2008 Sonoma Zinfandel

Kicking off #GTiZinfandel


I’m kicking off 2012’s first Global Tasting Initiative with Zinfandel, one of my favorite domestic wines and one that seems to be too easily dismissed by many self-proclaimed wine experts. 

The truth of the matter is that Zinfandel is almost a uniquely American phenomenon, though the grapes are the same as those grown as Primitivo in Italy.  You might ask why that is important, and rightly so. It’s not really, but the problem with many domestic wines is the ease with which a critic can say, “well this is fine but it doesn’t compare with the version made in Lichtenstein or Andorra.”

Guess what bonehead, maybe you shouldn’t be comparing those wines at all. Maybe you should just be judging each wine for what it offers and how it stands up to the best of its peers! And peers are not located oceans away. Since American Zinfandel is essentially the only expression of this fine grape, we tend not to encounter such boneheaded comments when talk turns to enjoying the exuberance of a great Zin!

So that leaves us to examine the real story behind the 2008s, the vintage of the extremes, as well as some of the best wines from this difficult growing season!
Photo courtesy schnaars via Flickr/CC

So What Was the Deal with 2008?

Extreme weather that included frost, cold temperatures early in the season, heat spikes in August and even the smoke from fire. It was a season that challenged even the finest winemakers. Of course, it’s in a vintage like 2008 that one gets to see who those “finest” winemakers are. Whether they have a resource advantage or a simple knack for making wine, the stars that shone in 2008 are all worth following. 

For great insight on the vintage, I recommend downloading the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission’s Harvest Report, which is loaded with details regarding the vintage as well as comments from the growers and producers themselves. Comments that I would take with a grain of salt (of course they have a vested interest here), but which do help round out one’s impressions.  

I found that the wines offered the typical range of styles and quality levels, though in general there was a somewhat less flamboyant character to many of the wines than in previous vintages. Balance and ripeness seem to have, thankfully in my opinion, taken their place!

Photo courtesy Wilson Loo via Flickr/CC


2008 Dry Creek Vineyard Beeson Ranch Zinfandel


This is noticeably oaky on the nose, but that seems to be because the fruit is very dark and black hole-like at this stage of the game. It takes some time for the super ripe yet exceptionally fresh black fruit to show up. When it does, it is laced with wonderful minty, almost floral notes and lots of black tea. This is loaded, I mean packed, with fruit that is powerful and mouth filling though exceptionally well balanced. There really is wonderful purity to the fruit here, it’s deep and fresh, totally black berry, with lovely earthy, almost iron tinged spice notes that lead to a firm finish rich with ripe tannins. My only beef with this today is that it’s a touch short, but some time to allow the tannins to mellow will fix that. 93pts 


2008 Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel Alexander Valley


This shows almost a red currant freshness on the nose, with wonderfully expressive notes of sage, toasty spices, pink peppercorns and a hint of wild cherry preserves. Rich and round in the mouth, this is silky with super fine tannins adding a fullness on the palate. Packed with sappy red fruits, this shows a relatively modest oak influence with gentle base notes of earth and spice that give this a slightly Pinot Noir-esque character. The finish is lightly peppery, juicy,and rich, with excellent persistence to the Gummi bear wild cherry fruit.  92pts


2008 Talty Zinfandel Dwight Vineyard Dry Creek Valley

Darkly fruited on the nose, with hints of flowers, black pepper and juniper adding detail and a little oaky gingerbread popping out. Bright and clear on the palate, with real purity to the wild raspberry fruit tones that are gently edged with notes of white chocolate. The finish is long and well supported with fresh tannins and well-integrated acids lend a nice wild cherry note. Really long and pure fruit here that shows remarkable power and definition without the weight and extraction one might think more typical of Zinfandel.  92pts

2008 Dashe Florence Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 14%


This smells intense out of the bottle, with a smoky twang, dried bay leaf, chamomile, and subtly integrated oak all wrapped in gauzy strawberry fruit. A touch soft in the mouth, this is nonetheless very smooth and clear with classic briary, brambly black berry and black raspberry fruit that is really juicy tasting. The back end lightens considerably and shows the pretty side of this wine, all clear red fruits and well judged oak with great fruit persistence. The finish is almost citrussy with its show of acidity, so this must just have so much stuffing. Perhaps a hint of RS that it only appears to be soft. Nicely done though. 91pts


2008 Bella Lily Hill Estate Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 14.3%


Low key on the nose, with notes of oak and muddy earth, in a good way, accented with wood smoke and dried black currant fruit. Nicely round with a restrained sense of richness in the mouth, this has lovely structure with juicy acids and fine grained if slightly dry tannins helping to prop up clear, fresh yet not terrible complex black berry fruit. Shows a nice mineral edge on the mid-palate that helps focus the wine on the relatively long juicy and yet drying finish. This has fabulous balance and I love the mouth feel. 91pts


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  • Snooth User: svhamge55
    140884 2

    I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the picture on the opening page of 2008 Sonoma Zinfandel.
    We have that exact picture blown up on canvas!!! only difference is it's earlier in the season and all the grape leaves are still green.

    So as not to spoil it for other readers we won't tell them where that sign is...
    hint... it aint Sonoma :)

    Jan 02, 2012 at 1:35 PM

  • No Mazzocco.... No way.......

    Jan 02, 2012 at 2:07 PM

  • Now that you've commented on American Zin, it's time to talk about Primitivo. Pilastro Primitivo from southern Puglia is the only wine I drink here in the UK. When I go to a dinner party, I take a bottle along and insist (My rudeness is excused as I'm an American) that I drink only Primitivo.

    My Dad, when we were living in Baltimore, would make his own wine. As as kid helping him, I always looked forward to the truck that would bring the zinfandel grapes from California.

    Jan 02, 2012 at 2:30 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,731

    I, too, loved the picture of the old Zinfandel sign in the old vineyard..

    It looks like you had a very nice streak of good wines, here.

    Pumped about the Zinfandel GTI.

    Jan 02, 2012 at 2:31 PM

  • I love Seghesio Zinfandels.

    Jan 02, 2012 at 2:31 PM

  • Mazzocco should have been top of the list :)

    Jan 02, 2012 at 3:00 PM

  • Snooth User: ANTONZ
    622685 7

    For great incite on the vintage
    Insight, we presume?

    Jan 02, 2012 at 3:09 PM

  • Snooth User: LanceH
    1010535 0

    I'm new to Zins but really like the Earthquake Zinfandel and The Grigich HIlls as well

    Jan 02, 2012 at 6:44 PM

  • Snooth User: bmproshop
    628303 14

    Great reviews on these Zins! Feeling a big bummed that Turley zins werent mentioned since he makes 25+ single vinyard zins, that are all so different. Also love the picture and wish I had it on canvas! Cheers!

    Jan 03, 2012 at 3:07 AM

  • Snooth User: msanford
    393635 1

    I love your comments on different wines and wine regions, and I too am a lover of good Zinfandel. I'd love to get your impressions, good and bad, of Lodi as a Zinfandel growing region, as compared to Sonoma. There are a number of good, maybe great, Zinfandels coming out of Lodi these days.

    Jan 03, 2012 at 6:06 PM

  • Glad to see some of my favorite Zin producers like Dry Creek , Sausal and Dashe on the list.
    Looking forward to volunteering at the ZAP festival (Jan. 26-28th) in SF and learning more Zinfandel.

    For more information about ZAP 2012: http://www.zinfandel.org/default.as...

    Jan 04, 2012 at 11:47 AM

  • Snooth User: spoonman
    100712 51

    Zins have risen to the top spot on my wine list especially since finding good Pinto Noir's in Massachusetts is not all that easy. Seghesio 2006 Sonoma County and Candor Lot 1 are my favorites. They go with lots of different foods and are reasonably priced, too. Great to see this article on an overlooked variety. Go Zins !

    Jan 04, 2012 at 12:24 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Glad to see all the enthusiasm for Zinfandel here. Getting ready to taste a second round today. Wish I was able to taste them all but I just can't get to them all.

    My favorite California wine by the way, and Petite Sirah is my second!

    Jan 06, 2012 at 11:09 AM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,731

    We're barely into the Zinfandel GTI, and, now, you have me excited about a future Petite Sirah GTI. Hold it, Mark. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, here.

    Jan 06, 2012 at 12:46 PM

  • Snooth User: cocofireah
    1014544 0

    Cool, loved the picture of the old Zinfandel sign in the old vineyard

    Jan 08, 2012 at 9:16 PM

  • Snooth User: cocofireah
    1014544 0

    Cool, loved the picture of the old Zinfandel sign in the old vineyard

    Jan 08, 2012 at 9:16 PM

  • Snooth User: yankee5
    991105 26

    Enjoyed the article which led me to do some searching about availability of these recommendations. Sorry to report that at least 3 of the zins listed are apparently sold out. Kind of cruel to list wines that aren't available to the average consumer!

    Jan 10, 2012 at 9:55 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Good point. I'm assuming you're saying they are sold out on Snooth. Some of them are new releases that have yet to hit the retail shelves, which might be one issue but another is that Snooth, while a great resource, dis not comprehensive and does not list selection from stores without an on-line presence. You're local wine shop can probably order these wines for you, or might even have them in stock already!

    Jan 10, 2012 at 10:07 AM

  • Snooth User: yankee5
    991105 26

    The majority of my research that led to my conclusion about availability was either directly at the winery website and/or wine.com

    Jan 10, 2012 at 10:25 AM

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