Zinfandel is perhaps the most American of all grapes yet, as a vitis vinifera cultivar, its ancestral home had to be European. The fight to claim it has been long and protracted, with numerous red herrings, and even with the advent of DNA testing in the 1990s putting some of those myths to rest, it wasn’t until the new millenium that Zinfandel’s parent source was proved and accepted. First, it was mistakenly thought the grape had been introduced to California in the 1840s by the legendary Agaston Haraszthy, a Hungarian considered the father of Californian wine. Then, the Primitivo connection theorized in the 1960s was confirmed by matching isozymes in 1975. Rumours still abounded that the parent of both Primitivo and Zinfandel was the Croatian grape Plavac Mali but while it was discovered to be a relation, they were not exactly the the same. The search finally ended in 2011, in the garden of a very old Croatian lady where the profile of a an ancient grape called Tribidrag was found to be a perfect match to Zin. Zinfandel in California makes robust, aromatic wines of some heft and the preservation of some vines that were planted in the 19th century has helped the grape attain a special status that is a point of pride among Zin lovers. Its bunches are unusual in the sense that they ripen somewhat unevenly and it is common within the same bunch of grapes to have raisined grapes alongside perfectly ripe grapes and unripened ones as well. This phenomenon actually can help to make a balanced wine as the greener grapes temper the natural high alcohol and add acidity. Zinfandel wines smell of pipe tobacco, rich berries and dried, almost Port-like fruit.


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