How and when the variety arrived in the United States, as well as whether it is in fact the same grape as Primitivo has been a hot topic in the wine world for many years. However, it is now acknowledged that the two varieties are genetically identical and that Zinfandel has been planted in American vineyards since the early years of the nineteenth century.
Finding immediate success in California, Zinfandel was, at the turn of the twentieth century, the most prevalent variety in the state’s vineyards, and whilst many vines were torn up during the prohibition period, the rediscovery of those that were not has led to many of the prized and premium wines for which the variety is now known. Today, Zinfandel is one of California’s most planted grapes behind the principals, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, and is considered by many the viticultural emblem of the region.
Versatile Zinfandel is planted across most of California’s diverse terroir with great success. However it tends to thrive in areas with significant diurnal temperature variation where the fruit is able to mature slowly and hence develop the intense fruit flavours for which it is renowned without compromising its natural acidity.
Whilst not the easiest variety to cultivate on account of its vigour and the propensity of its grapes to ripen unevenly, with careful attention in the vineyard Zinfandel can reward winemakers with deep, robust varietals that balance rich fruit flavours with a hint of spice. Examples from Napa Valley AVA and Russian River Valley AVA are particularly recommended.