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Zinfandel was for many years somewhat of a mystery grape, as far as its origins are concerned. Recent research in Croatia and at the University of California at Davis, using DNA profiling, has proved Zinfandel is a clone of the Croatian variety Crljenak. While it had been theorized that Zinfandel's genetic twin, the Italian Primitivo, was the source, this grape also originally mutated from Crljenak. Further research may indicate the very first plantings migrated from Albania or Greece.

In April, 2002, the TTB announced they are considering ruling Zinfandel and Primitivo synonymous for use on wine labels. Producers of California Zinfandel will probably object, anticipating that Italian producers with a bountiful supply would then be able to undercut the market with inexpensive Primitivo wine labeled "Zinfandel".

Nearly as versatile as Chardonnay in the number of different styles of wine produced from it, it has only achieved widespread popularity in America since 1980, as a pink, slightly sweet wine. In fact, this popularity has so outstripped all other forms, that many fans think that there is actually a grape called "White Zinfandel" (there isn't)!

Zinfandel as a red wine that can be made light and fruity, much like French Beaujolais, or lively, complex and age worthy, like Cabernet or Claret. It can also be made into big, ripe, high alcohol style wines that resemble Port.

Because of its vigor, generosity and resistance to vine disease, many zinfandel vineyards exist that are 75 to 100 or more years old. Zinfandel aficionados believe these "old vines" produce the best wines, because the older vineyards set smaller crops and the grapes tend to ripen more evenly. At its best, Zinfandel (red) has a very fruity, raspberry-like aroma and flavor and a "jammy" quality.

Zinfandel is one red varietal that is probably best enjoyed in its youth, within three to five years of the vintage. With more bottle age than this, the luscious fruit that distinguishes Zinfandel drops markedly and the wine can show a pronounced "hot" taste of higher alcohol levels and become more neutrally vinous. It is sometimes hard even for experienced tasters to pick an older Zinfandel from among similar-aged Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance (not that there's anything wrong with that).


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