Zinfandel (also known as Primitivo in Italy) is a black-skinned wine grape that is capable of producing a wide variety of wines, ranging from rosé wines such as White Zinfandel to light Beaujolais-style red wines to heavier red wines. It can also be used to make late harvest dessert wines and fortified Port-style wines.
While Zinfandel is typically thought of as a uniquely Californian or Italian grape variety, its origin is actually Croatian and the name “Zinfandel” is thought to be Austrian. As a result of the Austrian Hapsburg Empire ruling over what is now Croatia, the grape made its way to Italy in the 18th century, and from there, to America. In fact, records now show that Zinfandel may have appeared on the U.S. East Coast sometime in the late 1820s. During the 1850s, the grape was taken to California during the great Gold Rush of the era.
By some estimates, 10 percent of all Californian vineyards are now growing Zinfandel. The two most important wine regions in California include Sonoma and San Joaquin. Within Italy, the Zinfandel grape (there known as “Primitivo”) is most popularly grown in Apulia, the “heel” of Italy’s boot. There are also a limited number of vineyards in Croatia still growing the grape. During the late 19th century, though, a phylloxera epidemic wiped out much of the nation’s Zinfandel vineyards.
During the 1970s and 1980s, California Zinfandel growers capitalized on the popularity of sweet, blush-colored rosé wines by marketing their wines as White Zinfandel. Now, however, winemakers are focused on making Zinfandel wines that are more fruit-forward and less sweet. Still, the rosé-style White Zinfandel wine annually out-sells traditional red Zinfandel by a nearly 6:1 rate. Moreover, much of the Zinfandel grown in California is typically reserved for blending or mass-production jug wines.