2009 Zinfandel Tasting Notes

California's great grape success story


Zinfandel, it’s kind of the black sheep of the family, isn’t it? It’s the kind of grape everyone likes to disparage, yet there always seems to be some exception, or three, to that criticism.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Want to Learn More?

Check out some cheap wines worth drinking in part 2 of Don't Drink That, Drink This!

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  • Snooth User: David6FL
    430627 2

    I, for one, have always liked the big, big Zinfandel's of the late 1970's especially the ones from Amador County. After the white Zin debacle ended the really big Zinfandels, I have been looking for one. I will have to find a seller for this one.

    Jan 10, 2012 at 1:12 PM

  • Snooth User: rkolsen
    417055 38

    It would appear a number of your wines are not available .............????

    Jan 10, 2012 at 2:18 PM

  • Snooth User: Stevern86
    909211 36

    I too like the big burly Zins of the late 70's. I think the style has changed over the years as winemakers have "advanced" technology and tamed this varietal. That being said, Amador county's C.G. Di Arie is one of my favorites. Try Lake county's Brassfield Monte Sereno Zin 2004. They have a new winemaker as of the 2009 vintage. I haven't had the newer vintage but the 04 is very nice with a little edge. Don't forget Paso for zin. They have gone hog wild into the Rhone blends but zin is their heritage. Try Rotta Giubinni vineyard, and any of their next door neighbors Zins from Turley.

    Jan 10, 2012 at 3:45 PM

  • Snooth User: aggies77
    252519 44

    I am partial to the Decoy Zin. Another favorite is Joel Gott.

    Jan 10, 2012 at 4:24 PM

  • Snooth User: ted m
    686649 6

    Interesting that this review of a grape which is not that common in Australia should be made as I find a really great Aussi Zinfandel. I have been very impressed with a 2008 wine from Rusticana at Langhorne Creek in South australia.

    Jan 10, 2012 at 5:00 PM

  • Snooth User: Cariedaway
    786899 105

    OK, I applaud your choices, especially the Sonoma County zins, with which I'm familiar. However, how about some kudos to the great zins of Amador County?? (Disclaimer: I work for Renwood Winery and we make some TREMENDOUS great zins!). Would love to see how you rate our stuff!

    Jan 10, 2012 at 5:47 PM

  • Snooth User: WineCarte
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    245884 3

    How can you neglect to mention Rafanelli and Ridge zins? And from Paso Robles, Nadeau zins?

    Jan 11, 2012 at 3:13 AM

  • I'd put the 2007 Columbia Crest Reserve Zin up against any of these. Yes, the same Washington State winery that won 2009 Wine Spectator's wine of the year with their 2005 reserve cab. The 07 zin is fantastic and goes for around $21. Sure, California is zin capital of the U.S., but I think you'd find the CC would compete with most any in that price range.

    Jan 17, 2012 at 9:59 PM

  • Snooth User: marcrauch
    858997 0

    Since its 2004 vintage, Rombauer Zin has been my benchmark, regardless of whether the grapes were from Amador or the Napa area, or both. While 2004 was also a great zin vintage for others, such as Norman's Monster, Derose, Earthquake and St. Amant; none of them have retained the same great taste in subsequent vintages (St. Amant's Mohr Fry Zin is probably the closest). Because St. Amant's Mohr Fry is about half the price of Rombauer, that's a big consideration.

    Sobon's zins have been okay, but their Primativo Reserve is very close to Rombauer. 2008 was great and 2009 has been the same.

    Clearly, I like the big fruity zins. My problem with most of the others written about in these pages is that they try too hard to be like a Cabernet. To me, if you want a Cab taste, or a Syrah taste, or a Pinot Noir taste, then you should drink those wines. But if you want a distinctive zin taste then you should go for a distinctive zin.

    Feb 11, 2012 at 9:56 AM

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