A red wine grape that originated in Croatia, Zinfandel has been very popular in California since the mid-1900s and can produce deep intense red wines or a rosé-style white.
There are over 30 synonyms for Zinfandel, but it is mostly also known as Primitivo (Italy) or Crljenak kaštelanski (Croatian). Plavac Mali is considered similar but is genetically different to Zinfandel.
Production in South Africa
Just over 24ha Zinfandel is planted in South Africa (2016) mostly in Stellenbosch (13ha) and Paarl (8ha).
Growth and Ripening
Zinfandel’s high yield can lead to too many grapes to make a concentrated red and can result in a ‘berry jam’ flavour. Vines have to be pruned vigorously to remove the current year’s fruit bearing stems. The cultivar is best suited to moderate or low-fertile soils and ideally spaced 5 feet apart or less. Leaves are often overlapping, deeply five-lobed and are hairy on the lower side.
Zinfandel needs a warm climate and can ripen unevenly. Harvest in mid to late season.
Deep blue-black, thin-skinned berries on tightly packed on long conical to cylindrical bunches that can rot easily. Berry size are influenced by irrigation - more water, larger berries. Incorrect irrigation may cause berries to rot. The grape’s high sugar content can yield high alcohol wines.
Pests and Diseases
Tight compact bunches can be prone to physical damage, insect and disease. Older vineyards may have leaf roller virus.
High-sugar Zinfandel can be made into a high alcohol and full intensely coloured red wines, port-style dessert wines or a white wine in blush style called ‘White Zinfandel’. This style is very popular in America and introduced in South Africa in 2007 by the Blaauwklippen winery.
Zinfandel’s flavour can range from discreetly flowery to particularly fruity scents such as ‘plummy’. A berry jam flavour in the wine can indicate high yield grapes.
By Marinda Louw