Zinfandel is a red grape which produces red wines with strong flavors and aromas of berries. The berry flavor and aroma of Zinfandel wine can be so strong that some consider it 'jammy' in character Many are familiar primarily with White Zinfandel which is a blush version of Zinfandel, not a true white wine. Other characteristics of Zinfandel grapes include high alcohol content, strong tannins, and slightly spicy flavors.
Zinfandel and California
Zinfandel grapes and Zinfandel wine are inextricably linked with California wine production because California is the only place they are grown. Zinfandel is one of oldest, if not the oldest, grape variety in California and today it occupies about 10 percent of all California vineyards. It has always been recognized as a member of the vinifera family, but there have been many different theories as to where it originally came from.
Modern DNA tests put all the debate to rest, though, when it revealed that Zinfandel grapes are descended from an obscure Croatian grape variety. Not many vines of Crljenak Kaštelanski remain today, but it seems to be directly related to the oldest and earliest domesticated grapes in the region. The origin of the name "Zinfandel" itself remains unknown.
Zinfandel and Aging
Because Zinfandel is a strong red grape some may assume that it produces wines that are perfect for long-term aging, but that's not always true. Zinfandel is a versatile grape that allows for the creation of a range of wines, some of which are sweeter and should be drunk young. Only if the Zinfandel wine is made in such a way that elicits strong tanning structures is it appropriate for aging. Wine drinkers can generally differentiate between them because the latter sorts of Zinfandel wines are more expensive.
Zinfandel vs. White Zinfandel
If the dark red Zinfandel wines are made from the same grapes as the pink White Zinfandel wines, what's the difference? The difference between the two is the same as the difference between red and white wines generally: it all comes down to the grape juice having contact with the grape skins during the fermentation process.
Regular Zinfandel wine is created by the juice having extended contact with the red grape skins, giving the wine its strong tannins and complex flavors. White Zinfandel, in contrast, experiences only the most minimal contact with the grape skins, allowing the wine to develop a slight pink color but no more. As a consequence, White Zinfandel wines are sweeter and less complex than their full-bodied siblings.
It's worth noting that this is an unusual relationship. Other red grape varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, aren't used to produce a good blush wine like White Zinfandel. Only Merlot is used to create a blush version known as White Merlot.