Great Values for the Cellar 5

Amazing Values in West Coast Cab & Zinfandel


After four installments of "Building a Cellar on a Budget," the chant of "Where’s California in all of this?" has grown to be more than I can bear! Yes, of course there are great selections from California, and I can already hear the protest groups forming in Oregon, Washington, and Virginia, so please bear with me. There’s no specific reason I’ve waited until now to touch on some of the great cellar values from California. I guess to a certain degree it’s just a personal preference. While I have had tons of great aged wines from California -- a recent 1984 Lytton Springs Zinfandel was absolutely spectacular, for example -- I don’t have a ton of faith in the agreeability of many of the California wines in the currrent crop.

However, that’s a rant for another email; I’ve got to keep focused here on the task at hand, finding the exceptions that prove the rule!

Want more wine values?

Don't miss the first four installments of our "Building a Cellar on a Budget" series, where we covered great value wines from Italy, red wines from Spain and Portugal, age-worthy Syrah and Grenache, and affordable Bordeaux.
It's a surprise to many people, but I am an advocate of aging Zinfandel. In many cases the wines labeled Zinfandel should, in reality, more appropriately be called field blends. That is, of course, if they are in fact field blends. You see, much like in Chateauneuf du Pape, the old timers in California’s wine industry planted a variety of grapes that could be blended together to producer a reliable, character-filled wine in good vintages, and even not-so-good vintages. By mixing up many grapes in a field blend they ensured that at least some would be perfect for any given vintage’s conditions.

What they may or may have not realized, was that in certain vintages, when the stars were properly aligned, and everything came together perfectly, the whole would be much greater than the sum of its parts.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the Bucklin Family’s Old Hill Zinfandel. This knockout of a wine relies on some of California’s oldest vines, and dozens of different grape varieties to produce a killer, age-worthy Zin.

Two to Try

Ridge Lytton Springs

Ridge Geyserville

My Secret Selection: One of the reasons that these field blend Zins age so well is the backbone provided by a good dose of Petit Sirah. This inky black grape can be a little clumsy but in the right hands it can age spectacularly well, retaining fresh wild fruits and gaining a silkiness that makes them a joy to drink. I’m particularly partial to Jaffurs petite.

Cabs are king in California, and usually priced accordingly (if you're a Cab fan, don't miss my earlier piece on affordable Cabernet Sauvignon). I know we all love a great Cali Cab but they can be tough to find when you're looking for one that really will benefit from time in the cellar and won't break the bank, but there are a few out there worth checking out. I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that the Emblem Oso Vineyard is my California Cabernet buy of the year, so far.

Two to try

Charles Krug Cabernet

Chappellet Mountain Cuvee

Two Great Values from California

Ridge Lytton Springs
A reliably delicious, age-worthy Zinfandel from one of California's finest producers.

Emblem Oso Vineyard Cabernet
Spread the word: This is my best California Cab purchase of the year.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 6,198

    I suppose 'on a budget' is all relative when it comes to California cabs and even other reds from there. While I haven't enjoyed other aspects of the economic downturn over the past couple of years, the pressure it's provided on the seemingly endless inflation in CA wine pricing has been welcome.

    Ridge is a no-brainer, and I've been enjoying their vintages from cellar since the early '70s. Krug and Chappellet, are also good choices. Can anyone speak to how Seghesio zins age? I've never had any that've been laid down...

    May 25, 2010 at 5:31 PM

  • Snooth User: granger
    171532 4

    I have wines from the 80's (and had '70's) in my cellar from several different countries so I get to taste wine over decades of evolution. IMHO wines lose their primary grape personality as they age. Zins do not have the primal spice zin taste after awhile, and this is especially true of blends depending upon the percentage of the lead varietal. The secondary taste characters come to the fore and these can be nice but the wine is not recognizable as a zin or shiraz -blend after a point. Some folks do not like this and I can't fault them, it's a personal thing. For me, I've gone back to drinking my Zins early so that they very much taste like a Zin. I have other wines that age much better.

    May 25, 2010 at 6:43 PM

  • Snooth User: InWineTruth
    Hand of Snooth
    220106 1,634

    Greg, that Kenwood 2007 Sonoma County Zinfandel, at less than $15, is berries and spice and a crazy good value for this weekends bbq. I guess that means it may not make it to my cellar! Like Chuck says, "BuyMore".

    May 25, 2010 at 7:17 PM

  • The longest I've ever held a bottle of anything is 7 years (a Capana Brunello di Montalcino), so I don't think I can be an "aging expert." However, if "affordable" in this case is under $50, then the Pine Ridge Cabernet (on sale at my local Safeway for $29.99 right now), usually these are >50, but are frequently on sale at Safeway (who knew?).
    Brown Estate also just slips in under the $50 mark for both Zin and Cab (well, $55 for the Cab, but you have to push it sometimes).

    May 25, 2010 at 7:59 PM

  • Snooth User: ckscates
    482747 0

    Good story. I love these two varietals.

    Daglia Canyon, Napa is good for the price ($15). Nice, bold fruit with toasted oak and leather. It's bigger brother, Rutherford is a steal at $25-$30 (depending on where you get it) is not a bad deal considering where it's from, but the big daddy from Howell Mountain is a different story. I have a couple bottles of the Napa version on hand for steaks/burgers/cigars because it's just good for the price. Not sure about the other vintages yet, but I've only had the 05s. St. Supery's 03s and 05s were great ($27).

    I will never age a Zin. I like the punch in the face... or mouth... upon the first sip. Renwood from the Sierra Foothills is great for $15.

    May 25, 2010 at 8:01 PM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 4,177

    dmcker, Seghesio's don't lay down real long. 5 or 6 years is about it for most of them. My problem is that I like them so much that I have no patience to let them sit. They are a house favorite for us and we enjoy them often with BBQ in the summer and fall months. I am rarely disappointed with a Seghesio Zin.

    May 25, 2010 at 10:19 PM

  • I really don't care what your site may have to offer. The Visa override to my web experience with you was the last time I will ever let you do that to me. My next step is to unsubscribe.

    May 25, 2010 at 11:24 PM

  • Snooth User: MercedesC
    424239 3

    I'll keep Zins for however long the back of the label says it'll be good for, then half way in, I'll call the winery and ask them what they think. I also usually buy a couple of bottles to drink at intervals.

    Seghesio zins have always been one of my go to drink now zins. They never sit around long enough to store.

    Recently I actually had a bad Lytton Springs. Tasted like the interior of a wine tasting a new one, and haven't tried it yet.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:46 AM

  • Snooth User: RTGolfer
    429128 7

    I am so glad someone else has discovered and appreciated the Emblem - I carry the Rutherford on my wine list - exceptional wine! - If price is not an option look for the "M" by Michael Mondavi - unbelievable juice.

    May 26, 2010 at 10:56 AM

  • Snooth User: timmeeb
    437526 3

    The Zins produced by Turley are spectacular, and age worthy, in my humble opinion. Next time you are in the Paso Robles area (Turley tasting room is located in Templeton CA), make a point to stop in.

    May 26, 2010 at 11:01 AM

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

    Great tips here folks! Thanks.

    I have tons of Ridge Zins back to 1979 and am just waiting for the right opportunity to set up a great vertical tasting! That should be fun, with its share of disappointments though.

    RT Golfer, I have yet to try the Rutherford Emblem but the Oso is oh so delicious!

    Tim, Paso should be on the agenda for early next year, and I'm looking forward to it!

    May 26, 2010 at 11:07 AM

  • Snooth User: admiral44
    250911 117

    Zin is probably my go to wine when I don't want to think about wine but just enjoy and know I like what I am drinking. I like the Rombauer Zin, it is BIG though, tons of fruit, very little spice. I also like Michael and Davids Earthquake Zin. Any other suggestions out there of Zins to try, love to hear them.

    P.S. I have tried every Zin mentioned here and they are all really good!! I have found that Ravenswood zins don't age tremendously well.

    May 31, 2010 at 5:09 PM

  • Snooth User: Billphee
    498462 3

    I have not heard much comment on Malbec
    wines from Argentina...
    Here in Western Canada,British Columbia, It is outselling Cab.Sav. Which was the best selling wine for the past 40 years..Any comments from Malbec lovers..........

    Jun 09, 2010 at 5:12 PM

  • Snooth User: wineduck
    234906 2

    I've been a Zin lover for over 25 years and reccommend Limerick Lanes (Collins Vineyard) Russian River Zin, It lays well over 8-9 years

    Aug 18, 2010 at 6:09 PM

  • Snooth User: bpkrug
    558840 1

    Billphee, I agree with my Western Canadian neighbor. The best value in red wines presently in retail outlets come from either Argentina, Spain, or Italy. Currently, I'm enjoying a Malbec from Argentina, produced by 'Mapema'. The 2005 was most enjoyable, but I think the 2007 is what's available now. Try,,. I believe they have it via a store in Saratoga, Cailifornia. Another wine I've liked recently is from Spain. I purchased it at Costco a while ago. It's from the 2005 vintage, 100%, ungrafted pre-phylloxera, Tempranillo, from 'Venta Mazzaron', a bargin at $9.99. The importer is listed on the label as the 'Henry Wine Group', in Benicia, California, and selected by 'Jorge Ordonnez'. California has some real value red wines too. Try the 'Cameron Hughes, Lot 175, 2007, Merlot, Napa Valley', at $8.99. If, you don't have a Costco up there, you can order it directly online from 'CHWINE.COM'. That is, if your allowed by law to have it shipped directly to you from the USA. If you like a good summer rose, you can't go wrong with the 'Abel Clement, 2009, 100% Grenache Rouge', at about $7.99 a bottle. It's from the 'Vin de Pays du Vaulcluse', in France, and imported by 'Grape Expectations Inc., Richmond, CA. Another rose, also from the great 2009 vintage, is the 'Cuvee Reserve Tradition, Cotes de Provence, Chateau du Rouet', France. I paid $15.49/bottle from a well known grocery store in Sacramento, CA., 'Corti Brothers'. I hope you'll find these wines to be enjoyable, if you can obtain them.

    Aug 18, 2010 at 6:40 PM

  • Snooth User: Whiffer
    157728 9

    Billphee, if you like Malbec and haven't tried the ones from Cahors, France, check them out. I recently finished the last of four Pigmentum 2004 (or earlier) that is my favorite Malbec so far in my price range (usually under $20).

    Aug 19, 2010 at 9:37 AM

  • Snooth User: tcadguy
    209208 7

    Great budget wine lists have to include the 2007 Cotes du Rhone, dozens of them at less than $15 a bottle. Chateau du Trignon is an easy drinking favorite. Wouldn't cellar longer than 3-5 years.

    Sep 28, 2010 at 8:46 PM

  • Snooth User: panzwagn
    133783 3

    You may consider me the founding member of the Washington and Oregon protest group. So here's my offer: Pick any California wine, any varietal, and I will spot it a 30% cost advantage and will kick it up and down the street with a Washington or Oregon selection. So for example, you pick a Cailfornia Cab, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot, Chard, whatever, up to $39 and I'll pick a $30 Washington or Oregon equivalent and you have a blind tasting. Washington and Oregon will win 2 out of 3 or more, or I'll shut up.

    Sep 29, 2010 at 2:43 AM

Add a Comment

Search Articles

Best Wine Deals

See More Deals

Snooth Media Network