Sneak Preview: Sonoma Zinfandels at ZAP Festival 2011

Alexander and Russian River Valleys

Sonoma AVA map

Russian River Valley

This is the coolest AVA generally known for Zinfandel. Here the cooling effects of the Pacific can be quite pronounced, allowing for a long growing season. It is sometimes too cool for Zinfandel to get fully ripe here, but the climate does allow Zinfandel to ripen evenly -- a problem, since Zin is prone to producing bunches with ripe and green berries in the same clusters. The cool steady season allows the grapes to reveal the classic core of black and sometimes blue fruits in a rich, full-bodied style while retaining a fresh peppery edge.

2008 V Sattui Russian River Zinfandel Gilsson Vineyard 15%, $36
Sweet and open on the nose, with lightly baked black plum and black cherry fruit framed with toasty oak, chocolate and a nice dried herb/herbs de Provence tone. Silky and rich in the mouth, this really has a wonderful feel: luxurious and yet not flamboyant. The tannins are very finely ripe, buckyballs under the blanket of ripe fruit redolent of plum, cherry and a touch of boysenberry. The finish is moderately long but shows really nice complexity with spice, dried herb and floral notes accenting the sweet fruit. 92pts
2008 Tin Barn Vineyard Russian River Valley Zinfandel Gilsson Vineyard 15.6%, $24
Dark cola and earth scents dominate the nose early, with slightly medicinal top notes preceding the slow-to-emerge black cherry and plum fruits. Broad and a touch soft on the palate, this is plush and caressing, with lovely sweet tannins and a nice briary edge adding detail to the deep core of black cherry/blackberry pie filling. There is a nice edge of green freshness that hints at mint in the mouth. With time this turns nicely fresh. The sheer depth of fruit and the sweetness of it tempers the acidity a bit but it is there, powering through on the red plum and sapid, almost mineral-laced blackberry finish. Very pure, precise flavors and the finish is excellent here. 92pts

2009 Wine Guerrilla Russian River Valley Zinfandel Clopton Vineyard 14.7%, $35
This is decidedly funky on the nose with a broad array of savory tones. Forest floor, pine nuts, dried mushroom, toasted nuts, leather, game, dried beef and dark berry fruit all come together compellingly. A bit massive and sweet on entry, but rich and wooly with great freshness and depth. This is a bit unruly but is well balanced and fresh, with great red and blue fruits in the mouth. The tannins are so fine they are almost unnoticeable, allowing this succulent core of fruit to take center stage. The finish is a bit on the short side with a fresh wash of red and blue fruit for a finale. This is all about the old-vine fruit and, while a touch atypical, it's very engaging. 91pts

2008 V. Sattui Russian River Zinfandel Crow Ridge Vineyard Old Vine 14.7, $35

Rich and pure blackberry fruit on the nose with a licorice undertone and nice cracked pepper top notes. There is a nice floral hint and a touch of accenting oak. Rich and polished on entry, with lovely power that drives the slightly severe blackcurrant fruit in the mouth. This has nice ripeness but the flavors are decidedly dark and unsweet. Licorice, tea, tobacco and coffee all accent the hard fruit. The finish shows nice sweet fruit beginning to emerge. The palate does not yet match the nose here, but this is rather suave and rich, with good complexity and a fine, easy drinking style. 89pts

2007 Acorn Russian River Valley Zinfandel Alegria Vineyards Heritage Vines 14.8%, $30
A bit meaty on the nose with a nice underlay of toasty oak supporting fresh, floral and sassafras-scented raspberry fruit. There's a nice edge of sandy soil that emerges with time. Broad and open on entry with a plush leading edge, then a nice core of ripe tannins adds a bit of weight and depth, giving more of a tactile feel here. The fruit is fresh and juicy with noticeably but well managed oak underpinning it.  Nice and full of wild berry fruit on the finish, with spicy hints of herb and some lingering black licorice notes. Very nice wine that straddles the line between rustic and refined. 89pts

2009 Wine Guerrilla Russian River Valley Zinfandel Conte Vineyard 15.1%, $35
Slightly spicy, candied black raspberry and even a hint of dried apricot greet the nose, which is fresh and clean, with a hint of violet, though it does show some heat. Slick and fresh in the mouth with a floral note early, then some nutty oak tones that lead to a clear, bright, black raspberry core of fruit. A bit uncomplicated but fresh and wonderfully juicy. The fruit grows in the mouth, adding some red cranberry and cherry tones before transitioning into a slightly peppery, tea tone moderate-length finish.  88pts

2007 Manzanita Creek Russian River Zinfandel Alfonso Old Vines 15.5%, $28
Lots of cola character on the nose with licorice, old leather and bitter cocoa top notes. Big and mouth-filling if a touch soft with a nice bed of tannins that are austere yet are currently cloaked in masses of ripe fruit. There's a nice spicy edge to this that offsets the black cherry/black plum fruit a bit and lends a slightly medicinal tone to the palate with late-to-pop herbal brambly notes adding additional complexity. The heat burns a touch on the finish that reverts back to a more cola-scented flavor. Big if a touch rustic and clumsy. 87pts

2008 Acorn Russian River Valley Zinfandel Alegria Vineyards Heritage Vines 15%, $30

Low key on the nose, revealing mineral and salted meat tones that with air gains sweetness adding a toasty marshmallow tones and some baking spices to a gently brambly berry tone. A touch soft up front with an initial burst of peppery cinnamon that's followed by succulent raspberry/black raspberry fruit topped with a bit more peppery spice. This is a bit tight at this point, nicely medium-bodied but not very expressive in the mouth. The finish is a bit short with wood spice and soil tones obvious. 87pts

2008 Beaver Creek Vineyards Russian River Valley Zinfandel Old Vine 13.9%, $29
This smells extracty like a beef reduction with a strong coriander top note. It's intense, dark and complex but very fruity. Rich, round and polished in the mouth, with a nice core of black cherry fruit but not much else going on -- though that extracty aromatic element does pop in the mouth, adding a touch of celery as well. Finishes quickly with a big root beer tone and sour black cherry fruit. 84pts

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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 8

    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 1,748

    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

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