For many years, wine lovers were told that this Californian "mystery grape," which seemed to have no identifiable European equivalent, had been imported to the state by Agoston Haraszthy, the Hungarian writer and entrepreneur who imported cuttings of some 350 grape varieties from Europe in 1861. In fact it seems to have arrived on the East Coast some decades earlier, and first shipped to California, under the name black St. Peter, around 1850. In any case, it thrived in the Golden State, and by the late 1800s was the most widely planted grape variety there. It proved to be highly versatile, and since that time has been turned into everything from light beaujolais-style wines to elegant Bordeaux-like reds, intensely tannic, ripe, extracted only-in-California monsters (Amador County produces some of the best of these), and even vintage port. And of course there's white zinfandel, zinfandel vinified as white wine (in fact it is faintly pink in color), a technique first developed by Bob Trinchero of the Sutter Home Winery. Research in the late 20th century proved that zinfandel was in fact an obscure Croatian variety called crljenak kaštelanski — and/or its genetic doppelgänger, equally Croatian but even more obscure, called tribidrag or pribidrag. The southern Italian grape primitivo also derives from crljenak kaštelanski, and some Italian producers now label primitivo, for import into the U.S., as zinfandel.The grape is now grown in 16 or 18 other states, including Oregon and Washington, but also Arizona, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Tennessee. Research in the late 20th century proved that zinfandel was in fact an obscure Croatian variety called crljenak kaštelanski. The southern Italian grape primitivo also derives from that variety, and some Italian producers now label primitivo, for import into the U.S., as zinfandel.
Lighter-bodied zinfandel is a good accompaniment to charcuterie, cooked ham, tomato sauce, and game hen, chicken, or rabbit. Full-bodied zinfandel is a good match for roast meats and other simply cooked lamb and beef dishes, steaks and chops, barbecue, hamburger and meatballs, meat stews, wild game, wild mushrooms, and pasta with meat sauce.