Is Zinfandel A Red Wine?

Wine is bottled poetry – Robert Louis Stevenson

Zinfandel is a floral, sweet wine imbued with rich fruit flavor that takes its name from the grape that it’s made from. 

While the grape has a long history that can be traced all the way back to six thousand years before the birth of Christ and was first thought to have been fermented in Croatia, in the last century it has become synonymous with California, as nearly ten percent of all the vineyards in this world-famous wine utopia are dedicated to the production of Zinfandel. 

Although it is now a west coast staple when Zinfandel originally made its presence felt in the United States during the early nineteenth century, it was initially an east coast specialty and made its debut in Boston in eighteen thirty, the grape having been grown and the wine produced in Long Island sometime in the previous decade.

Thought to have made its way to America from the Imperial Nursery in Austria via surreptitious means, it wasn’t until the mid-eighteen thirties that the grape eventually made its way west and took refuge in the wild, untamed vineyards of the former Mexican territory, where it became a local favorite for the next century. 

Prohibition wasn’t kind to Zinfandel and it took nearly fifty years for the grape to remerge from obscurity and find its footing again, and its rise to prominence was thanks in no small part to the grape being widely available, and the surge in popularity of amateur and home winemaking in the late nineteen seventies and early nineteen eighties.

Having found its footing again, Zinfandel soon became a fixture on the Californian wine scene, and due to its incredible combination of natural dark, deep and robust flavor, and surprisingly high alcohol content, was soon adopted and became a favorite with vintners and oenophiles the world over. 

Zinfandel – Aged To Perfection 

The oldest vines are often said to produce the sweetest and most refined wines, as they have had time to fully embrace the terroir of the land on which they’re grown and absorb the history and characteristics of the area.

And Lodi in California, the place that put this now world-famous wine back on the map, has some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in the country.

Some of them are thought to be over one hundred years old and were originally used to grow the grapes that became part of the blended wines that were drunk before Prohibition and later used solely to grow the grapes that were used by the Church to make Communion wine. 

Of course, the times being what they were and human nature being what it is, most of the communion wine made from the Lodi vineyards didn’t actually make it as far as the Church services and ended up being consumed surreptitiously by the locals, which was partially responsible for its later popularity among the new breed of California winemakers. 

The grape was widely available, it was cheap and they knew from legend, and no doubt, having consumed more than their fair share of the local hooch that the grapes could and would make a bottle of incredible wine. 

A Vote For Red 

No matter what you may think of the grape or its final product, there is no escaping the fact that Zinfandel is a dark-skinned grape, the juice of which is primarily used to make red wine.

The flavor of the eventual (red) wine that’s made from Zinfandel grapes can vary greatly according to how old and mature the grapes used to make it are, the amount of direct sunlight that the vines received while their fruit was growing, and where the vines that the wine comes from where, and are located. 

Some of the most common flavors of this widely popular and sought-after red wine include a light raspberry afternote, an immediate hint of blackberry and anise, and a lingering peppery warmth with a touch of tobacco that is welcomed fondly and fades gradually.

The robust nature of the grape translates well during the fermentation process, which partially explains its often complex flavors that battle for dominance, while the high sugar content of the grape lends itself particularly well to high alcohol content wines, and it isn’t uncommon to find a bottle of Zinfandel with an ABV ( the term used to refer to alcohol by volume, or the amount of alcohol present in a beer, wine or spirit) in excess of fifteen percent.

The grape is also used to make blended wines, but in order for a wine to truly be called a Zinfandel, at least seventy-five percent of the juice, and the fermented product of the juice, used in the production of that wine must come from the Zinfandel grape.

If it isn’t made from seventy-five percent Zinfandel grapes, then the wine can’t call itself Zinfandel. 

But What About Pink Zin? 

That’s a good question, and even though it’s much lighter in color and has a fruitier taste, and more often than not a lower ABV, pink Zinfandel is, as its name says a Zinfandel. 

Even though Zinfandel is usually red, the color of the wine that the grape eventually produces comes primarily from the tannins in the skin of that grape. 

While red wine is a product of the grapes and their skin being mashed up and left to ferment together, with the juice only being separated and left to make the rest of its journey to wine-hood after it’s fully absorbed its color from the skin of its grapes, pink Zinfandel is made a little differently. 

The juice and skin of the grapes are separated much earlier, with the former being drained from the latter far earlier during the fermentation process.

This means that the juice isn’t exposed to the tannins which give red wine its color for long enough for it to become red, and instead, it assumes a naturally pink (light red) sheen which is why it’s called rose, a term coined by French vintners to describe that particular color of wine. Or, as it’s now more commonly known, pink Zin.  

Christina Day
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