Let’s get real. Zinfandel is California’s great grape success story. Many will argue in favor of Cabernet or Pinot Noir, but the truth is that both of those grapes can do as well, if not better, elsewhere. No one does Zinfandel like California does Zinfandel, and the climate throughout the state is better suited to producing the bold, lusty Zinfandel than either Cabernet or Pinot Noir.
Yes, them there’s fighting words, I know. But what can I say, great Zin is not only a better value than great California Cabernet of Pinot Noir, it’s also easier to come by. The number of regions suited for Zinfandel dwarfs the amount of regions that make world class Pinot or Cabernet.
What’s not to like? The rich bramble, black cherry and spice flavors? The ability for Zin to absorb oak? I especially like American oak with my Zin. I’m going to jump right into more Zinfandel with a list of my favorite producers, but for today, here are some recently tasted wines that you should be buying!
Photo courtesy juanlondres2 via Flickr/CC
2009 Quivira Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 14.8%
Smells slightly autumnal at first, with earthy, leafy notes that serve as a base for growing aromas of minty herb, strawberry, cherry and some old wood notes. Really bright on entry, this is fresh and transparent with an earth-framed core of blackberry and black cherry fruit that shows fine tree bark and mineral accents. This turns a bit creamy going towards the back end and picks up a modestly more obvious oak impression, adding some sweetness and spice to the long, surprisingly elegant finish. Very fresh and crisp, downright refreshing, in fact. 91pts
2009 Ballentine Vineyards Napa Valley Old Vines Zinfandel 15.5%
This smells fairly oaky, but under that vanilla cream is a lovely base of brambly blackberry fruit sprinkled with black pepper. Big and chewy in the mouth, this is a bit tough going but is brimming with earthy, slightly peppery black fruit, nice aromatic wood notes and a fine bitter chocolate edge. The tannins need time to tame, but the acidity is in place to support future development. This is another kind of throwback wine, all 1978ish with muscle-bound intensity and wacky extraction, but it really works with the fruit. The finish shows some lovely blackberry, beef jerky and faint herb notes poking through the oak. Grill up an elk for this bad boy. 90pts
2009 Four Vines the Sophisticate Sonoma County Zinfandel
There’s a lot of cinnamon oak here on the nose, with rather assertive pepper-tinged, meaty, blueberry, blackberry and crystalized black plum fruit. Smells like Syrah. Opulent and mouth filling, this is rich and powerful but well balanced. Plenty of oaky sweetness here. The tannins are fine and well managed and the acidity very well integrated. The fruit is pretty, with great spicy notes and oak-accented blackberry and plum skin fruit. There’s more darkness on the back end, with coffee tones and some obvious toast that comes to dominate the moderately long finish. This is a nicely complete package. 90pts
2009 Decoy Sonoma County Zinfandel 14.5% $20
Subtle on the nose with a nice blend of earth, peppery spice, oak and briar. Moderately light on the palate with a round, slightly viscous yet seamless mouth feel. The fruit is decidedly red here with gentle vanilla and spice accents that turn a bit chocolaty on the back end, where it gains a light touch of herb. The finish turns more focused with the coffee-toned wood becoming obvious, though this remains balanced and elegant with a fine sense of restraint. Old school Claret-style Zin. 88pts
2009 Kenwood Jack London Sonoma Valley Zinfandel 14.5%
Tight on the nose and nicely earthy with fairly heavy wood, the supporting fruit is there if slow to emerge. Has a nice, sweetly oaky nose. Very smooth and polished on entry with moderately rich black berry/black cherry notes splashed with mineral earth and charred wood notes. There’s some toasty marshmallow that pops on the back end, finishing with angular tannins, dried black fruit and solid length. Dried strawberry and vanilla on the finale. This needs a bit of time to sort itself out, but is pretty well balanced and nicely layered. 88pts
2009 Four Vines Biker Paso Robles Zinfandel 14.8%
Pretty oaky on the nose, with plenty of baking spices and vanilla over blackberry and plum fruit. Big on entry and slightly sweet, but with plenty of balancing acidity lending freshness to the black plum and oak. The wood tannins come on strong on the moderately long finish, showing plenty of plum skin and plum pie notes. Shows good transparency but lacks some inner harmony. 87pts
2009 Estancia Paso Robles Zinfandel Keyes Canyon Ranches 13.5%
A bit oaky and smoky with briary black raspberry fruit on the nose. Pretty juicy on entry with a nice, medium weight that shows off bright acids and soft tannins, though the tannins are a bit woody. The mid-palate shows slightly simple cherry and raspberry fruit accented with judiciously used oak and a touch of herb. Finishes with restraint and more zesty red berry fruit. Plays it safe, a nice Claret-styled Zin. 87pts
Want to Learn More?
Check out some cheap wines worth drinking in part 2 of Don't Drink That, Drink This!