The controversial Zinfandel grape's origins seem at last to have been decided – it was born in Croatia.

Zinfandel has long been argued by Californians to be an honorary native of their region. Research since has led the Italians to claim it as one and the same with their own Primitivo.

In July 2000 the US government recognised Zinfandel and Primitivo as closely-related grapes. That opened the way for Italian producers to export their own ‘Zinfandel’ to Italy.

Now researchers at University of California Davis have proved that Zinfandel and an indigenous Croatian grape called Crljenak are one and the same. Grapevine geneticist Carole Meredith and Croatian scientists Ivan Pejic and Edi Maletic examined the DNA of both varieties to make their findings.

It was already known that Zinfandel and Primitivo came from the same roots, but its parentage has long been in doubt. Meredith and her colleagues based their research on two other Croatian varieties, Dobricic and Plavac Mali.

They determined that Dobricic and Zinfandel were the parents of Plavac Mali, but were still in the dark as to the parentage of Zin, until Pejic discoved Crljenak, which he was sure was the forebear of Zinfandel. Tests confirmed this.

The news that Primitivo – and Zin – are in fact Croatian does not worry Italian producer Gregorio Perucci of Academia de Recemi, who has been exporting Zinfandel to Italy for some years.

‘We can’t stop all the research,’ he said. ‘If it turns out to be true we’ll put it on the label.’

Perucci is on his way to San Francisco’s annual Zinfandel Festival, which takes place this weekend. ‘We are going to be the only foreign Zinfandel producer there, amongst all those Americans,’ he said.

Zinfandel Advocates and Producers

Written by Adam Lechmere25 January 2002