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Zinfandel: THE American Wine

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

The Perfect American Summer Wine

Looking for the right wine to celebrate America’s Independence Day this year? Nothing goes better with your summer BBQ than a California Zinfandel. Whether it’s the 4th of July or just a Saturday afternoon on your deck with friends, these wines are loaded with ripe fruit and spice that goes so well with your favorite rubs and sauces. Oh, and there’s a fair amount of alcohol. What’s more, while it’s not exactly native to the US, it’s really evolved into a uniquely American wine.

If you’re talking about wines that are from grapes native to the USA, it’s likely going to be a short conversation. Perhaps the most well-known native American grape is the Concord grape, which is one of the primary sources of that red grape juice you drank as a kid. Outside of this, there are several native American grapes that can and have been used for making wine, but none are really household names - Catawba, Dracut Amber, Elvira, Norton, and Muscadine. So, if you’ve tried wine made from any of these grapes, you are in a very small minority.

Great American Wines from the Bicentennial

That native American grapes are not of any real consequence in the world of wine does not mean that America doesn’t produce some of the best wines in the world. Since the 1976 Judgement of Paris, where Napa Valley’s Chateau Montelena took top honors against some of Burgundy’s best Chardonnay, and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars took top honors against some of Bordeaux’s best Cabernet Sauvignon, the US has been a force to be reckoned with in the wine world. From the fantastic Cabernets of California and Washington to the world class Chards and Pinots of California and Oregon, the US is an absolute powerhouse.

But while we can compete with the best wine producers around the world, none of the aforementioned wines have ever been considered uniquely American. You will find equally outstanding Cabernet in France, Italy, the US, Chile, Australia, Argentina, and South Africa, to name a few. The same can be said about Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Grenache, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, etc.; there are fantastic offerings of these wines all over the world. There is one grape, though, that can be argued to have established itself as truly American, and that grape is Zinfandel.

The Zinfandel Grape

Wait, isn’t Zinfandel the same grape as Italy’s Primitivo? Yes, the DNA of the 2 is identical, and the Zinfandel grape did in fact make its way to the US via Italy, but the reality is that Zinfandel and Primitivo are both clones of the Croatian Crljenak kaštelanski grape, also known as Tribidrag.

So how can you call it an American grape? Zinfandel has been grown in the US nearly 2 centuries, really being America’s choice wine until Prohibition - over 1/3rd of grapes grown in the US during this time were Zinfandel. Following the end of Prohibition, however, these wines largely fell out of favor until the introduction of White Zinfandel in the 1970s, and it wasn’t really until the 1990s that winemakers began to really focus on producing quality Zinfandel wines. Since then it has flourished, particularly in Lodi, Amador County, Sonoma, Paso Robles, and the Sierra Foothills, but you will find it in just about every wine growing region in California. Indeed, today, California is home to roughly 70% of Zinfandel production globally

What Makes American Zinfandel Wines Unique

While Zinfandel may indeed be genetically linked to Primitivo and Tribidrag, they grow in different soils, different climates, and the associated wines are produced via different wine making techniques. The result translates into wines that have unique flavor profiles and aromas. Where Zinfandel is dark, jammy, and full of spice, Primitivo will have a lot of fruit, but it will not have the spice and will be a bit more austere. Today’s Zinfandel has really evolved into its own uniquely American style of wine.

So when you are planning your 4th of July cookout with family and friends, your best bet to accompany all of your favorite American fare is a truly American Zinfandel.

You can use our search function or follow this link to see our current selection of Zinfandels for individual purchase, or browse our range of wine subscription plans

Here Are Some of Our Favorite American Zinfandels:


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