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Calaveras Grape Varietal of the Month: ZINFANDEL

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

[April 12, 2023 - Mark Silverstone]


Zinfandel is a very approachable and enjoyable lush red wine. Known for its fruit forward jammy personality with hints of subtle spiciness (such as cinnamon, black pepper and licorice). This wine has deep blue fruit tones of blackberry, blueberry, plum and dark cherries, with a plush mouth feel, high alcohol content, medium acidity and balanced tannins. If it has been aged in new oak, additional flavors of vanilla, caramel and clove can be experienced. Zinfandel is very food friendly and pairs well with saucy BBQ, caramelized vegetables and creamy cheese plates and desserts.

White Zinfandel (commonly called White Zin) is made from the same grape, but the skins are promptly removed after crushing. This creates a lighter-hued, lighter-bodied wine with lighter tannins and lower alcohol. White Zinfandels tend to be refreshingly sweet with flavors of strawberry, cherry and citrus. Because they lack the complexity and depth of red wines, white Zinfandels are a favorite among novice wine drinkers and are delicious served chilled by the pool.


Given its often higher alcohol, it's best to serve red Zinfandel slightly cooler than room temperature: 20 minutes in the refrigerator should do the trick. Serving it too warm will highlight the alcohol, which will run the risk of overwhelming the other pleasing characteristics of the wine.


Zinfandel grapes prefer warm climates and thrive in the Central Valley and our Sierra Foothills. The origins of the varietal can be traced back to Croatia (from the Dalmatian Coast, where it was known as Crljenak Kaštelanski and in southern Italy the grape is affectionately called Primitivo (because it typically ripens early). Zinfandel was widely planted in the California foothills during the Gold Rush. Old vines are 50+ years old, with 100+ year old vines considered to be “ancient”. Ironstone Vineyards produces a Zinfandel with 111 year old grapes from Lodi.

Zinfandel grapes take kindly to the land where they are grown and produce a wide diversity of variety of flavors and personalities based on soil type, elevation, and terroir. Zinfandel vines are quite vigorous and grow best in warm (but not too hot) environs. Zinfandel's thin-skinned grapes grow in large, tight bunches. The fruit ripens reasonably early and produces juice with high sugar content. If weather conditions permit, the grapes may be harvested late to make dessert wines. Zinfandel is often praised for its ability to reflect both its terroir and its winemaker’s style. The grapes also exhibit an uneven pattern of ripening: a single bunch may contain both raisin-like, over-ripe grapes, and green, unripened grapes. Some winemakers choose to vinify the bunches with these varying levels of ripeness, while others hand harvest the clusters, even by single berries, in multiple passes through the vineyards over several weeks. There is so much attention to detail that goes with growing and making Zinfandel and the end result is a well-balanced popular wine the world over. Combine that with the experience and intuition of local winemakers, and there’s no shortage of amazing award winning Zinfandel choices available in Calaveras County.

These CWA member wineries currently offer Zinfandel:

Aloria, Black Sheep, Boyle MacDonald, Gossamer, Hatcher, Hovey, Indian Rock, Ironstone, Jazz Cellars, Milliaire, Mineral, Newsome Harlow, School Street, Stevenot, Ten by Ten, Val du Vino and Vina Moda.

Newsome Harlow is known for the single vineyard Zinfandels produce by winemaker Scott Klann. These wines reflect the individual characteristics and personality of each different location, with grapes coming from both Calaveras and neighboring counties.

Steve Millier, Milliaire Winery and Black Sheep Winery, was one of the first winemakers to produce Zinfandel in Calaveras County. He now produces an Rous Ancient Vine Zinfandel for Ironstone, "Zinfandel is a personality wine," Steve shared at our recent Zinfandel Spotlight Seminar held at Newsome Harlow Barrel Room in Murphys, CA. Winemaker Scott Klann, considers Zinfandel a "Perfectly in perfect wine grape due to its wildness".

Zinfandel is produced locally by 17 different CWA member wineries (with many award winning vintages), each creating a variety and diversity of style and flavors. Be sure to explore this food friendly and fun grape varietal as we head into spring/summer BBQ by the pool and lake season.



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