Sneak Preview: Sonoma Zinfandels at ZAP Festival 2011

Alexander and Russian River Valleys

Sonoma AVA map

Sonoma Valley

To the south of the classic arc of Zinfandel lies the Sonoma Valley. Counter-intuitively relatively cooler than many of the more northern AVAs, due to the cooling effects of the San Pablo Bay, the Sonoma Valley has rolling hills that create many distinctive macro-climates that tend to share a climate-induced brightness with more raspberry tones to the fruit.

2007 Brazin Sonoma Valley Zinfandel Monte Rosso Vineyard 15%, $20
Assertively oaky with dark bittersweet chocolate and mocha notes paired with slightly jammy wild blackberry fruit. This is dark, brooding and aggressively scented with some beefy, bloody undertones and a vaguely floral top note. Big but not hugely varietal. Broad, flush and wide open in the mouth, with superbly managed tannins and finely integrated acidity. This is endowed with almost syrupy black berry and black cherry flavors, but the wine remains vibrant and relatively lightweight in the mouth. Super fresh and well balanced. The oak pops a bit on the finish, with black cherry fruit edged with cola and spice notes. Really is verging on silky; wonderfully managed wine. 91pts

2008 B. R. Cohn Sonoma Valley Zinfandel Olive Hill Estate Vineyard 15.3%, $32
Toasty on the nose with vanilla and cinnamon tones over lightly cedary wood. The fruit here is toward the red end of the spectrum, cherried but playing second fiddle to the wood at the moment. Silky entry with a rounded edge from the nicely ripe fruit. The wine lacks a little structure though; it’s soft and broad with deep black cherry fruit and nice clarity on the mid-palate. The finish shows good energy with dark fruit, black cherries, and nice length. The structure works well to support the weight and size of the wine. 89pts

2008 B. R. Cohn Sonoma Valley Zinfandel 15.2%, $24
Herby and sharp on the nose with some low mineral notes and toasty oak, and fading baking spices accenting the beefy black currant fruit. Very soft and broad on entry, with some stiff tannins firming up the mid-palate. This has lovely, and fairly bright, red raspberry and currant fruit on the mid-palate. The feel is a bit lean for Zinfandel but it has excellent focus. The tannins extend under the fruit on the finish, lending this a rather dry and somewhat stern feel. It’s elegant and attractive in a Claret style. 88pts

Miscellaneous appellations

2007 Sledgehammer North Coast Zinfandel 14.5%, $11
Heavily toasted oak notes on the nose are joined by lightly brambly blackberry fruit notes, all accented with hints of pepper and vanilla. Big and voluptuous, but with plenty of supporting acidity. This is rich if a little dense, with a nice vein of forest floor and herb helping to enliven the black cherry and blackberry fruit. This is smooth and lacks a bit of detail but delivers a nice fruity mouthful of aromatic Zinfandel. The tannins turn a bit rough on the modest finish, lending a bitter chocolate note, but this is eminently drinkable. 87pts

2008 Kokomo Sonoma County Zinfandel 15%, $20
Dusky on the nose with a bed of forest-floor soil tones, topped by vanilla-laced cherry and raspberry fruit, backed up with some lightly smoky cedar wood tones. Soft on entry with bright red fruits in the mouth. This has lovely minor yet fuzzy tannins and a great core of cherry, strawberry fruit. It’s not complex and the alcohol does show through a bit, but it is fun to drink and has an agreeable character. 87pts

2008 Manzanita Creek Sonoma County Zinfandel Three Vines 15.5%, $20
There’s some definite heat on the nose here, with dusty powder cocoa tones over a distinct smoky char and burnt marshmallow. The fruit is rather subdued with blackberry and blueberry tones. This is round, soft and mouth-filling with some attractive dark berry and blueberry fruit tones supported by a somewhat hard foundation of slightly raw, oaky tannins. It’s not unpleasant but this is definitely woody yet the fruit is attractive. Aromatically this smells like a fire, in the mouth it’s much better with rich, sweet, and slightly obvious fruit. 86pts

2008 Sextant Central Coast Zinfandel 14.8%
Fresh and fruity with red plum and pomegranate fruits accented by a touch of pink peppercorn and a hint of vanilla. Soft and round in the mouth with an easy lush feel. It’s very fruity but a bit soft and shows some sighs of over-ripeness to the cherry and pomegranate juice flavors on the palate. There is a nice subtle spice tone that helps to add a bit of detail but this just sort of sits there. 85pts.

2009 Bota Box Old Vine Zin 14%, $18 for 3L
Light and fruity with gentle chocolate, herb and spice notes. Very cherry, very plum pudding spice. A touch sweet, which gives this a decidedly lush feel. This flavors are a bit dark and a touch confected but with appealing brambly fruit tones. The tannins are soft but offer some nice support and add a very light astringent edge to the moderately long, nicely spiced sour cherry finish. A perfectly nice glass of Zin. 84pts

2008 Twisted California Zinfandel Old Vine 14%, $8
A little smoky, raw and coarse but with good, fresh berry fruit that shows nice spice character. This lacks some intensity and depth on the nose. A bit sweet upfront with pronounced acidity lurking under the RS. Round, easy to drink, if simple. Fresh and pleasant with a short finish. 83pts

2008 Cellar No. 8 California Zinfandel 14.7%, $8

A bit odd on the nose, offering an unusual but not unpleasant mélange of charcoal, forest floor and red currant fruit aromas. Soft on entry with noticeable RS and some acidity that sticks out weirdly up front then disappears, leaving this soft and a bit lifeless in the mouth. It’s got some nice herbal contrast to the core of soupy red raspberry fruit. The finish is coarse and disjointed. 78pts

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Mentioned in this article


  • 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 1,746

    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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