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by Staff Writer - R. Meoki | July 08, 2011

Red Zinfandel is most often considered an "American Classic" wine. The color of a Red Zinfandel wine is a deep red, often bordering on black. Zinfandel is a spicy, peppery wine, with a hint of fruity flavor, including berries or dark cherries. Zinfandel has also been described as a rich, full-bodied red with ripe raspberry fruit accented by pepper and spice. At other times, it displays medicinal aromas, but in most cases its fruit is complemented by a dark undercurrent that hints of bay leaves, sweet thyme, and basil. Zinfandel is frequently blended with other grapes.

Just like the wine, the Zinfandel grape is sometimes known as the All-American grape. Zinfandel grapes grow in tight bunches and with thin skins that can be susceptible to rot. The best Zinfandel grapes are grown from old vines. Old vines are loosely translated as vines that have been active for a minimum of 40 years. Although old Zinfandel vines tend to produce smaller crops, the grapes have greater intensity and depth of flavor. The younger Zinfandel vines produce bigger crops that can be made into many different styles.

Research has now shown that the Zinfandel grape originated in Croatia, and then became popular in the early days of Italy and the Roman Empire. The original wine is now known as Primitivo. Primitivo is a red grape variety grown mainly in the Apulia region of Southern Italy. Primitivo is a bold, rich flavored grape that tastes like Zinfandel for a reason. DNA fingerprinting recently proved that both Zinfandel and Primitivo are clones of the same grape.

Zinfandel first came to California in the early 1800s. This grape is now primarily grown in California. It was even originally thought to be made of native Californian grapes. It likes warm valleys close to the coast. Zinfandel does extremely well in Dry Creek Valley, the hills of Napa, Sonoma, as well as Mendocino counties and Paso Robles further south. Wildly popular in the United States, many consider Zinfandel the original "California Red." In fact, California is the largest grower of Zinfandel. It is also widely planted in Italy as the Primitivo grape.

It should be noted that the Red Zinfandel grape is also used to make White Zinfandel wine. The exact same grape is used in both wines. To make White Zinfandel, winemakers remove the red grape skins before making the wine. The red skins are what give the robust flavor and color to Red Zinfandel wine. Without the skins, a White Zinfandel ends up being light and sweet.

Zinfandel’s ability to produce exceptional amounts of alcohol is legendary. Most modern styles of Zinfandel reach at least 14% alcohol and sometimes more. This can often create wines whose flavor profile is dominated by a brandied flavor character. The wines can be hot, and this heat is heightened by the spicy nature of the varietal.

Zinfandel pairs best with bold flavored foods like spicy and grilled meat, bleu cheese, gorgonzola cheese, heavy pasta and dark chocolate. Lighter Zinfandels will also pair well with rich, creamy pastas, grilled chicken, and baked Italian dishes like lasagna and cannelloni. And just as Zinfandel is considered the All-American wine, it goes well with typical American food like pizza and burgers.

Zinfandel should be served at around 65 degrees, which is somewhere in the middle between room temperature and a chilled temperature. Zinfandel tastes best when served in a narrow mouthed glass. Most people enjoy drinking young Zinfandels, which means those aged within a year or two. But take note that there are also quite a few Zinfandels that age very well. The flavor becomes much different and far more mellow. Try both and then you can decide whether you prefer a younger or older aged Zinfandel.

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