sauvignon in the lead).

Granted, a big chunk of the grape’s production is dedicated to making the maligned semi-sweet, actuallypink- not-white wine known as “white Zinfandel.” While this may be some of Zinfandel’s most recognisable work in California, it is by no means its best. Grown throughout the state, “Zin” is at the top of its game in Sonoma, Napa, the Sierra Foothills and Lodi in the north, as well as Paso Robles in the centre.



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