Zinfandel is one of those heavy hitter reds that shines alongside food. The bold and ripe brambly fruit notes laced with cinnamon, pepper, and a hint of smokiness make zinfandel pairings that are perfect with equally bold foods like braises and barbeque.
Guide to Zinfandel Flavor Pairings
Zinfandel grapes really love that vacation climate with long warm and sunny days, allowing them to ripen to full, bold flavors of plum, dried fig, and licorice. These full-bodied versions really pack a punch with a heavy and sometimes jammy palate. Slightly lighter bodied zins from cooler climates are a bit airier with fresher fruit flavors of cherry, cranberry, and strawberry. The Italian version, known as primitivo, is grown on the sun-baked plateaus in the southern part of the country. Due to the terroir, primitivo is a bit more rustic in nature and expresses less jammy fruit and more violet, blackberry, black pepper, and leather.
All zinfandel is quite heady with an ABV (alcohol by volume) between 13-17%. Zins only hit the palate with medium to medium-high acidity, and the lush ripe berry flavor drowns out some of that sharpness. Between their rounded body and high ABV, zinfandels are really made to be enjoyed with equally hearty foods like baked pastas, grilled burgers, or braised beef.
Best Pairings for Zinfandel
Not to seasonalize wine (because rosé is straight up good year round), but a zin is really going to hit better on a cool evening rather than a blazing hot beach day. When served with a loaded burger or a big plate of tagliatelle Bolognese, things just feel right.
Sweet & Spicy Barbecue
Barbecued flavors of char and smoke paired with a sweet and spicy marinade are delicious when matched with zin. Whether you are leaning into a brisket, grilled sausages, or marinated portabello mushrooms, the sweet and spicy notes in the marinade play on the brambly fruit flavors, while smoke and char complement the peppery notes in the wine.
Blue Cheese Burger
More char! Go all in on your burger, adding caramelized onion, bacon, and blue cheese. The brambly fruit notes brighten up the savory burger, and the piquant blue cheese component is chef's kiss with a glass of zin.
This warm and cozy dish is all about the savory tomato sauce, umami eggplant, and rich cheese. Primitivo, in particular, is a great match for this saucy dish because of its rustic character and earthy notes. This is a great paring for when the weather gets cool.
Galbi-jjim (Korean Braised Short Ribs)
Tender pieces of meat cooked in a flavorful sauce of onion, garlic, sesame oil, black pepper, and soy sauce make these little morsels extra delicious. The savory meat coated in the salty, sweet, and sticky sauce is a brilliant match for a bold and jammy zinfandel. All the flavors play together like they were meant to be.
Whether you are going veggie or meat based, you've got to have that tomato sauce in a lasagna if you want to pair it with a zinfandel. Pro tip: add anchovies to your tomato sauce; there is no better way. Similar to eggplant parmigiana, the saucy and cheesy dish would pair wonderfully with a primitivo with its rustic charm.
Smoked, Salted Almonds
Looking for just a snack to go along with your California zin? A handful of smoky almonds coated in salt is light yet flavorful enough to hold up to the brambly flavors in the wine, while the smoky, peppery notes run through between each.
Roasted Red Pepper, Mushroom, & Feta Pizza
Who doesn't love a wine and pizza pairing? Go for substantial toppings with roasty, salty, umami flavors like a blistered red pepper, browned mushroom, and feta pie. Any good zin here will do, so pick your favorite bottle from Oregon, California, or Italy.
Hot Italian Sausage Sandwich
Oh yes. If there is one sandwich to go with a glass of plummy zin, it's a hot Italian sub situation overflowing with caramelized onions and roasted red peppers. It's hearty, savory, salty, and a little bit sweet, which plays into the deeply ripe fruit notes in the wine.
Think Big & Bold
The best match for a zinfandel is something with an equally big personality. When this dark purple, brambly wine is paired with a savory, salty grilled meat or a tomato pasta bake, it's a winning match.