Food pairing with Zinfandel

Published September 15th, 2022

Zinfandel is a popular American red grape that gives fruity red and rosé wines with a touch of residual sweetness and high alcohol content.

Food pairing with Zinfandel.

Its origins have long been debated, and until a few years ago, this grape was considered one of the rare autochthonous species of California but a recent DNA study confirmed the ancestry from a Croatian grape, Plavac Mali. It is cultivated all over the world, but Italy (where it is known as Primitivo) and California account for most of the production.

There are different styles of Zinfandel, depending on the winemaking and aging techniques, including the rosé called White Zinfandel. Given its great versatility, it is key to understand the grape and the different styles in which it is produced to combine it with food. This Zinfandel food pairing guide will help you discover the best combinations for this popular grape variety.

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Zinfandel food pairing basics

The most popular food pairing with Zinfandel is meat, especially when barbecued. This wine is largely regarded as the perfect outdoor companion for the grilling days on the patio. But it must be said, that considering its different styles, there is certainly much more to it than just grilled meat.

First of all, Zinfandel is vinified in red or rosé wines, but even when vinified in red, it can produce bold and robust red wines or lighter ones with a touch of sweetness.

Whatever its style, Zinfandel has lush fruity flavors and a spicy character due to the passage in the cask, which makes it a great partner for flavorful, spicy, and rich food, including vegetarian preparations.

The high sugar content gives the wine a velvety texture which is ideal with meat or structured dishes.

Its marked acidity and relatively low tannins make it ideal for spicy food and recipes including tomatoes. The high alcohol level gives it an excellent texture to pair with strong flavors and rich dishes.

Zinfandel styles

Full-bodied Zinfandel

In California, Zinfandel is often made with almost overripe grapes. This results in extremely expressive wines, with fragrant notes of jammy red fruit. These are lush and full-bodied wines, with intense red berries flavors of blackberry and dark cherry, accentuated by subtle spices, cocoa, and hints of vanilla. The tannins are soft and velvety. This is the distinctive style of the Zinfandels produced mainly in the Lodi wine region, considered the Zin capital of the world.

Our suggestion: Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel

Light/Medium-bodied Zinfandel

Zinfandel is not all about opulence. Indeed, this grape can also produce lighter wines, still very fruity but with more subtle flavors. A bit less time on the plant and a lit bit less oak (or not at all) in the cellar, often result in wines that are more approachable, less intense, and fresher with moderate alcohol levels. This is the style that can be found in the wines coming from Sonoma Valley and Mendocino hillsides.

Our suggestion: Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel


Primitivo is one of the most widespread grape varieties in Italy, and certainly the most popular one in the Puglia region. The main production areas are the provinces of Taranto and Brindisi (where it is labeled as Primitivo di Manduria) and the Gioia del Colle area. The Primitivo di Manduria is dry and full, with balanced tannins and violet and spicy aromas; the Primitivo Gioia del Colle is lighter and fruitier.

In general, Californian producers allow Zinfandel to mature with higher sugar levels and alcohol content, giving the wine a more rounded, smooth, and sweet style. On the other hand, Primitivo ripens under the hot Italian sun, creating a more substantial and rustic version, but less fruity and less sweet than its Californian counterpart.

Our suggestion: Primitivo di Manduria DOC, Feudi di San Gregorio

White Zinfandel

White Zinfandel is an off-dry style rosé wine produced using the Saignée method. During the red wine vinification process, part of the must is removed after a short maceration on the skins. In this way, the wine does not absorb the tannins and the color coming from the skins and reaches a pinkish hue. White Zinfandel is produced with a quite high residual sugar. The result is a lively, extremely approachable, with a certain level of sweetness and flavors of fresh red fruit such as strawberry and raspberry.

Dry rosé wines are also made from Zinfandel (or Primitivo) grapes.

Our suggestion: Monte Rio Cellars Dry White Zinfandel Suisun Valley

Pairing Zinfandel with meat

Pairing Zinfandel with meat.

Anything BBQ'd

If barbecue is the quintessence of American food, then it's easy to say that Zinfandel is the ultimate barbecue wine. With its robust character and intense flavors, this wine manages to pair perfectly with the smoky notes and rich texture of grilled meat.

Whether it's with prime rib, brisket, sausages, chops or steak, a red Zinfandel pairing is going to work deliciously. And, depending on the type of meat, you can choose different wines to find the perfect balance. Best to pick a full-bodied wine from Lodi for beef and a medium-bodied one for lamb and pork.


Zinfandel wines have the perfect fruity sweetness, along with their smokey and spicy hints, to complement rich pork preparations, especially if served with savory sauces.  The good acidity of the wine will act as a flavor enhancer, balancing the flavors. Pulled pork or pork ribs with barbecue sauce, but also pork stew, are great paired with a medium-bodied Zinfandel from Sonoma.


Lamb is lean meat but with a strong flavor. Cooked in the oven with aromatic herbs and potatoes, it creates a tasty and highly aromatic dish that requires a red wine with a powerful structure and a good alcohol content such as Primitivo di Manduria.

Intense and persistent, slightly spicy, and with fragrant hints of ripe red fruits, this red wine is full, round, and juicy on the palate and has its right degree of tannins. The finish is persistent and clean, perfect for tasting the succulent lamb meat, enhancing its flavor.


Chicken and Turkey meat have delicate textures and flavors that can be enhanced by sauces, cooking methods, or marination. But unless they are served grilled, the perfect Zinfandel pairing will be with a rosé wine with a dry bone palate and fresh juiciness of red fruit. It will not overpower the meat and will create the right flavor harmony.

Zinfandel charcuterie pairing

Food rich in fat and seasonings such as cured meat pair well with red wines because the fat counterbalances the tannins and acidity of the wine, which in turn cleanse the palate. For this reason, Zinfandel is an ideal choioce for a charcuterie board. Even better if the Zinfandel is White so that the lightness and fragrance of the wine can balance the salinity of the meat and the delicate sweetness of the fat.

Zinfandel pasta or lasagna pairing

Pasta with ragu, meatballs, or game sauces, as well as lasagna Bolognese, require a fairly tasty red wine that can withstand the richness of the sauces and the acidity of the tomato. The best Zinfandel pasta pairing is with a medium-bodied wine, which offers the right support for these recipes, accompanying the flavors and complementing them.

Pick a Primitivo which has good acidity and structure and more pronounced spicy and rustic flavors.

Zinfandel vegetarian food pairing.

Zinfandel vegetarian food pairing

Although Zinfandel is universally known as a BBQ companion, its characteristics make it an excellent partner also for vegetarian cuisine. Dishes like Ratatouille and tomato-based pasta are perfect for Zinfandel, because the high natural acidity of tomatoes and wine hold up very well with each other.

Zinfandel also works well with peppers because it can also have a peppery bite and with rich and succulent curries, because it can very well support their pungency.

Best to pick a rich and forthright wine from Sonoma for curries or a Primitivo di Gioia del Colle for lighter dishes.

Cheese pairing with Zinfandel

Zinfandel wines are characterized by an impressive intensity of flavors and can pair well with equally intense cheeses. Try the elegant complexity of an old vines Zinfandel with a firm and slightly salty cheese, like an aged cheddar.

The fruity sweetness of a young medium-bodied Zinfandel can also match and smoothen the pungency of a Gorgonzola.

Does Zinfandel go with pizza?

Yes. In Italy, pairing pizza with Primitivo is very common. Primitivo wines show the right juiciness to balance the topping of a rich pizza like a Pepperoni one, or pizza with sausages or with tomato and peppers and olives.

However, with lighter pizzas like Margherita best to pick a pink Primitivo. It will match perfectly the tomato sauce and will gently balance the delicate fatness of mozzarella cheese.

Does Zinfandel go with spicy food?

Yes. Zinfandel-based wines show a sweetness of red fruit that generally goes well with spicy foods because it helps to soften the flavor. The high alcohol content helps to dissolve the capsaicin of the chili, but to avoid excessive warmth, it is best to choose young and soft Zinfandels.


The great variety of wines that the Zinfandel grape can produce makes food combinations versatile and fun. So don't stop at the usual match with barbecued meat; have fun opening various bottles and testing the different combinations that we have recommended!  Cheers!