An Introduction to Zinfandel Wines

Learn the Difference Between Zinfandel and White Zinfandel

Zinfandel grapes in Sonoma County, California
Patti McConville/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

California is famous for its Zinfandel wines and the blush pink 'White Zin' is one of the most popular styles in the United States. Their fame is only natural as these are very approachable wines, especially if you're new to wine and are looking for an introduction to semi-sweet yet flavorful red wines.

You will also find that both red and white Zinfandels are the perfect dinner wines. These are extremely versatile wines that pair perfectly with almost any food you're serving.

 

Before you step out and buy a bottle of Zin, let's learn a bit more about this style.

What is Zinfandel?

The Zinfandel (pronounced Zin-fan-Dell) grape has been a cornerstone of the California viticulture scene since the mid-1800s. Originally thought to be a native grape from Italy, research carried out in the last part of the 20th-century revealed that Zinfandel's original roots were firmly planted in Croatia. 

Regardless of its Old World beginnings, it is a dynamic red grape that has made itself quite at home in the New World.

  • This versatile varietal is known and loved undercover as "White Zin" by some and "Zinfandel" by red wine enthusiasts.
  • Old vine Zins, made from vines that are typically over 50-years-old, are coveted for their intensity in flavor and color as well as an overall balanced style.
  • In southern Italy, Zinfandel is known as Primitivo. You may see this on domestic labels as well.

    One Grape, Two Styles of Wine

    The Zinfandel varietal can be a little confusing because there are distinctly red Zinfandels and there are White Zinfandels (which are actually pink). Both wines come from the same Zinfandel grapes and it is the process for making the wine that differentiates the two.

    Zinfandel, meaning the red wine, is known for its rich, dark color scheme, medium to high tannin levels, and a higher alcohol content (14-17% ABV).

    The featured flavors of Zinfandel include raspberry, blackberry, cherry, plums, raisins, spice, and black pepper all wrapped around various intensities of oak.

    Red Zinfandels have a lighter body than other red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The high tannins make it bolder than a Pinot Noir, which makes it a perfect introduction to red wines. 

    White Zinfandel is made from the same red Zinfandel grape. The grape skins are quickly removed after they are crushed so there is significantly less contact time with the heavily pigmented red grape skin. This results in a pink or rose colored wine, instead of the deep red hue found in Zinfandel.

    White Zins tend to have a pleasant sweetness and are low in alcohol (around 9-10% ABV). They are also known to be very affordable (some wine connoisseurs may call them cheap).

    Zinfandel Food Pairings

    You will find that either style of Zinfandel is a great choice for dinner, though the White Zins tend to be a bit more versatile.

    Zinfandel pairs well with plenty of meat: lamb, poultry, beef, game, and some fish, under a variety of cooking styles (e.g. grilled, stewed, or braised).

    It continues to showcase its versatility with tried and true pairing favorites like fish tacos, spicy fare, or something as simple brats and burgers.

    White Zinfandel pairs well with a great variety of foods, ranging from Cajun to Asian cuisines, from barbecue chicken to heavy-duty seafood entrees. There really is no great science to a White Zin pairing and it's versatility makes it an ideal wine choice for any meal.

    Key U.S. Zinfandel Producers

    Many wineries produce Zinfandel and it is one of the best-selling wines produced in the U.S. Among those vineyards, these labels are most notable.

    • 7 Deadly Zins
    • Ancient Peaks
    • Cline
    • Dry Creek Vineyards
    • Four Vines
    • Grgich Hills
    • Layer Cake Primitivo
    • Rancho Zabaco
    • Ravenswood
    • Ridge
    • Rodney Strong
    • Rosenblum
    • Seghesio
    • St. Francis
    • Turley

    White Zinfandel Producers

    White Zinfandel is also made by a number of wineries, though these two are the most notable and popular. That said, do not hesitate to try a new White Zin as there are many surprisingly pleasant wines out there to be discovered.