One of the first wines that a new enthusiast encounters is the zinfandel and for good reason. Its rich, but accessible flavor profile makes it one of the best standard reds, especially for those still developing a palate for drier varietals.
Zinfandel comes in two forms: red and white. The key difference is that white zinfandels are fermented for a shorter duration which prevents much of the sugar from converting to alcohol resulting in a wine that substantially sweeter.
This post focuses on the red variety.
Where does it come from?
Zinfandel's rise to fame is largely thanks to the California wine industry where it comprises as much as 10% of the region's wine production. Yet despite its popularity in the west, the grape originates from the Slavic country of Croatia.
What makes it unique?
Red zinfandel is distinctive for its deep, dark color, medium tannin content, and higher than average alcohol content. In fact, red zinfandels are among the most alcoholic, non-fortified wines with an average ABV of about 16%.
Compared to other reds, zinfandels have a lighter body and thinner consistency that makes them well suited for being served chilled. Of all reds, it is most similar to Pinot noir, but where Pinot is milder and more versatile, zinfandel is bolder and more assertive.
What does it taste like?
Flavor-wise, zinfandels are associated with jammy, red berries, and candied fruits. They often possess a peppery or smoky finish that complements braised and barbecued meats spectacularly. Zinfandel also pairs nicely with highly spiced and flavored sauce dishes like curry, hard and flavorful cheeses like smoked Gouda, and roasted garden vegetables.