At Zin Valle Vineyards, we specialize in growing and producing zinfandel, a wine best known for its intense fruitiness, lush texture and relatively high alcohol content.
What many people don’t know is that zinfandel is California’s most widely planted grape varietal — and since it’s planted far more in the United States than any other country, it has become known as “America’s grape.” According to the California Association of Wine Grape Growers, zinfandel now accounts for more than 23 percent of the total vineyard territory in the U.S.
The grape’s history has risen and fallen in popularity over the last several decades, but today zinfandel has gained a strong following. As American winemakers continue to experiment with different varietals, they’ve found that zinfandel has been a big hit with customers, which over a relatively short period of time has caused them to increase its plantings and offerings.
The exact origin of zinfandel, or “zin” as many enthusiasts call it, continues to be debated, but, just to go along with the “America’s grape” theme, many call it America’s original wine grape.
According to “Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and its Wine” by Charles Sullivan, the zinfandel wine grape was first brought to New York (not California!) from Vienna in the 1820s, where it was grown in greenhouses because the varietal thrives in warm environments.
More recent research by Carole Meredith, a geneticist at University of California, Davis, however, found that the true origin of the zinfandel grape is Croatia. She was able to confirm this by making a DNA fingerprint of zinfandel and comparing it with a native varietal to Croatia.
According to the book, the first zinfandel vines were planted in California in about 1830, and its popularity grew quickly, making it the most widely grown variety in the U.S. by the end of the 19th century.
During Prohibition, small amounts of home production as well as the production of sacramental wine was allowed, keeping Zinfandel in the minds of many consumers. On the East Coast, however, zinfandel dropped in popularity and was replaced with varietals with thicker skins that could better withstand the harsher climate.
In the 1960s, Ridge Vineyards led the way with old-vine single vineyard bottlings. In the 1970s, Joel Peterson founded Ravenswood, a well-known and respected zinfandel producer. By the 1990s, zinfandel was resurging with consumers and Larry Turley, an emergency room doctor and brother of the famous enologist Helen Turley, planted zinfandel in the heart of California’s Napa Valley.
Kent Rosenblum, a veterinarian and one-time home winemaker, followed in the increased production of zinfandel. Rosenblum has grown tremendously over the years and is now known as one of the three “R’s” — Ridge, Rosenblum and Ravenswood — as leaders in zinfandel quality and production.
By the late 1990s, zinfandel was well established as the “American varietal” in the wine world. From the sweeter and lighter white zinfandel to the bold and high-alcohol red zinfandel, the varietal now has a solid cult following.
When it comes to food pairings, red zinfandel pairs well with steak, lamb, roast and other hearty foods. Try zinfandel with heavier, tomato-based pasta for a pleasant surprise or even with Chinese food with the spicier sauces.
White zinfandel pairs nicely with pizza, salmon, Mexican food and barbecue.
One of my favorites is Zin Valle red zinfandel with the famous lamb burger and garlic fries from Zino’s Greek Restaurant in El Paso. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Try out a locally grown and produced zinfandel at Zin Valle Vineyards and see what you think about “America’s grape.”