Zinfandel Wine Taste Guide & Food Pairings

Organic Zinfandel grapes grow at Frey Vineyards in Mendocino County, California.

This Zinfandel wine taste and food pairing guide is part of our grape variety series. Find out what these delectable grapes taste like, what the best food pairings are, how many calories they have as well as additional nutritional information.

A Guide to All Things Zinfandel

zinfandel wine taste

Old vine Zinfandel grows at Kunde Estate Winery in Sonoma Valley, California. Image courtesy Sonoma Wine Grape.

Red Zinfandel is a black and blue skinned grape variety that’s most notably grown and incredibly popular within the United States.

In the glass, this grape tends to adhere to lighter-bodied characteristics while simultaneously maintaining big flavors. This is largely due to Zin’s elevated acidic content and classically high alcohol content (up to 17% in some cases).

These two factors can make Zinfandel feel more medium bodied on the palate.

This grape variety is packed with flavors resembling ripe red fruit – including raspberry, raisin, cranberry, cassis and plum. These jammy fruit flavors are often backed with distinct black pepper spice, tobacco, dry barnyard door and coffee.

zinfandel wine guide

Old vine Zinfandel grows at Maley Brothersí Wegat Vineyard in Lodi, California. Zinfandel vines are often brambly and sturdy with strong root systems. Image courtesy Mercury News.

While these are the generalities, Zinfandel flavors can vary and alcohol content is an influential ingredient.

(Click to scroll down to detailed tasting notes).

Depending on ripeness at the time of harvest, it’s believed that cooler climate Zins adhere to more red fruit flavors while warmer climate varietal wines contain more black fruit and pepper nuances.

The United States holds over 70% of Zinfandel acreage world-wide, with Italy (around 27%) and various locations throughout Australia, South Africa and Mexico holding the remainder.

 

Fun Fact – Zinfandel Characteristics: Zinfandel grapes are able to produce light-bodied robust red wines. Often because they are grown in sandy soil. Winemakers in Lodi California recognize that this loose sandy soil makeup forces the vines to develop strong and deep root systems – ultimately enhancing grape quality.

Zinfandel Taste, Food Pairings and Characteristics | Sutter Home White Zinfandel

Sutter Home makes a consistent, accessible and value White Zinfandel. Click to enlarge White Zinfandel food pairings from this vintner.

White Zinfandel is Incredibly Popular

While Red Zinfandel remains the most popular style world-wide, White Zinfandel, an off dry rosé made in the United States – is also flying off the shelves.

Zinfandel has a Croatian Cousin

Genetically alike in many ways to the Primitive grape – an old world variety native to Croatia and now most famous in Apulia, Italy – Zinfandel clusters hold larger grapes  and also ripen less evenly than Primitivo.

Calories in Zinfandel Wine

There are between 130 and 135 calories in one five ounce glass of Zinfandel. The exact caloric content is influenced mainly by ripeness of the grape at time of harvest.

Since these grapes have a high sugar content, ultimately leading to a high alcohol content, many calories are a result of the alcohol itself. Technological advances in winemaking are helping to curb the alcoholic “heat” and make Zinfandel’s more approachable.

So what does Zinfandel taste like?

Common Flavors and Aromas
  • Fruit: Red & Black (Fig, Raspberry, Blackberry, Cassis, Raisin, Cherry, Plum, Cranberry Jam)
  • Earth & Mineral Notes: Underbrush, Red Clay Minerals, Dry Herbs
  • Additional Complexities: Smoke, Black Pepper, Cacao, Cinnamon, Oak, Tobacco, Mushroom, Tumbleweed
Structure
  • Body: Light-Medium
  • Sugar: Dry
  • Tannins: Medium
  • Acid: Medium Plus
  • Alcohol: High (13.5%-17.0% ABV)
  • Finish: Bright, Medium
Terroir
  • Soil: Sand, Porous Rock & Dust, Decomposed Granite
  • Climate: Varied (Warm – Moderately Hot)
  • Notable Regions: Napa Valley, California | Lodi, California | Sierra Foothills, California | Colombia Valley, Washington State | Mendocino County, California | Valle Central, Chile | Puglia, Italy

Zinfandel Food Pairings

If you’re snacking and drinking Zinfandel, try it with dark chocolate. The tobacco, acid and raspberry jam seem to accent it very nicely. Plus, you’re getting resveratrol from the Zin and additional antioxidants from the chocolate. Achievement unlocked.

  • Zinfandel Wine Taste Guide

    Try roasting duck (or chicken) with apples and garlic cloves to pair with red Zinfandel. Image courtesy The Guardian – (click for recipe).

    Pairing Zinfandel with Meat and Fish

Since it’s a lighter bodied red, I tend to avoid going the steak and beef route. Instead, try meat or poultry that’s a little lighter.

Cuban-styled Lechon, barbecue chicken, roasted duck, lamb or pulled pork will bring out the spicy and savory flavors of warmer-terroired Zin’s. Conversely, I think the red jammy fruit in cooler climate Zin’s pairs well with grilled redfish and blue cheese burgers.

  • Additional Food Pairings

For other pairings, try these wines with any tomato based pasta.  Don’t be afraid to utilize your spice cabinet when it comes to reds. These wines contain plenty of dry herb and cracked pepper flavors.

Accent these with spicy or savory Mexican and Indian plates. Make sure you don’t use any bland vegetables. Instead try grilled red bell pepper or seared onion, cilantro and tomato.

Additional sources: Zinfandel.org, Lodi Wine 

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