Sneak Preview: Sonoma Zinfandels at ZAP Festival 2011

Alexander and Russian River Valleys


Last week in A Sneak Peek at ZAP Festival Zinfandels, we went through some of the non-Sonoma County Zinfandels that will be featured at the upcoming ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) annual grand tasting at its Zinfandel Festival, to be held in San Francisco, January 27 - 29.

While there were some gems to be found in that mix of appellations, there is no doubt that the great AVAs of Sonoma share a disproportionate number of glorious old vines, and it is from these old vines that the most sought-after wines are made. The question I have is: Are they really the best?
Sonoma AVA map
There is no doubt that the ancient Zinfandel vineyards of California are a true treasure, though many are more accurately known as field blends since they are based on Zinfandel vines, but may have some Alicante, Petit Sirah or Mataro interspersed in there. Those other vines certainly add something extra to these field blends, but the sheer age of the vines is ultimately what sets them apart to Zinfandel aficionados, both professional and amateur alike.

If you are interested in learning more about these vineyards, and the folks who work tirelessly trying to preserve this part of our cultural heritage from becoming condos, parking lots, or worse (being budded over to Cabernet, for example!), you should check out the Historic Vineyard Society.

Of course, not all Zins can come from these vineyards, and many of these older vineyards do have to replace dying vines, so the average age of the vines might not live up to the vineyard’s billing, but they are worth looking out for. Also worth looking out for are wines from the greatest regions the world has for Zinfandel: the Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River valleys in Sonoma.

Sonoma Zinfandel is a wonderfully nuanced and complex body of wines, with the best coming from a rough arc of hillside vineyards that extend from the Russian River Valley to the Alexander Valley, cutting right through the Dry Creek Valley. Don’t get me wrong, other vineyards throughout Sonoma can also produce exceptional wines, but none are as full of great vineyards and producers.

Are there really differences between them? You bet! Today I'm taking a look at wines from the Russian River and Alexander valleys, so stay tuned for next week's grand finale: The Zins of Dry Creek. Will it be worth the wait? You bet!

See pages 2 to 4 for the tasting notes.

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  • Snooth User: keukagene
    115779 8

    Have tried the Brazin. Very good. I fail to ever see Cline Big Break or Ancient Vine included in your ratings. As an avid Sonoma Zin lover, I find (especially the Big Break) to be superior.

    Jan 20, 2011 at 1:33 PM

  • Missing some of the great like Dry Creek, Seghesio, Optima, and others. One of my favs is Mounds Family vineyards in the northern reaches of Dry Creek. Very expressive wines!

    Jan 20, 2011 at 9:39 PM

  • I used to LOVE zins when they were 12.5%, spicy and peppery, and in-your-face. (Oh, yeah, and they were Cheap back when they were good!) These wines were fabulous with classic dishes like osso buco and stew. Now, they're alcoholic fruit bombs that don't (IMO) pair well at all with food. (And expensive!!!) Does anyone know of any producers still making the old-style?

    Jan 21, 2011 at 7:59 AM

  • Snooth User: pepp168
    581527 194

    Definitely a big fan of the Dry Creek Valley Zins like Quivira, Windsor, and Dry Creek Vineyards. The Seghesio old vines are pretty tasty, too!

    Jan 23, 2011 at 10:57 PM

  • MoniClaire vineyards makes really good zin that pairs well with food. They were at ZAP last year and I hope they'll be there this year as well. They are a small winery with limited production. You should try their Zin if you are looking for something that goesgood with dinner. Francis Ford Coppola makes a really good Zin also. I think it's their Director's Cut. I also love Seghesio & Mazzocco.

    Jan 27, 2011 at 3:38 PM

  • Snooth User: bobeggers
    624784 15

    Hey--Don't forget the B Wise new vineyard. Very nice

    Jan 27, 2011 at 6:45 PM

  • Try the Pendleton Zins at www.LocalsTastingRoom in will love them.

    Jan 30, 2011 at 9:18 AM

  • Snooth User: amour
    Hand of Snooth
    218530 2,203

    Thanks Gregory!
    I admire Zap's contribution to the American Wine Heritage.
    I did read the Heritage Vineyard Project and noted the historic development and unfolding of 4 special early vineyards that helped build Zin...Dusi, Du Pratt, Lytton Springs, Old Hill Ranch and the offspring Bucklin Winery. And most of all...... I will drink St.Francis Zin this weekend!!! CHEERS!

    Feb 06, 2013 at 1:58 PM

  • Snooth User: rckr1951
    Hand of Snooth
    127503 3,757

    When will we see a 2018 report?

    Jan 28, 2018 at 6:20 PM

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