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A Brief History Of Zinfandel Wine

A Brief History Of Zinfandel Wine

iLoveWine Staff
A Glass of Zinfandel Rosé

Do you know where did Zinfandel grapes came from before reaching California? How was white Zin discovered? This and many other burning questions about this wine will be answered in this post.

A Glass of Zinfandel Rosé
A Glass of Zinfandel Rosé

Planted in more than 10% of the vineyards in California, Zinfandel grape plays a crucial role in the red wine industry. It is used to make a type of ripe red wine of the highest alcohol content in the market (14%-17%). It features jammy and fruity characteristics which are a result of the hot sun in California. Here is a brief history of the wine.

The Greatest Discovery

The origin of Zinfandel was unknown until 1960. Its production started spreading across California in the mid-1800s and it was accepted that the grape was indigenous to the USA. It thrived well in Californian climate and up to date, there are people who strongly believe that it has existed for centuries in this area. However, in 1960, a professor who was exploring Italy spotted a lot of similarities between Zinfandel and Primitivo grapes and that is when people started questioning the origins of the grapes.

The professor’s survey led to the conclusion that Primitivo had a strong connection to the Californian Zinfandel. But several researchers did not agree to it so they kept on testing the fruits. Finally, a DNA test confirmed that the grape had no connection to any of the Italian grapes, not even ones from the greatest wine regions in Europe. But its origin was discovered in the least expected place, i.e. Croatia. But how did Zin find its way to California? It was during the Gold Rush when the Americans were heading to the west.

After this discovery, everyone wanted to know the exact details of its movement into the US. In the early 1800s, a lot of grape vines from Vienna, Austria were shipped to the Long Island specifically to a particular horticulturalists. Zinfandel vines were also included in the shipments and that is how they penetrated the US at the time of the California Gold Rush.

Old Vine Zin is the oldest type of Californian Zinfandel. Their vines are at least 50 years old and their intensity and flavors are greater than the younger vines. The Old Vine Zin grapes produce a premium version of Zin and that is why they command a greater price.


White Zinfandel was Born by Accident

Now that you understand how Zinfandel came to California, you want to learn how it was discovered. Its discovery was made accidentally by Bob Trinchero from Napa Valley in 1972. The Trinchero family is well known in the Italian wine industry. They started producing wines in 1974 after purchasing an abandoned estate. Bob Trinchero inherited the estate in the late 1960s. He started a new brand that focused on varietal wines as opposed to generic wines. Te homemade Zin created during the Gold Rush strike an interest in Bob and he expanded its production in Amador County under the label ‘Sutter Home’.

The white Zin came about as Bob was experimenting with the wine to make it more robust in Amador. He took some free-run juice and allowed it to ferment into a white wine. At first, it came out as pale pink due to the exposure to red skins. It was lighter than the original Zinfandel and it got a lot of fans in the tasting room. He named it Oeil de Perdrix, which means eye of the partridge.

Zinfandel grapes, grown at a winery and vineyard in Southern Oregon.

The Onset of Production

In 1972, Bob Trinchero started growing Zinfandel at 220 cases. To comply with the US government requirements, he had to find an English name for the wine. And that is when he named it White Zinfandel. From 1975, he increased the production and for reasons unknown, the fermentation came to an end when the wine reached a residual sugar percentage of around 2%. It had a pink tinge and a taste that was well-received by consumers. The drinkers actually stated to ask for its cases.

Trinchero believes that if he had listened to the critics some decades ago, white Zin wouldn’t be on the market today. The most fortunate thing happened when customers accepted the wine and they still enjoy it to date. The beverage is light-bodied, refreshing, inexpensive, and very fruity. White Zin came from a humble beginning and has become the most famous and premium domestic wine. Other small wineries started making similar blush wines in order to save the old grapes which would have gone to waste or taken over by other varieties.

Trinchero was honored with a Doctorate degree in Oenology recently at Johnson and Wales University College due to his outstanding entrepreneurship and inspiration. He has made wine more accessible to consumers and removed most of the pretention that surround winemaking. In the Wine Spectator Magazine, Trinchero was recognized for having introduced wine to Americans more than anyone in the history of winemaking. Today, people connect wine to foods and events and are able to use innovative approaches that allow them to have responsible and fun experiences. As time goes by, Americans are growing savvier about wines. This drink has become an important part of dinner and social events.


The Different Versions of Zinfandel

Zinfandel may be a single grape but it produces different styles of Zin. The red grape produces clear juice and it is upon the winemaker to decide how long it stays in contact with skins, stems, and seeds. And that is why the clear juice gets the red or pink tinge. The ripeness of the grape is another determinant of the outcome. In short, the winemaker has numerous styles at disposal. Here is a list of the major versions.

  • Zinfandel rose: the grapes are fermented dry. A little skin contact is allowed to give the wine a deep rose color
  • Zinfandel big style: red Zin made from riper grapes featuring complex and intense fruit flavors plus a jammy quality
  • Zinfandel port: made from overripe grapes plus distilled grape spirits which are added to halt the fermentation before the sugar turns alcoholic
  • White Zin: made from the red Zinfandel Skins and seeds are removed after crushing the grapes
  • Late harvest Zin: made from overly ripe grapes with 1% to 3% residual sugar
  • Zinfandel table wine: red wine derived from grapes with an optimal balance of sugar and acidity. Extended skin contact is allowed to produce intensely fruity wine

You will find most of the Zin wines in retail outlets. Some have introduced new cocktails created from the same grape. It is the best juicy wine you can open at a barbecue.

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