For more than a century, researchers believed that zinfandel had no traceable lineage until the late 1960’s when it had become the second most widely planted red grape variety in California. The only known fact was that it had European origins since it belongs to the vitis vinifera family of grapes.
In 1967, Dr. Austin Goheen, a USDA plant pathologist, visiting Italian colleagues in Bari, Apulia, discovered by chance that the same grape as zinfandel here called primitivo di Gioia was planted on 50 000 hectares of vineyards.
By and large, primitivo in this warm climate yields thick, full-bodied, high-alcohol red wines.
Zinfandel was introduced in California in mid-19th century, has over time acclimatized, and produces completely different wines to those in Apulia.
It has often been claimed that Agoston Harastazy brought over zinfandel along with many other cuttings from Europe on one of his research trips there. This has since been disproved.
DNA analysis is determined that the ur-zinfandel is at home in Croatia as crljenak kastelanski, and somehow was introduced to Apulia and then brought to the U S A.
It produces vigorously and can yield up to 20 tons per hectare; but ripens unevenly (grape bunches on the same vine may show up to five degrees sugar content difference).
It is also planted in Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia, Ontario, South Africa, and Australia.
There is no definite California zinfandel style. The grape yields different flavours when planted on the coastal regions or inland. The style also depends very much on the philosophy of the winemaker.
There are now approximately 19 000 hectares of zinfandel vines in California and more may be planted if demand increases. After cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, zinfandel plantings rank third in the sunny state of California.
Some are produced in so called “white zinfandel” which is a very pale rose, to medium-bodied, full bodied and even port styles. It integrates well with French and American oak.
Some are dark, intensely fruity (berries), and highly tannic and can be cellared for many years; others like “white zinfandel” should be consumes within a year of harvest.
It yields better fruit when planted on cooler coastal county soils, carefully tended and pried to yield five to seven tons per hectare.
Since there is no definitive style of zinfandel, some bottles are very expensive and others medium priced, yet others very inexpensive; this confuses consumers.
Yet in the cellars of many connoisseurs today, it is very common for zinfandel bottles to be aging alongside prestigious bottles of cabernet sauvignon, and top-drawer wines from chateaux in Bordeaux to other famous regions.