Zinfandel and Food Pairing

Ingredients and Styles

The style of Zinfandel is critical to matching it with food and depending on whether the selection of the wine or of the dish comes first, there are options galore! It is recommended to treat white Zinfandel as one would an off-dry white Riesling. This version of Zinfandel has less acidity and more alcohol, so adjust seasonings accordingly to create the best possible matches. Enjoy white Zinfandel with ketchup-slathered burgers, aromatic curries, spicy Asian fare, and sweet barbecue sauce. 

A nouveau-style (or “Beaujolais-style”) red Zinfandel will also go fine with burgers and barbecue, as well as prosciutto, sausages, and other charcuterie. Moderate levels of aromatic heat can be tempered by a succulent nouveau-style Zinfandel. In this case, chilling the Zinfandel to bring out the fruit flavors can be very enjoyable, especially in warmer weather. 

A more elegant, claret-style Zinfandel can be treated like a fruity Merlot or medium-weight Cabernet or Syrah. With pedal-to-the-metal monster Zinfandels, opt for dishes like rich pastas, hearty pizza, grilled sausages, stick-to the-ribs stews, and robust preparations of red meat or game. Chewy Zinfandel is not friendly with most fish or shellfish, although it can pair nicely with various styles of creamy and mature cheese—especially if you have a wine with ripe, concentrated fruit and an almost port-like sweetness. 

Speaking of sweet, Zinfandel's fruit-forward nature enables it to match with less sugary, gooey chocolate desserts and those that stress nuts and coconut. A rich, port-like Zinfandel and a plate of chocolate-covered almonds or coconut macaroons is heaven! Make certain, though, that any accompanying dessert is more bitter than sweet to really make the combination satisfying.  The chart below is a recommended guide to some general pairing ideas for Zinfandel. There are no mandated rules. Feel free to be adventurous and creative, while being thoughtful and aware of the grape’s inherent personality. 


Wine Style Ingredients Cuisines + Cooking methods
White Zinfandel Spices from Indian and Asia
BBQ sauce
Sweet tomato sauces
Spicier (but not super-hot!) dishes from Asian, Indian, Mexican, North African cuisines
Steamed dim sum
Stews, curries
BBQ – sweeter, Texas-style
Young, “nouveau beaujolais” zinfandel Cured meats (prosciutto, sausages, and other charcuterie)
Cheeses with some sharpness (cheddar, Teleme, aged Gouda)
Mildly spicy Southwestern dishes and Asian preparations
Sandwiches, cold cuts, burgers, and most other picnic fare
BBQ – less sweet
“Claret-style” zinfandel Meat and game
Olives, bell peppers
Thyme, sage, rosemary
Simply prepared, such as steak on the grill or a plain lamb chop
Big-boned zinfandel Meat and game
Creamy and blue-veined cheeses that have some maturity
Dishes should be rich and robust, such as a hearty pizza or a rich pasta
Stick-to-the-ribs stews, roast lamb
Grilled sausages
Accompany the meat dish with a fruit-based sauce (cherries or berries) or a fruit-driven marinade (tamarind or pomegranate)
Sweet, dessert zinfandel Nuts
Coconut
Nutmeg
Dark chocolate
Dark coffee
Less sugary chocolate desserts with some bitter notes, such as dark chocolate-covered almonds or coconut macaroons

Foof Pairing Guidelines

Wine Profile

A white wine structure i.e. based on acid and alcohol. Virtually undetectable tannin. Off-dry, lower acidity, moderate alcohol, fruity. 

Cooking methods, ingredients and dishes

Treat it like an off-dry Riesling, but one with higher alcohol and lower acidity, so spicier (but not super-hot!) dishes from Asian, Indian, Mexican, North African cuisines work well, as well as sweeter, Texas-style BBQ. Steamed dim sum dishes are a great match.

Wine Profile

Easy-drinking, with medium alcohol and acid, moderate tannins, lots of juicy berry fruit

Cooking methods, ingredients and dishes

Moderate aromatic heat (mildly spicy Southwestern dishes and Asian preparations) can be tempered by this wine. Less sweet BBQ pairs well, as most picnic foods: Sandwiches, cold cuts (prosciutto, sausages, and other charcuterie) and cheeses with some sharpness (cheddar, Teleme, aged Gouda).

Wine Profile

More elegant, more structured, medium-plus weight on the palate. Treat it like a medium-weight Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. 

Cooking methods, ingredients and dishes

Simply prepared meat and game dishes, such as steak on the grill or a plain lamb chop. Accent ingredients such as olives, bell peppers, thyme, sage, rosemary will act like a bridge to the wine.

Wine Profile

Big in every way – full, “chewy” on the palate, lots of tannin, alcohol, and concentrated fruit with port-like sweetness. 

Cooking methods, ingredients and dishes

Dishes should be rich and robust, such as a hearty pizza or a rich pasta, stick-to-the-ribs stews, roast lamb, grilled sausages. Accompany the meat dish with a fruit-based sauce (cherries or berries) or a fruit-driven marinade (tamarind or pomegranate). As for the cheese course, serve creamy and blue-veined cheeses that have some maturity.

Wine Profile

Fruit-forward, sweet, with moderate tannin and alcohol.

Cooking methods, ingredients and dishes

Less sugary chocolate desserts with some bitter notes, such as dark chocolate-covered almonds or coconut macaroons. Those “bitter” notes can be provided by nuts, coconut, nutmeg, dark chocolate, dark coffee.

Pairing Pointers

Zinfandel works well: 

  • With rich and robust recipes. But this is not an absolute rule. Gauge the body of the Zinfandel and match the weight of the food to that of the wine. Since most Zinfandels range between medium- and full-bodied, the dishes served should likely also be fuller. 
  • With strong-flavored foods: Zinfandel is a perfect choice for many Mexican dishes and is equally at home with many Indian, Pakistani, and North African preparations. Again, this rule is not an absolute: A hearty Zinfandel might overwhelm the more delicate dishes from these cuisines. 
  • With barbecue. Yum! All styles. And when the barbecue style leans toward sweet (as in Texas), a zippy, off-dry white Zinfandel may be even better than the red stuff. 
  • With a range of cheeses. Cheeses with some sharpness (cheddar, Teleme, aged Gouda) are great with fruit-forward styles of Zinfandel, while creamy and blue-veined cheeses can pair nicely with Zinfandels that have a port-like character and a hint of real sweetness. 
  • With game and roasted red meats. More concentrated or densely flavored Zinfandels, packed with fruit and rich textures, are great with venison, roast lamb, and grilled steak. Accompany the dish with a fruit-based sauce (cherries or berries) or a fruit-driven marinade (tamarind or pomegranate). 
  • With slightly spicy foods. This recommendation is highly specific to juicy young Zinfandels that can handle being chilled and have vivid fruit and minimal tannins. Many Southwestern dishes and mildly hot Asian preparations are lovely with a lightly chilled red Zinfandel, as are sandwiches, cold cuts, burgers, and most other picnic fare. 

Zinfandel does not work well: 

  • With most fish. While a white Zinfandel may succeed (as would a Riesling) with many seafood preparations, the red stuff just isn't as happy. The fuller-bodied the wine, the more difficult the match. 
  • With fiery hot food. This combination can be painful in the mouth, given the tannic and alcoholic content of most Zinfandels. If you must drink Zinfandel with these dishes, the off-dry white versions can take the edge off moderate heat. But even white Zinfandel is too hot (alcoholic) for almost any seriously spicy food. 
  • With most delicate food. It's simply not fair to the food to be overshadowed by such a bold personality. 
  • When it's too old. This is a matter of opinion, but, for most people, Zinfandel has the most charm when it's flavor-packed, young, and explosive. An aged Zinfandel will react very differently with food, more like an aged Merlot or Cabernet.