ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

I recently read that the origins of Zinfandel are actually in Croatia! Can you expand on this?

—Janet H., Palo Alto, Calif.

Dear Janet,

It’s true. Zinfandel was long thought to be an original “American” grape because it’s wasn’t widely known in other places. But DNA fingerprinting techniques show it’s actually a Croatian grape known as Crljenak or Tribidrag, so it’s more of a Croatian-American grape.

The story goes back to the 1960s, when it was discovered that the Primitivo grape in Italy seemed to resemble Zinfandel (it’s now known that Primitivo is a clone of Zinfandel). Others noted that Primitivo had some similarities to grapes from Croatia. Zinfandel’s true identity only recently came into focus through research spearheaded by grapevine geneticist Carole Meredith of the University of California at Davis. DNA tests now confirm that Zinfandel is an ancient grape from Croatia that is considered one of the 13 “founder grapes,” the ancestors of today’s noble varieties.

Other DNA testing has shown that Cabernet Sauvignon is the offspring of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay is the spawn of an obscure grape called Gouais Blanc, and Syrah is the child of Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.

—Dr. Vinny


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