The WSET Advanced course has started for me, with lots of reading and ego crushing blind tastings to slog through. It is very fun and exciting, and has had me running to different reference sources to find out more. This past week however brought up an interesting issue: what differentiates Zinfandel from Syrah in a blind tasting? And what differentiates a Primitivo, for that matter, from a Zinfandel?
The second question first… to put a point of pride to rest… since it came up while doing an informal tasting this weekend. Two other students, and myself, put together a selection of bottles, one being a Primitivo. Discussing the varietal characteristics, we compared it to Zinfandel. At this point I stated that Zinfandel and Primitivo were not, in fact, genetically identical. Having read about UC Davis research revealing that Zinfandell was, in fact identical to a Croatian grape, name unpronounceable and unmemorable, and the Primitivo was merely closely related. My source for this info was not at hand, and Jancis Robinson’s Compact Wine companion shut me up pretty quick. Well, I’m checking my facts, and here’s what I’ve found.
Zinfandel is a variety of red grape planted in over 10 percent of California vineyards. DNA fingerprinting revealed that it is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kaštelanski, and also the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in the “heel” ofItaly, where it was introduced in the 1700s.
So, Jancis, my two friends, and I were perhaps all correct. And my source? Well, I tracked that down too: The September 2009 issue of Imbibe, a feature at the back “Tracing Zinfandel to its Croatian roots” by Evan Rail. Too bad it was more a human interest piece than wine geek piece. But speaking of WineGeek, I also found a piece on their site discussing the issue.
Part 2: So what about the differences between Syrah and Zin?