Zinfandel truly is California's unique contribution to the world of wine. Unlike ubiquitous Cabernet and Chardonnay there is no European yardstick to compare itself against. It has had to find its own way, its history modeling that of the settlers who first brought it to America's west coast. But the story of where the grape originally came from and how it got its name has for many years been a matter of considerable debate and exhaustive study.
Historians discovered that the grape was first brought to Long Island, New York by George Gibbs who had brought cuttings back from the Imperial collection of plant species in Vienna. In 1832 it was advertised for sale in Boston as "Zinfandal" and by 1845 it had become popular as a table grape, grown under glass, throughout northeast America.
The grape went west at the time of the Gold Rush. It adapted well to the hotter climate and most importantly could be grown without the need for sticks or wire, both of which were in short supply and it produced an abundant crop for thirsty miners. It's hard to make a bad wine from Zinfandel, which is probably how it survived the prohibition years as it was the grape of choice for home winemakers!
The primary flavors of Zinfandel are jam, blueberry, black pepper, cherry, plum, boysenberry, cranberry, and licorice. When you taste Zinfandel it often explodes with candied fruitiness followed by spice and often a tobacco-like smoky finish.