February 2010 Zinfandel Tasting

A Blind Tasting: Zinfandel


 Joel Gott, 2008, California, 14.4% Alc.

Clean with a nice oaky streak running through the sweet, and slightly medicinal red fruit and pomegranate inflected nose. This has a gentle vegetal note that works well as a counterpoint to the balanced fruit and oak notes. On the palate this is smooth and balanced with fresh, complex flavors of red berry fruits, baby powder perfume, and hints of wood spice. This is decidedly middleweight with a transparent feel and hard acids that keep this fresh and lively. It’s a very drinkable, varietally correct bottle of Zinfandel. 91pts

Robert Biale, 2007, Stagecoach, Napa —15.6% Alc.

Very meaty on the nose with red fruits and a sour, slightly yogurty edge. There are notes of mint adding freshness to the very bright red fruits on the nose. In the mouth this is silky and soft with fine balance of sweet, ripe, intense but not vulgar black raspberry fruit with nice accents of earth and bramble that brightens on the back end. On the moderately long finish a mineral tone joins with the mint to give the fruit a nice edge. Big but well done. 90pts

Carlisle, 2007, Dry Creek Valley 93% Zin, 5% Petite Syrah, 2% Carigagne

This is particularly intense aromatically with sweet brambly fruit and plenty of oak derived notes that recall chocolate chip cookies, gingerbread, baking spices, and chocolate. In the mouth this is very smooth with lots of alcohol that appears to blow off in the glass. The fruit is dark, rich and brambly with a nice sweet edge from the alcohol but that alcohol reappears on the finish. Lots of wine, maybe a bit too much. 88pts

Robert Biale, 2007, Monte Rosso, Sonoma 15.8% Alc.

Wooly and woodsy on the nose with rich, concentrated Zinfandel fruit that has a touch of a candied and almost cola edge to it. This is very big with a bit of residual sugar to add to the mass and intense fruitiness. It’s an old style of Zinfandel and pulls it off well with enough acid to refresh the palate and add vibrancy to the long, spicy cherry fruit finish that ends with just a bit of stickiness. 88pts

 Castello Monaci Piluna Primitivo 2006

Milky oak on the nose with nice herb and spicy tones lurking in the background though this smells a bit acidic and hard. On entry this is dry, clean and rather tight yet with nicely balanced notes of vanilla and hard blackberry fruit. The wood comes off as a bit raw with drying tannins but the finish is spicy and complex with notes that recall cherry Dr. Pepper. 88pts

Ridge, 2006, Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, 14.7% Alc. 80% Zin, 16% Petite Syrah, 4% Carignane

This is tight and hard on the nose with some evergreen, balsamic tones that offer contrast to the core of hard candied blackberry fruit. Light on the palate and quite structured with dry tannins and bright acids. There is a core of sweet black raspberry fruit on the finish with a nice hint of coconut cream sweetness, but overall this is hard and ungenerous. 85pts

 Turley, 2005, Tofanelli Vineyard, Napa  15.5% Alc.

Sweet, fruity and simple on the nose with smoky oak and varietally correct Zin notes. On the palate this is in an easy drinking style with sweetish raspberry fruit cut by green, hard acids that lead to a hot finish. A big wine, fun in a way but a bit too much. 85pts

Rafanelli, 2006, Dry Creek Valley, 14.8% Alc.

This is bretty on the nose but it just adds a layer of complexity to the aromatics that express leather, soil, spice, red fruits supported by a bit of VA with top notes of cinnamon, and cooling hints of mint.  On the palate this is a bit lean with a hard, taut feel to it. While it shows lots of promise in a nicely extracted style the finish is fatally marred by a metallic bitterness that lasts far too long. 78pts

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: grumpduck
    344774 6

    Was this a double blind taste ? Did you ever know which wine cost what ?

    Feb 11, 2010 at 3:22 PM

  • Snooth User: johnmmoore
    170772 16

    Wow, Ridge Lytton Springs topped by Joel Gott's value offering! I always regarded the Joel Gott California Zin as a 'go to' inexpensive Zin - better than Dancing Bull for a little more money. But Ridge Lytton has been one of my favorite Zins to order in restaurants, and I've always enjoyed it. I think I'll have to compare these two myself. Even typical corkage fees wouldn't make up the difference in price of these two!

    Feb 11, 2010 at 3:34 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,000

    So do you think the Lytton Springs needs more bottle age to open up, or is there a deeper problem?

    In the interests of full disclosure and the level of information you talked about in your just-published article on the vagaries of wine ratings and the 100pt scale, can you tell us why you chose these particular bottles and not others out on the market? Personally, I'd appreciate this info with any of the batches you present to us.

    Feb 11, 2010 at 7:07 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    This was single blind. I knew which wines were to be included in the tasting but not the order. I think the Lytton Springs will benefit from some age, hopefully! but it was a very hard showing for the wine.

    These wines were chosen by one of my fellow tasters to satisfy his curiosity. My turn is next and I'll be selecting 8 2005 Barolos for us to taste blind next week.

    In the future I will frame the tasting notes with more information, like why they were chosen, and which met, exceeded, or failed to meet my expectations, and why.

    Feb 11, 2010 at 7:43 PM

  • Snooth User: wanemardo
    169539 11

    Nice to see an "original" Zin (Primitivo) from Castello Monaci in the selections. Perhaps more of that region's "Zins" can be featured. Piluna for me is a decent middle of pack vino... thanks

    Feb 11, 2010 at 10:49 PM

  • Snooth User: vinofina
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    309118 4

    Just goes to show that everyone can disagree. The Rafanelli blows this field away for me.... and its not close!

    Feb 11, 2010 at 11:56 PM

  • Snooth User: Da Wine Dog
    366897 110

    Do people actually pay $75 for a Zin? I've been a member of ZAP for over 18 years and continually find Zins at a fraction of the price that to my palate, are outstanding. I suspect the most expensive of the lot is Turley, though she does not make Zins in the style I prefer. I notice that the Amador, Lodi and Paso Robles appellations are not represented here either. Anyone that knows Zin, is also aware these areas turn out some of the best! Cheers.

    Feb 12, 2010 at 12:23 PM

  • I just have to comment that I've had several bottles of the '06 Rafanelli and they have been excellent and without the flaws you mentioned. A wine group I belong to picked it blind as the favorite over 12 other zins of similar stature including Turley, Martinelli, and a Robert Biale. I noticed you have an article on what worth a wine score has, may I suggest when you find a bottle that is so flawed but from a quality producer, maybe you should open another bottle before passing judgement.

    Feb 12, 2010 at 4:08 PM

  • Snooth User: Da Wine Dog
    366897 110

    I would agree with spoiledgraprejudice.. I personally have known the Rafanelli family since the mid 70s and they have a cult following now. The Zin happens to be one of the better Dry Creek Zins around. While I'm not high on the point system, I believe any wine like a Rafanelli deserves a fair opinion. I'm curious why you leave out Pezzi King from Dry Creek also. Pezzi has consistently produced some of the best, full bodied, highly extracted, luscious Zins in the Valley for years. In fact, I'll be tasting some of them this weekend and can't wait!

    Feb 12, 2010 at 4:56 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Guys, I have known Rafanelli wines since the early 80's and have almost always had good experiences with them. Witness the great showing at a recent 1991 horizontal: http://www.snooth.com/articles/wine...

    I would loved to have had a second bottle to try, but that was not to be since we had the one bottle and that was it.

    If the bottle had been corked, or heat damaged I would not have rated it since that is a condition that happens one bottle at a time. This wine was marred by brett. I was not the only one who had difficulties with the finish of the wine. I've had issues with Brett before in Rafanelli Zins but this was my worst experience. Brett doesn't go away with time and, if anything, gets worse if the wine is not stored at cool cellar temps.

    Should I have not reported on the wine? Brett is an issue that affects large quantities of wine and I am reporting on it in this bottle.
    I am simply conveying on my experience. I can appreciate you're speaking up for one of your favorite producers, but not reporting a bad bottle because of a winery's track record is precisely what not to do.

    I left out Pezzi King because this group tastes 8 wines at a time. If I had included Pezzi King I'm sure someone else would have asked why I left out Bella, or Gamba, or Ravenswood. I can't taste them all, or even a fraction. Some get included, some don't. As I wrote above I did choose this selection of wines. I am choosing next months, which is a selection of 2005 Barolo.

    And just for the record, the tasting note on the Rafanelli was another reason for my editorial on the shortcomings of wine writing.

    Thanks for the tough questions. I'm all for keeping it honest and without prodding like this I could certainly get lazy!

    Feb 12, 2010 at 5:21 PM

  • I can see why in a blind tasting the Ridge Lytton Spring wouldn't show well, as their current wine making style seems more focused on showing structure, with the fruit playing a restrained role; present but not jammy like pre-Ridge was in the late 80s, which is the style that I prefer. So now I respect Ridge Lytton Springs more than I adore them, and I can enjoy a bottle by itself, but I no longer include them in blind tastings because their austerity tends to keep them less accessible and therefore they often (always) disappoint the group.

    Two days ago (2/11) I tasted at A. Raf. and Ridge, and with my expectations of Ridge (Geyserville, Lytton, etc.) not emphasizing the fruit I was pleasantly pleased, noting that they were top notch wines for that structure-forward non-jammy style. In previous vintages A. Raf. Zin usually has the green herbaceous pet-store nose that I am no fan of, but in the mouth it has length and breadth and lushness that few other Zins can provide, so I've always been torn on that one. But yes as you wrote it is usually a phenomenal wine, and Thursday I didn't notice any issues with the 2007 they were pouring.

    An interesting article - thank you for taking the time and effort - it's always fun to compare notes.

    Feb 13, 2010 at 12:53 PM

  • Hi Greg ....
    Ive enjoyed Zin for a number of years and am glad to see an article with a Zinfandel comparision. However, I was hoping you would compared a Zin such as Ravenswood Teldeschi.
    Thanks for the Zin article. I hope to see more of them.

    Feb 15, 2010 at 5:57 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    I was not able to include any Ravenswood Zins in this tasting, though I did sit down with Joel Peterson last year to taste through his 2007s. You can find that report here http://www.snooth.com/articles/peop...

    Feb 15, 2010 at 6:07 PM

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