Zinfandel—the grape Americans call their own. The story of Zinfandel mirrors the multicultural heritage of our country and the struggle of immigrants to make it in a new land. From white to red and sweet to dry, this is a grape that has been reinvented to suit the changing tastes of wine consumers across the country. Originally from Croatia, the grape showed up in the US with Italian immigrants in the 1800s (who called it, as it is still known today in Italy, Primitivo). More than a century later it was nearly extinct with vines ripped up in favor of international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. But the huge popularity of white Zin in the 1980s and 1990s saved the grape from obscurity and nowadays the finest expression of Zinfandel comes not from Croatia or Italy but from California where it is produced as a dry red wine that can be light bodied and chockfull of ripe fruit or rich and inky with high alcohol and port-like characteristics.
One of the most renowned versions of Zinfandel springs from the Dry Creek Valley, where winemakers prize old vines that produce wines with intensely concentrated jammy and brambly fruit flavors. These wines are medium to full bodied with firm tannins and subtle oak from older barrels that don’t overwhelm the fruit. Just as we love this grape as our own, there is a wide range of food that claims Zinfandel as an ideal pairing. Grilled or barbequed foods, smoked meats, dishes with fruit sauces, picnic fare and even a variety of cheeses are delicious with Dry Creek Zinfandel’s bold, fruity style. Here are five (multicultural) dishes that Americans love, and that love to be paired with Zinfandel.
1.) Flatbread pizza with pancetta and smoked Gouda. Pancetta, seasoned with spices such as peppercorns and garlic, play in harmony with Zinfandel’s jammy fruit and spice flavors. The sharp flavor of the Gouda plays against the fruit-forward wine while the smoked flavors in the cheese pick up a bit of the oak flavor in the wine. The crust of the pizza has enough body to stand up to the wine without overwhelming it. Adding mushrooms and caramelized onions compliments flavors like the spiced tobacco and black pepper characteristics of Dry Creek Vineyard’s Old Vine Zinfandel.
2.) Steamed pork belly buns with hoisin sauce. I had this dish in New York, and the flavors are perfect for Zinfandel! Hoisin is a Chinese barbecue-like sauce with smoky-sweet flavors that pairs perfectly with the ripe fruit and lightly oaked qualities of the wine. The tannin cuts through the fattiness of the pork belly but the chewy texture of the Zin mirrors the chewy, sticky steamed bun. Delicious with a wine like Quivira Vineyards and Winery Zinfandel.
3.) Grilled chicken pasta salad with sweet peas and raspberry vinaigrette—perfect for a Zin picnic. The grilled flavor of the chicken picks up the subtle oak flavors in the wine and the texture of the pasta complements its full body. The sweet peas and fruit vinaigrette mirror the sweet, ripe fruits in the wine and sprinkling a bit of shredded Parmesan cheese over the cold salad adds another layer of flavor complexity. Ridge Vineyard’s Lytton Springs Old Vines Zinfandel has a rusticity and earthiness underneath the fruit that is perfect for this on-the-road dish.
4.) Southwestern buffalo fajitas with cactus paddle salad. This recipe includes an abundance of Zin-friendly ingredients. The lean buffalo meat with hot spices like chipotle chiles and cayenne pepper are great pairing partners with young, juicy Zinfandels that have a bit less tannin. The cactus salad is tossed with oranges and peaches that complement the very juicy fruit of the wine. Dashe Cellars Zinfandel is a light, easy-drinking wine that will be perfect with this dish, especially when the wine is served slightly chilled.
5.) Spiced black bean burgers with baked sweet potato chips. Burgers are a classic (and very American) Zinfandel pairing but if you’re watching your health a vegetarian black bean burger can be just as satisfying. Spices in the burger like cumin, coriander, chili powder, cayenne, as well as onion and garlic pick up spice and oak flavors in the wine, and a bit of heat can be great with a young Zinfandel. The sweetness of the baked chips complements the sweet ripe fruits in the wine. Pedroncelli’s Mother Clone Zinfandel is ideal for this dish.
It’s no surprise that our favorite grilling, picnic and at-home foods love to be had with our favorite American grape. It doesn’t matter if the flatbread originates from the Mediterranean, the fajitas from the border or the grape from Croatia—these are all-American foods that pair with a very American grape. And the best part about Dry Creek Zinfandel is that it’s perfect with dessert—dishes with bitter chocolate, nuts and coconut complement the sweet fruits and light oak of the wine and make it irresistible to have a treat after dinner. Enjoy!