Pinotage vs Zinfandel: What You Need to Know

zinfandel vs pinotage infographic

It’s logical to think about a side-by-side comparison of Pinotage vs Zinfandel; these two wines are very similar.

Both Pinotage and Zinfandel are full-bodied red wines. Pinotage has distinctive notes of dark berries, coffee, and a hint of smokiness. Zinfandel has more black fruit, raisin, and a jammy quality to it. Both Pinotage and Zinfandel pair well with heavier dishes, like stews and grilled meats.

Here’s what you need to know about Pinotage vs Zinfandel.

Pinotage Basics: A Bold South African Gem

pinotage wine profile - pinotage vs Zinfandel

Pinotage, hailing from South Africa, isn’t as widely known as other red wines. Often associated with regions like Stellenbosch and Paarl, Pinotage offers a robust flavor profile with pronounced dark fruit notes and a subtle earthiness. Pinotage is well-known for its full body, similar to Zinfandel. (For a deeper dive into Pinotage wines, explore here.)

Fun Wine Fact: Pinotage is a new wine grape that’s only been around for about 100 years.

Zinfandel Wine Basics: Full-Bodied Red

Fun Wine Fact: Zinfandel goes by Primitivo in Italy.

pinotage vs zinfandel - zinfandel wine profile infographic

Zinfandel, or Zin, is most at home in California’s warmer growing climates, like Paso Robles, parts of Sonoma, and Lodi. Zinfandel is a late, uneven-ripening grape, meaning that you can get fresh fruit flavors, jammy flavors, and even raisin flavors in your wine, giving it layered complexity. Zinfandel’s known for its full body and higher-alcohol wines. (Check out this comprehensive guide to Zinfandel wine.)

Wine Comparison: Pinotage vs. Zinfandel

Characteristics Pinotage Zinfandel
Hue Deep ruby to garnet Deep ruby to almost black
Color Red Red
Aromas Dark berries, smoke, meat, earthy Blackberry, cherry, raisin
Sweetness Dry Dry to off-dry
Acid Medium minus to medium Medium minus to medium
Tannin High-firm Medium-softer
Alcohol (%) 13-15% 14-17%
Body Full Full
Intensity Pronounced Pronounced (a little less than Zin)
Key Growing Regions South Africa California, Croatia, Italy
Classic Pairings Grilled meats, spicy dishes Barbecue, hearty stews, pizza
Price Range $10-$30 $10-$40

Here’s a quick side-by-side that covers the most common styles of Pinotage and Zinfandel.

Pinotage Wine Profile

  • Sweetness: Pinotage is usually made in a dry style.
  • Alcohol: Pinotage wines generally have a moderate to high alcohol content, ranging from around 13% to 15% ABV.
  • Acid: Pinotage tends to have medium (-) acid, similar to Zinfandel, giving it a plusher mouthfeel
  • Body: Known for its medium (+) to full body, similar to Zinfandel
  • Tannins: Pinotage tends to have firm tannins, like Zin, contributing to its structure and aging potential.
  • Flavors: The flavor profile often includes dark berries, coffee, and a hint of smokiness, meat, or leather.

Zinfandel Wine Profile

  • Sweetness: Zinfandel is almost always made in a dry style unless it is an inexpensive bulk wine; higher alcohol Zinfandels (16%+) may have a little residual sugar because the yeast couldn’t ferment the wine dry.
  • Alcohol: Zinfandel wines are typically high alcohol, sometimes a little higher than Pinotage, ranging from around 13% to 16% ABV.
  • Acid: Zinfandel tends to have medium minus to medium acid, similar to Pinotage.
  • Body: Zinfandel boasts a bold and full-bodied profile, accompanied by firm tannins.
  • Tannins: Zinfandel tends to have pronounced tannins, contributing to its structure and aging potential.
  • Flavor: Rich flavors of blackberry, black plum, cherry, raisin, and black currant.

Helpful Tip: If you’re unsure about serving temperatures, here’s a breakdown of wine serving temperatures for different wine styles and occasions.

Are Pinotage and Zinfandel Similar?

Pinotage and Zinfandel are both red wines crafted in a dry style. Both wines will exhibit dark plum and cherry notes. Both wines have a firm tannin structure and a full body.

What Is the Difference Between Pinotage and Zinfandel?

Pinotage showcases more non-fruit aromas and flavors than Zinfandel, such as meat, smoke, leather, and rubber. Pinotage vs Zinfandel really comes down to the aromas and flavors.

Pinotage vs Zinfandel Winemaking

Both Pinotage and Zinfandel can be oaked to impart toast, vanilla, or mocha flavors. Pinotage, however, is more challenging to work with in the winery than Zinfandel, and winemakers need to be vigilant with fermentation temperatures. Without careful monitoring, Pinotage can develop off-putting rubbery notes.

Helpful Tip: Here’s what oak adds to wine.

Pinotage vs Zinfandel Food Pairings and Serving Temperature

pinotage vs zinfandel wine - steak

Both Pinotage and Zinfandel share that bold and robust character, making them excellent companions for hearty dishes, grilled meats, and flavorful cheeses.

Both Pinotage and Zinfandel are best enjoyed at a slightly cool temperature. Place them in the refrigerator for about 10-15 minutes before serving.

Note: You may need to decant both Pinotage and Zinfandel if they are made in a fuller-bodied style. If your wine seems closed when you first take a sip, give it a good swirl or let it sit for about 10 minutes to see if it opens up.

Discover More:
Pinotage Cheese Pairing Guide

Which Is More Expensive, Pinotage vs Zinfandel?

Pinotage and Zinfandel differ in price points on the export market. Pinotage may not be as widely available as Zinfandel, especially in the US, but entry-level Pinotage does exist depending on your location.

Pinotage Cost

Entry-level Pinotage wines are generally affordable, ranging from $10 to $18 per bottle. Premium Pinotage wines can reach higher price points, around $25 to $40, offering more complexity and depth.

Helpful Wine Buying Tip: Pinotage is one of those wines where you always want to purchase the more expensive bottle. Because of how challenging it is to work with, poorly made Pinotage is truly awful. Check out more in the full Pinotage guide.

Zinfandel Cost

Zinfandel wines are widely available at various price points. You’ll find budget-friendly Zinfandel starting under $5 USD. These wines, while more affordable, are typically made in an off-dry (slightly sweet) style.

Zinfandel starts to get interesting around $18-$20 USD. Premium Zinfandel wines sourced from old vines and historic vineyards will cost you around $45-$65 USD.

Which Is Better, Pinotage or Zinfandel?

If you enjoy bold and robust red wines with tannin, meat, and tobacco, Pinotage is the better choice for you. If you prefer a more fruit-forward wine, then Zinfandel may be a better option. But if you love all styles of Zinfandel, you’re likely to enjoy Pinotage, too.

Final Thoughts – Pinotage or Zinfandel?

pinotage vs zinfandel - red wine glass

Personally, I find Pinotage a little more interesting (and typically less alcoholic) than Zinfandel wines, but this is drinker’s preference.

I do have both Pinotage and Zin in my cellar and will choose to pair them for different dishes. Zinfandel’s definitely easier to source in California where I live, and is drinkable at all price points. You need to be slightly more cautious when buying Pinotage or else you can wind up with a ghastly wine.

Pinotage needs you to think a little more about what you want. From what label you buy to how you’re going to pair this unique red wine.

I always recommend organizing a side-by-side tasting to fully appreciate the differences between these two wines. Grab two bottles of similarly priced Pinotage and Zinfandel, invite a few friends over, and enjoy an evening of swirling and sipping.

Thirsty for More?

I believe in enhancing your wine knowledge through side-by-side tastings. Here’s a guide on how to host your own wine tasting for beginners.

Check out this post on Malbec vs. Syrah, another popular red wine, along with Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Merlot.

You can discover delicious wines at every price point. Explore this post on finding great red wines under $50.

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