California Zinfandel: A Lesson in Vintage and Regional Success

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

I for one am not afraid of a “crappy” vintage until the winemaker is telling me so. Too much of the information we receive comes secondhand, filtered through people looking to break a story. But the true story with wine is all about what’s in the bottle, and in the case of these current offerings, what’s in the bottle is decidedly attractive. It’s Zinfandel dammit—old vine field blends. Wines that should be able to tell you the story of their year, and wines that in general can’t sell for enough money to allow the winemaker to bring in a flying winemaker for a rewrite. I liked many of these wines for the stories they told. I understood them and recognized them as Zinfandel. After offering pleasure, that’s the second responsibility these wines have.

94 points

Bright and muscular on the nose, and filled with sumptuous aromas of dark fruit framed by  lightly smoky French oak and soil tones. Dense and a little chewy in the mouth, with super fine tannins supporting the herb-edged blackberry fruit. Possessing a very precise, firm, texture and great depth, this explodes on the huge finish packed with exceptionally pure wild berry fruit. 94 points
A really lovely intense nose that layers briar, bramble and sandy soil tones over fine strawberry fruit. The oak treatment here is obvious but nuanced, allowing the intense yet pure and fresh wild strawberry and black raspberry fruit to shine on the palate, gaining a layer of chocolate-covered orange slice complexity on the gorgeous, firm and almost austere finish. Really shows a lovely interplay of fruit and structure. Very classy. 94 points

Super powerful and intense on the nose, with dusty, oily, briary, super-focused essence of Zin berry fruit aromas. This shows great intensity without weight on the palate in a high acid, transparent style that reveals deep, old vineyard character and palate-staining intensity of spicy blackberry and red cherry fruit that shows wonderful persistence. 93 points
Tight with an early note of exotic grapefruit/passion fruit, accenting the red and blue fruit of the nose. This is medium light bodied and finely balanced, with a lovely texture that is almost supple but still shows good tension in the mouth. Red currant and subtle frutti del bosco flavors shine on the palate, with a nice streak of vanilla with a late-arriving wild blackberry note. The finish shows a bit of obvious oak, but that should integrate with time. This is rather refined, with lovely purity to the fruit, and such an intriguing, almost delicate texture. 93 points

Very pretty on the nose, with lovely subtle earthy complexity and an oily nuttiness, along with classic briary fruit. This shows nicely balanced structure that yields a balanced yet firm texture supporting very aromatic savory, briary, almost earthy fruit on the palate that turns slightly floral on the back end. The tannins here are quite refined, and along with the lovely acidity, this comes off as juicy, with tart fruit and excellent length. 93 points

Herbs and soil top light strawberry fruits on the nose. This offers up a lovely mouthfeel, smooth, with super fine-grained tannins supporting juicy flavors of cut plums and blackberry. The tannins build in the mouth and on to the moderately long finish, which shows gorgeous inner mouth perfumes. This needs some time, but is a really zesty wine with lovely depth of fruit. 93 points

Perfumed and deep on the nose, with aromas of crushed berries, balsamic, and a bit of gamy lamb topped with faint sage and lemon verbena notes. On entry, this is plump, with some density but not a ton of weight, delivering a a little blueberry fruit early on, followed by some carob, then mostly raspberry and hints of wild cherry fruit. This finished with fine tension and detail and remains bright and vibrant. 93 points

Balsamic and intense on the nose with a hint of ash accenting the cherry and briary wood aromas. Intense, round, and opulent on the palate, this displays lovely fine-grained ripe tannins that add a bit of volume in the mouth There’s an early  touch of inky fruit, followed by a rich core of slightly medicinal, minty black cherry fruit that exhibits lovely purity and finesse. The finish is long and ripe, with layers of blue and black fruit and well-judged wood spice on the long finish. 93 points

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GDP's California Zinfandels

Carlisle Zinfandel Sonoma County Monte Rosso Vineyard (2011)
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Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Florence Vineyard Dry Creek Valley (2010)
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Nalle Henderlong Ranch Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (2010)
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Carlisle Zinfandel du Pratt Vineyard Mendocino County (2011)
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Bedrock Wine Co. Zinfandel Papera Vineyard Russian River Valley (2011)
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Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel Ancient Field Blend (2009)
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Ridge Geyserville (2011)
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Talty Winery Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Dwight Family (2010)
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Saxon-Brown Zinfandel Sonoma Valley Fighting Brothers Cuvée (2009)
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Ravenswood Zinfandel Barricia Sonoma Valley (2010)
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Woodenhead Zinfandel Braccialini Vineyard Alexander Vineyards (2009)
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Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Louvau Vineyard (2009)
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Ravenswood Zinfandel Sonoma Valley Old Hill (2009)
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Chase Family Cellars Hayne Vineyard Reserve Zinfandel Napa Valley (2009)
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Dane Cellars Zinfandel Old Vine Gehricke Road Sonoma Valley (2009)
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Dane Cellars Zinfandel Los Chamizal Vineyard Sonoma Valley (2009)
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D-Cubed Zinfandel Howell Mountain (2009)
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Easton Zinfandel Old Vine Rinaldi Vineyard Fiddletown (2010)
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Porter Creek Zinfandel Russian River Valley (2010)
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Black Sears Zinfandel Napa Valley Howell Mountain Estate (2010)
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Talty Winery Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Estate William Talty Vineyards (2009)
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Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel (2009)
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Nalle Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (2011)
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Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Quest (2010)
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Woodenhead Zinfandel Bertolli Vineyard Leras Ranch (2010)
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Robert Biale Zinfandel Oak Knoll Aldo's Vineyard (2010)
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Turley Dogtown Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel (2010)
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Charter Oak Monte Rosso Zinfandel Sonoma Valley (2009)
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Dashe Zinfandel Dry Creek (2010)
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Dashe Todd Brothers Ranch Old Vines Alexander Valley Zinfandel (2009)
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Easton Zinfandel California Shenandoah Valley Estate Bottled (2010)
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Stuhlmuller Vineyards Zinfandel Alexander Valley Estate Bottled (2010)
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Ravenswood Zinfandel Sonoma (2009)
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Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel (2010)
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Woodenhead Zinfandel Mendocino County Guido Venturi Vineyard (2009)
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Claudia Springs Zinfandel Redwood Valley Rhodes Vineyard (2010)
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Cougar's Leap Black Rock Zinfandel Red Hills Lake County (2009)
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Cougars Leap Black Rock Cuvee Zinfandel Red Hills Lake County (2010)
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Easton Zinfandel Amador County (2011)
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Mauritson Wines Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (2011)
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Preston of Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Old Vines/Old Clones (2011)
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Topel Zinfandel Monhoff Vineyard Diamond Mountain (2009)
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Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (2010)
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Mccay Cellars Contention Lodi Zinfandel (2010)
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Macchia Zinfandel Lodi Outrageous Old Vine Noma Ranch (2011)
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Ballentine Zinfandel Reserve Block 9 Napa Valley (2009)
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Ballentine Zinfandel Block 11 Napa Valley (2007)
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Bucklin Bambino Zin (2010)
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Carlisle Zinfandel Sonoma County (2011)
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Charter Oak Red Blend Napa Valley Guido Ragghianti Old World Field Blend (2010)
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Edmeades Winery Zinfandel Mendocino Ridge Perli Vineyard (2008)
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Rockpile Winery Mauritson Zinfandel Rockpile Westphall Ridge Vineyard (2008)
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Mcnab Ridge Zinfandel Cononiah Vineyards Mendocino County (2009)
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Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (2011)
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Woodenhead Zinfandel Martinelli Road Vineyard Old Vine Russian River Valley (2007)
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Graziano Zinfandel Kazmet Vineyards (2010)
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St. Amant Winery Zinfandel Lodi Old Vines Mohr-Fry Ranch Vineyard (2011)
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Brutocao Zinfandel Estate Hopland Ranches Mendocino (2009)
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Edmeades Winery Zinfandel Mendocino County Piffero (2009)
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Edmeades Winery Zinfandel Mendocino County Shamrock Vineyard (2008)
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Jaxon Keys Zinfandel Etta's Block (2010)
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Outpost Zinfandel Howell Mountain (2011)
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Hendry Zinfandel Napa Valley Mike & Molly R.W. Moore Vineyard (2011)
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Ballentine Zinfandel Old Vine Pocai Vineyard Napa Valley (2009)
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Charter Oak the Zinfandel Mind Artist Series Napa Valley
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D-Cubed Zinfandel Napa Valley (2009)
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D-Cubed Zinfandel Howell Mountain (2008)
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Jaxon Keys Zinfandel Mae's Block (2010)
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Pedroncelli Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Mother Clone (2010)
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Pedroncelli Winery & Vineyards Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Pedroni-Bushnell Vineyard (2009)
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Ravenswood Zinfandel Alexander Valley Big River (2009)
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Ancient Peaks Zinfandel Paso Robles (2010)
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Bliss Family Vineyards Brutocao Zinfandel Mendocino (2010)
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Edmeades Winery Zinfandel Mendocino County (2010)
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Dane Cellars Zinfandel "Old Vine" Sonoma Valley (2008)
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T-Vine Cellars Zinfandel Napa Valley Frediani Vineyard (2010)
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Mcnab Ridge Zinfandel Family Reserve Zinister Mendocino County (2009)
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Mentioned in this article


  • 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 202,257

    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 131

    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.


    Mar 22, 2013 at 9:08 AM

  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 152

    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 152

    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


    Mar 26, 2013 at 11:24 AM

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