California Zinfandel: A Lesson in Vintage and Regional Success

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


Black and briary on the nose with a little blue plum fruit followed by complex notes of hickory smoke and tree bark, with floral top notes and a hint of a beefy edge. Nice and snappy in the mouth with a lighter-styled mouthfeel showing decent acidity. This has lovely fruit, blue plum, wild cherry, and boysenberry that are fragrant in the mouth and supported by plenty of soft tannins that add a little edge of austerity that carries through on the modest finish. This would really be great if it showed more follow through, but it is eminently drinkable and shows lovely perfumes. 90 points
Great, big, slightly jammy raspberry, Zin berry aromas with notes of vanilla and sweet cinnamon-sugar toast greet the nose. This is big entry, with a hint of sweetness accenting the plummy fruit which shows tons of wild berry fruit, black raspberry, and bramble on the finish. This is a big, complete Zin, not nuanced but layered and balanced, and packed with fruit. Structurally it’s a bit on the softer side, making it very approachable today. 90 points

Macerated strawberries are layered over dusty slate, white pepper and rose on the nose. In the mouth, this is smooth and polished, with a lovely flavor profile that features very ripe dark macerated black cherry and plum fruit but remains fresh and transparent. There’s a touch of tannin on the palate finish, which is short and light with a hint of alcoholic warmth. 90 points

Jammy, blackberry fruit smells a bit wild and sharp on the nose, with obvious wood toast and vanilla accents. This is surprisingly bright in the mouth with an early rush of lovely briary, brambly, classic Zin berry fruit. The oak is obvious but well judged, a little simple but showing lovely purity; the finish shows a little spice and lovely brightness of fruit, with excellent length and very fine wood and fruit integration. The oak might be touch much for some but this is well done. 90 points
Fresh oak greets the nose along with sour blue and black fruits that have a meaty edge to them. This is cool and firm on the palate with flavors of thoroughly ripe dark berry—almost curranty fruit—with blueberry accents and a nutty top note. The oak turns a touch smoky on the moderately long finish, which has blueberry and tart cranberry notes. 90 points  

Floral and spicy oak aromas top a nice base of peppery pastrami-like meatiness. This is fairly tight in the mouth and needs a little time to tame the lightly aggressive tannins. Dark, jammy strawberry fruit and lovely spice notes emerge on the mid-palate followed by layered vanilla, black raspberry fruit, and French oak spice on end of moderately long, moderately tannic finish. A little atypical, but I really like this. 90 points
Nice and precise on the nose, with slightly herbal, chaparral brush and edgy, wild berry fruit aromas. In the mouth there are lovely herbal shadings to the core of dark cherry fruit. This is smooth and supple, with nice soft tannins and integrated acidity, and while it does turn just a little jammy on the finish, it’s a very happy wine. 90 points
Floral and juicy on the nose, with the unfettered aromas of crushed berry fruit and fresh herbs. I love this purity, with clear-as-a-bell notes of raspberry, earth and light herb all presented in a juicy, plump yet medium-scaled wine that is so soft and pure. This does turn a little tannic on the finish, which shows a hint of soil-driven astringency, but it remains so precise and fresh it’s irresistible. 90 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 (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 204,523

    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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