Know Your Grapes: Zinfandel Taste and Pairings

What does zinfandel taste like and pair well with?

Note: This post is part of a series on wine grapes that started with Viognier.

Zinfandel - and I mean the real, red Zinfandel as opposed to that "blush" white Zinfandel, is a woefully underappreciated grape. People out in California love it, but many people in the rest of the country don't know anything about it. 

In her book The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil describes good Zinfandel as "jammy, mouthwatering, big-fruited [wines] that can be as lovable and irrestible as puppies." Excusing MacNeil's penchant for flowery prose, I think that's actually a great description.

Zinfandel probably originated in Italy, where today it is known as Primitivo. Italian immigrants to California took the grape with them, and it now represents over 10% of total acres planted in the state. So what does Zinfandel taste like? It generally produces a very fruity wine that lacks the tannic depth of a Cabernet, for example. Depending on the producer, that fruit or even jam-like quality is balanced with dark notes of spice or black pepper.

Since this is not an overly tannic wine, it is not the right one to pour with a big porterhouse or ribeye. Instead, grab the Zin when you're cooking something a bit lighter. It goes especially well with most forms of BBQ, cheese, and pizza.

If you're looking to get started trying some Zins, here are two entry-level ones that are delicious and very indicative of the grape: the Caravel Reserve by Outcast and this Dry Creek Valley from Wine Guerilla.

By Pooneet Kant


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