California Zinfandel: A Lesson in Vintage and Regional Success

How homegrown grapes and a few off seasons remind us of the glory of Zin

 


Zinfandel, it’s no secret that I’ve carried on a long and intimate relationship with you. There is so much you have to offer. Sometimes you're a bit rough and tumble, edgy, even dangerous, while other times you’re coy or playful. But you’re always there for me, with joyous fruit, classic bramble notes and structure, allowing for early consumption, affording a certain modicum of age-worthiness, and pairing well with a broad and diverse range of dishes.
 
Well, let’s say you’re almost always there for me. For years, in fact, Zinfandel and I had a bit of a falling out. When alcohols reach higher than 16 percent, things just don’t go smoothly for Zin and me. Yes, it might garner a lot of points, and more than its fair share of attention, but to me Zinfandel is, among other things, a hedonist’s wine. And in that light, its first responsibility is to provide pleasure to the drinker. As much as I might be impressed with a massive, dense monster of a Zinfandel, in all honesty I don’t find that style pleasurable.
 
Fortunately for all of us, Zinfandel has undergone a renaissance of late; not only have the wines become more expressive of variety and place, but the places themselves have become better appreciated. This is due in large part to the the founders of the Historic Vineyard Society, a nonprofit organization established to promote, protect and preserve the historic vineyards of California. It’s worth checking out their site, and thanking them every chance you get for the work they’re doing in furthering the understanding of how very special these old vineyards are—and how unique the wines they produce can be.
 
 
This reassessment of these special vineyards has led many winemakers to a better understanding of the terroir of great plots of old vine Zinfandel, and what treasures they are. There is no longer a single model built on the “more is better” philosophy that did considerable damage to the California wine industry over the past two decades (and whose after effects we still endure). In its place has been born an effort to express something unique in each wine. More than even with Cabernet, which to my palate remains plagued with a monotony born of a perfect model, Zinfandel expresses terroir.
 
The idea is simple: since many, if not most, of these Zinfandel vineyards are in fact field blends to one degree or another, they shouldn’t express themselves in the same way. Yes, there are a group of markers that one specific region might share, but there is no reason adjacent vineyards should taste the same. Freed from trying to capture an ideal—the quintessential Napa Valley Zinfandel for example—means that winemakers can be more responsive to and better shepherds of the unique traits that each vineyard affords them.
 
 

See the List of GDP’s 20 Highest Scoring Zinfandels 

 

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GDP's California Zinfandels

1.
Carlisle Zinfandel Sonoma County Monte Rosso Vineyard (2011)
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2.
Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Florence Vineyard Dry Creek Valley (2010)
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3.
Nalle Henderlong Ranch Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (2010)
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4.
Carlisle Zinfandel du Pratt Vineyard Mendocino County (2011)
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5.
Bedrock Wine Co. Zinfandel Papera Vineyard Russian River Valley (2011)
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6.
Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel Ancient Field Blend (2009)
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7.
Ridge Geyserville (2011)
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8.
Talty Winery Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Dwight Family (2010)
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9.
Saxon-Brown Zinfandel Sonoma Valley Fighting Brothers Cuvée (2009)
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10.
Ravenswood Zinfandel Barricia Sonoma Valley (2010)
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11.
Woodenhead Zinfandel Braccialini Vineyard Alexander Vineyards (2009)
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12.
Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Louvau Vineyard (2009)
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13.
Ravenswood Zinfandel Sonoma Valley Old Hill (2009)
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14.
Chase Family Cellars Hayne Vineyard Reserve Zinfandel Napa Valley (2009)
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15.
Dane Cellars Zinfandel Old Vine Gehricke Road Sonoma Valley (2009)
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16.
Dane Cellars Zinfandel Los Chamizal Vineyard Sonoma Valley (2009)
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17.
D-Cubed Zinfandel Howell Mountain (2009)
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18.
Easton Zinfandel Old Vine Rinaldi Vineyard Fiddletown (2010)
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19.
Porter Creek Zinfandel Russian River Valley (2010)
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20.
Black Sears Zinfandel Napa Valley Howell Mountain Estate (2010)
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21.
Talty Winery Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Estate William Talty Vineyards (2009)
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22.
Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel (2009)
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23.
Nalle Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (2011)
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24.
Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Quest (2010)
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25.
Woodenhead Zinfandel Bertolli Vineyard Leras Ranch (2010)
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26.
Robert Biale Zinfandel Oak Knoll Aldo's Vineyard (2010)
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27.
Turley Dogtown Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel (2010)
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28.
Charter Oak Monte Rosso Zinfandel Sonoma Valley (2009)
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29.
Dashe Zinfandel Dry Creek (2010)
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30.
Dashe Todd Brothers Ranch Old Vines Alexander Valley Zinfandel (2009)
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31.
Easton Zinfandel California Shenandoah Valley Estate Bottled (2010)
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32.
Stuhlmuller Vineyards Zinfandel Alexander Valley Estate Bottled (2010)
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33.
Ravenswood Teldeschi Vineyard Dry Creek Zinfandel (2009)
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34.
Ravenswood Zinfandel Belloni Vineyard Russian River Valley (2010)
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35.
Woodenhead Zinfandel Mendocino County Guido Venturi Vineyard (2009)
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36.
Claudia Springs Zinfandel Redwood Valley Rhodes Vineyard (2010)
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37.
Cougar's Leap Black Rock Zinfandel Red Hills Lake County (2009)
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38.
Cougars Leap Black Rock Cuvee Zinfandel Red Hills Lake County (2010)
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39.
Easton Zinfandel Amador County (2011)
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40.
Mauritson Wines Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (2011)
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41.
Preston of Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Old Vines/Old Clones (2011)
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42.
Topel Zinfandel Monhoff Vineyard Diamond Mountain (2009)
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43.
Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (2010)
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44.
Mccay Cellars Contention Lodi Zinfandel (2010)
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45.
Macchia Zinfandel Lodi Outrageous Old Vine Noma Ranch (2011)
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46.
Ballentine Zinfandel Reserve Block 9 Napa Valley (2009)
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47.
Ballentine Zinfandel Block 11 Napa Valley (2007)
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48.
Bucklin Bambino Zin (2010)
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49.
Carlisle Zinfandel Sonoma County (2011)
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50.
Charter Oak Red Blend Napa Valley Guido Ragghianti Old World Field Blend (2010)
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51.
Edmeades Winery Zinfandel Mendocino Ridge Perli Vineyard (2008)
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52.
Rockpile Winery Mauritson Zinfandel Rockpile Westphall Ridge Vineyard (2008)
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53.
Mcnab Ridge Zinfandel Cononiah Vineyards Mendocino County (2009)
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54.
Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek (2011)
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55.
Woodenhead Zinfandel Martinelli Road Vineyard Old Vine Russian River Valley (2007)
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56.
Graziano Zinfandel Kazmet Vineyards (2010)
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57.
St. Amant Winery Zinfandel Lodi Old Vines Mohr-Fry Ranch Vineyard (2011)
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58.
Brutocao Zinfandel Estate Hopland Ranches Mendocino (2009)
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59.
Edmeades Winery Zinfandel Mendocino County Piffero (2009)
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60.
Edmeades Winery Zinfandel Mendocino County Shamrock Vineyard (2008)
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61.
Jaxon Keys Zinfandel Etta's Block (2010)
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62.
Outpost Zinfandel Howell Mountain (2011)
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63.
Hendry Zinfandel Napa Valley Mike & Molly R.W. Moore Vineyard (2011)
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64.
Ballentine Zinfandel Old Vine Pocai Vineyard Napa Valley (2009)
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65.
Charter Oak the Zinfandel Mind Artist Series Napa Valley
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66.
D-Cubed Zinfandel Napa Valley (2009)
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67.
D-Cubed Zinfandel Howell Mountain (2008)
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68.
Jaxon Keys Zinfandel Mae's Block (2010)
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69.
Pedroncelli Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Mother Clone (2010)
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70.
Pedroncelli Winery & Vineyards Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Pedroni-Bushnell Vineyard (2009)
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71.
Ravenswood Zinfandel Alexander Valley Big River (2009)
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72.
Ancient Peaks Zinfandel Paso Robles (2010)
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73.
Bliss Family Vineyards Brutocao Zinfandel Mendocino (2010)
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74.
Edmeades Winery Zinfandel Mendocino County (2010)
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75.
Dane Cellars Zinfandel "Old Vine" Sonoma Valley (2008)
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76.
T-Vine Cellars Zinfandel Napa Valley Frediani Vineyard (2010)
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77.
Mcnab Ridge Zinfandel Family Reserve Zinister Mendocino County (2009)
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Mentioned in this article

Comments

  • Snooth User: brujazz
    532433 11

    Hey GDP, all those Carlisles, Ravenswoods, etc., but not a mention of any Ridge or Williams Selyem?

    Mar 21, 2013 at 12:58 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 222,082

    Yeah, I knew that I'd run into trouble there. I tried to get to Ridge during my recent visit to Sonoma, but couldn't find a date and time that would work, so sadly I have nothing to offer you there. I really do love em though, and have a nice set of orphans from the late 80s and early 90s standing up to be tasted soon.

    I've liked the Williams Selyem Zins that I've tried but don't really think of them as a must try wine, particularly at the price.

    Mar 21, 2013 at 1:05 PM


  • Snooth User: rhw168
    635553 138

    Rombauer Zin!!!! SWEET, big and fruity!

    Mar 21, 2013 at 4:16 PM


  • What about Dry Creek Vineyard? Love their Zins

    Mar 21, 2013 at 4:35 PM


  • GDP: Ever had Heidi Barrett's Paradigm Zin, or her Green and Red when she was still their winemaker? Pretty amazing stuff, almost could be a Pinot Noir substitute, believe it or not.....

    Mar 21, 2013 at 4:53 PM


  • Snooth User: princessp
    1166262 23

    How about Cakebread Zin? thats a good wine,

    Mar 21, 2013 at 5:55 PM


  • The thing that stumps me, is why there is no mention of the oldest zin vines in California... Old vine zin. Scott Harvey from Napa/Amador Counties makes an INCREDIBLE zin called 1869. There are six or seven wineries in the Amador and Lodi areas that make incredible wines from those grapes. So sad that the focus is always the Napa, Sonoma, Dry Creek areas. There really is life and wine beyond that small area.

    Mar 21, 2013 at 9:54 PM


  • Bogle Old Vine Zin is outstanding at $ 7.47 a bottle in south NJ. 14.5 alcohol, grapes sourced from old vines in Lodi and Amador, and a winemaker that could easily price wines at double and still have a serious following.

    Sedrick

    Mar 22, 2013 at 9:08 AM


  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 154

    Was in a small winery near Cambria (Central Coast north of Santa Barbara) and was told that in 1870 there were 70,000 acres of Zin either in CA or Southern CA, and some of that is still extant.
    RHW168, if you want big sweet high etoh zins, you cannot beat Opolo just west of Paso - they have three and all are over 16%, usually 16.6%. They are luscious when young but don't age well. The cheapest is Summit Creek (list is $20 I think, tho search the web because it often is cheaper) - it is somewhat lighter than the other two, but that makes it a better food wine. The Mountain Zin which used to be around $28 is almost indistinguishable from the Reserve Zin ($38-40?).
    I particularly like Ridge Geyserville which often is not a Zin as it is around 70% zin -- it is a field blend of about 8 varietals.

    Mar 22, 2013 at 4:34 PM


  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 154

    GDP, thanks for the great listing. There are many vineyard specific wines there of which I was not aware.

    Mar 22, 2013 at 4:35 PM


  • Snooth User: DOCTOR T
    152537 36

    WHAT HAPPENED TO MARTINELL? THEIR LUISA AND GUISEPPE AS WELL AS THEIR JACKASS A ND JACKASS HILL?

    Mar 26, 2013 at 11:24 AM


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