The great American success story, though not indigenous to the United States as was once thought. Zinfandel is actually the Croatian grape Crjlenak that is thought to have been transported to the U.S. in the early 1800s as part of the Royal Austrian Plant Species Collection. It is in the U.S. that Zinfandel has found a home, becoming synonymous with both full and flavorful red wines, and fruity and often sweet rosés. Zinfandel became famous around the turn of the 20th century as a productive varietal grown by many a miner or Italian immigrant. In fact, some of the most famous spots in Napa and Sonoma were covered with Zinfandel vines. As the century wore on red Zin lost favor and was used as a base for "jug" wines until White Zin was created. At first a rosé made from a short maceration (skin-contact) time, White Zin became a driving force in the American market as a sweet and fruity pink wine often times made by blending white and red wines together. Today Zinfandel is rapidly gaining popularity as a full and rich red with notes of pepper and spices. Deep black fruits, violets and often "brambly" notes are also common in Zinfandel. Due to its high sugar levels when ripe, high levels of alcohol are also common, sometimes to a fault. Thought productive, Zinfandel can also be difficult to grow in cooler climates as uneven bunch ripening can be a problem.
The best area for Zinfandel is in California's Dry Creek Valley, though it can be found in almost every warm weather area of the state. Counties such as Amador, Sonoma, San Jaoquin and more all produce excellent Zinfandel. The Italian varietal Primitivo was once thought to be identical to Zinfandel, though it is now known to be a close relative and also a descendant of Crjlenak, as is Plavac Mali. Primitivo, however, can be found throughout southern Italy and is so similar to Zinfandel that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is considering a proposal to allow Italian Primitivo to be sold in the U.S. as Zinfandel, much to the dismay of Zinfandel producers. For more on Zinfandel check out http://www.zinfandel.org/.