Updated July 19th 2023
Zinfandel is a fruity and bold red wine which pairs perfectly with grilled meats, pasta and many vegetarian dishes. It is a versatile grape variety that can be made in several different styles. In this wine guide you will learn more about the different styles of Zinfandel and the best food pairings for each of them.
Zinfandel, also known as Primitivo in Italy, is a popular grape variety that gives fruity, slightly sweet red wines with a touch of spice and tobacco. It is grown all around the world, but California and Italy account for the majority of the grape's production. There are several styles of Zinfandel, including White Zinfandel, which is a rosé wine made of Zinfandel grapes. When pairing Zinfandel with food, it is important to take into consideration the characteristics of each style.
Zinfandel, known as Primitivo, is a black-skinned grape variety originally from Croatia. It gives bold, fruity red wine with spicy notes. Zinfandel wines are usually medium or full-bodied with medium-high acidity. The alcohol level is high, often over 15%. Higher alcohol gives the wine more body and a thicker, almost oily, texture.
Zinfandel wines have characteristic jammy fruit flavours of blackberry, plum, blueberry and sometimes strawberry. These fruity aromas are combined with tobacco, cinnamon and spices. Zinfandel wines usually have a touch of sweetness and lean on the sweeter side of red wine.
Zinfandel is one of the main grape varieties grown in California. Most wine makers in The Golden State allow the grape to ripen, which is why Zinfandel wines from this region have characteristic high levels of alcohol, intense fruit flavours and high sugar levels. The ripening also reduces tannins and acidity in the wine, making it smooth and sweet.
Note: Most American Zinfandel wines are made in the popular New World style: smooth, slightly sweet, smokey and jammy.
Zinfandel, sometimes called "Zin", can be made in many different styles. The most common Zinfandel styles are:
One of the most popular styles of Zinfandel is the bold red style, with firm tannins and rich fruit flavours. This style can be made of very ripe or even overripe grapes, giving the wine a taste and texture that reminds of syrup. Fruit flavours of blackberry and plum are usually present and very intense. This style is almost always made with American and/or French oak, often new oak, which adds spiciness to the wine. The alcohol level is high.
Medium-bodied Zinfandel is similar to the bold version, but less intense. Less oak ageing and less mature grapes decrease the aromas that are typical for the bold “Zin”. It is, however, still a fruity and lush red wine with smooth tannins, high alcohol and hint of sweetness. This is a very popular style.
Zinfandel can also be made in a young, light-bodied style. This style is easy to drink and offers fresh red fruit flavours. It is typically made of less mature grapes and with little or no oak ageing. This style often has flavours of red fruit, such as strawberries, cherries and cranberries. The alcohol level is usually lower than the bold and medium-bodied styles of the grape, but you can still expect it to be 14-15%. This light style also has a touch of sweetness.
White Zinfandel is a very popular style. Despite its name, it is not a white wine, but a sweet rosé wine. In fact, it is the world's most popular rosé wine. This rosé style is made off-dry to sweet and the color is usually bright pink. You can expect intensive aromas of bright red fruit, including cherry, strawberry, and citrus.
Zinfandel is called Primitivo when it is grown in Italy. In contrast to the lush and slightly sweet style from California and other new world wine regions, Primitivo wines from Puglia, in Italy, are rich with less fruity aromas and sweetness. Instead, you can expect typical aromas of violet, pepper, and blackberry.
Zinfandel is a versatile grape variety that pairs well with many different types of food. Grilled meat with flavourful BBQ sauces is a classic pairing, but this grape variety also pairs well with vegetarian dishes and pasta.
The lush fruit flavours, high alcohol and touch of sweetness of Zinfandel make it a great food wine. When paring Zinfandel with food, it is not only important to think about the different styles of the grape but also to take into consideration the following characteristics of the wine:
The best serving temperature for Zinfandel is 17-19°C (63-66°F). The best serving temperature for White Zinfandel is 7-10°C (45-48°F).
A classic food pairing for Zinfandel is BBQ. The jammy, smokey and bold flavours of Zinfandel make it an excellent companion for the rich and sometimes slightly sweet BBQ-flavours. The sweetness and spice in the wine pair perfectly with sweet and spicy barbecue sauces. Try a bold or a medium-bodied Zinfandel with one the following BBQ-dishes:
Tips! In our BBQ Wine Guide you will find other great wines for grilled food.
A bold Zinfandel pairs well with almost any type of meat. An Italian Primitivo is also a good choice for many meat dishes, especially the more herbaceous dishes. A roasted lamb with rosemary and other herbs will pair well with Primitivo.
Tips! A medium-bodied or bold Zinfandel is also a good choice for rich meat stews, especially if it contains tomato and/or spices.
Zinfandel is a great wine to pair with rich pasta dishes, especially those with tomato sauce and meat. A medium-bodied Zinfandel will pair well with the following pasta dishes:
Young light-bodied Zinfandel, white Zinfandel, or Italian Primitivo are all great choices for pizza. Primitivo is one of the best wines for Hawaiian Pizza. This slightly sweet wine pairs well with the sweetness and the tropical flavours in Hawaiian Pizza. The sweetness of the wine will elevate the flavors of the pineapple which makes it a good pairing.
Tips! Check out our Wine & Pizza Guide for more pairing suggestions.
Zinfandel wines have a slightly sweet taste which makes them an excellent red wine to pair with dishes with a touch of spiciness. Light or medium-bodied Zinfandel are good choices for tomato-based curries, chili con carne and beef stews.
Zinfandel also pairs well with Moroccan and Turkish dishes with cinnamon. The spicy aromas in the wine will match the spices in the food.
Tips! The spicier the food, the sweeter the wine needs to be. A white Zinfandel is often the best choice for spicy foods.
Zinfandel is a great wine for flavorful and bold vegetarian dishes, especially grilled foods. Young Zinfandel and White Zinfandel are good wine pairings for tempeh and vegetarian curries. The bolder styles of Zinfandel pair well with grilled vegetables, baked beans, grilled halloumi and caramelized onion.
Zinfandel is a good red wine for charcuterie and meaty appetizers. A light, young Zinfandel is the best choice if you want an easy drinking style that pairs with many different types of snacks. Olives, salty crackers, peppery salami and spicy nuts will taste good with this Zinfandel style.
The bold and medium-bodied styles of Zinfandel pair well with most type of cured meats. The smokey and salty meat pairs well with the fruit and smokey aromas of the wine.
Zinfandel pairs best with salty and rich cheeses, such as smoked gouda, cheddar and parmesan. It also pairs well with grilled Halloumi as well as salty blue cheese like Stilton. The sweetness and fruit in the wine will balance the strong flavours in the cheese.
Tips! Read more about good cheese pairings in our Wine & Cheese Pairing Guide.
Enjoy your bottle of Zin!