For eons, everyone in the wine world considered Zinfandel to be a “California native.”
(No, we’re not talking about some dude named Zinfandel with a dark tan, Moss Lipow sunglasses and a rad sports car; we’re referring to the winegrape known as Zinfandel.)
Obviously, ampelographers knew the variety – a member of the vitus vinifera species – had to have originated in Europe. But with its heritage shrouded in mystery, Californians promoted the grape as an indigenous species, sort of like paparazzi on Sunset Boulevard.
All that changed when geneticists found that Zinfandel had an identical twin in southern Italy – the ever so humble Primitivo. At last, the mystery was solved. Rather than an orphan, Zin was every bit as Italian-American as spaghetti and meatballs.
End of story, right? Wrong. Before long, another theory was floated: that Plavic Mali, a variety grown in Croatia, was the original parent of both Zinfandel and Primitivo. But, in true Hollywood soap opera style, it was shown that Plavic Mali actually is the offspring of Zinfandel and Dobricic.
Yes, an offspring was confused for a parent – somebody get the writers at “The Young and the Restless” on the phone! Can’t you just hear the dialogue when the two parties finally meet? “I’m not your mother. I’m your daughter!”
But we digress. The mystery was finally solved… once and for all (or at least for the time being)… when vine geneticist Carole Meredith of the University of California at Davis – with the help of Croatian scientists Ivan Pejic and Edi Maletic – determined that the genetic parent of Zinfandel is a grape by the name of Crljenak. No, we can’t pronounce it, but we can sneeze it.
And now that its heritage has been cleared up, Zinfandel is enjoying great success – although it does have somewhat of a split personality. It sometimes goes by the name of White Zinfandel and assumes a pinkish-orange hue. On other occasions, it maintains its inherent red color but becomes very, very sweet – almost raisin-like. And then there’s its “dry red wine” identity, brimming with berry and spice nuances.
So, while it may not be a California native after all, Zinfandel certainly maintains a Golden State persona: exotic, lush, spicy… and rich.