Unpolished Grape Series: Zinfandel and Primitivo


Zinfandel is a black grape native to Croatia. However, it is primarily grown in the U.S. where it is known as “Zinfandel,” and in Italy where it is known as “Primitivo.” This grape is recognized by its high levels of sugars that transform into high levels of alcohol during the fermentation process. Today, Zinfandel is made as both a red wine and rosé.

Zinfandel/Primitivo is a full-bodied red wine with medium acidity, high alcohol, and medium-high tannin. It is a mix of both red and black fruit flavors such as strawberry, cherry, black cherry and fig. Zinfandel ripens unevenly, which means some of its grapes may be under-ripe at harvest, while others raisined on the vine in the hot sun to display dried fruit and licorice characteristics. Barrel-aged expressions also show sweet and spicy flavors of vanilla and coffee, which are more prominent in new oak. Bottle-aged Zinfandel can go on to develop for many years, revealing its dark chocolate, earth and meaty tertiary flavors.

Zinfandel in California

When people think of Zinfandel, they often think of White Zinfandel. The medium-sweet rosé gained popularity in the 1980s, where it became one of the most fast-selling wines on the market. However, red Zinfandel made from “old vines” have received more attention in recent years, as its low yields and intense fruit concentration produce premium wines and are able to age for extended times in the bottle. Some of the best expressions are found in both Napa and Sonoma Valleys. High-volume Zinfandel wines commonly come from the Lodi AVA in the Central Valley.

Primitivo in Italy (Puglia)

In Puglia, the “boot heel” of the Italian peninsula, Zinfandel is known as Primitivo. Here it is the 3rd most planted grape variety of the region. It is often grown and produced at high volumes, resulting in lighter and fruitier wines with less ability to age over time. Although Zinfandel and Primitivo are the same grape, they display slightly different characteristics due to a difference in terroir and vineyard yields.

Food Pairings

Zinfandel/Primitivo are hearty grapes that pair well with meaty foods like BBQ, short ribs, steaks, and grilled burgers. It also goes well with flavorful comfort-foods like stews, red-sauce pastas, and meaty pizzas. Mushrooms and smoked Gouda are pairing favorites due to their savory flavors.


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