A Sneak Peek at ZAP Festival Zinfandels

Top wines to watch out for this year

10 Top Zinfandels from California

Napa Valley

Napa used to produce far more Zinfandel than it does today. But other, more profitable grapes -- Cabernet, in particular -- have pushed Zinfandel to the edges, which is not to say that there is no great Zin coming from Napa. Simply less than there once was. Though from Chiles Canyon to Howell Mountain and across to the Mayacamas, Napa continues to produce great Zinfandel. It’s hard to categorize Zins from such a broad spectrum of terroirs, so it’s probably best to just say that these Zins can compete with the best and leave it at that.

2008 Talty Napa Valley Zinfandel Filice Connolly Vineyard, 14.7%
Spicy, fresh evergreen notes greet the nose followed by pepper, cocoa, toasted marshmallow and gorgeously pure, brambly black raspberry fruit. With air the wood spice and toast become smokier and a bit more assertive but never overpower the wonderfully varietal fruit. Rich and powerful but also fresh and transparent with a nice bed of soft tannins and succulent acidity supporting balanced, complex, spicy cocoa-tinged black raspberry fruit. The finish is long and turns a bit redder with its assertive acidity. Really beautifully balanced, not a monster but still full-throttled and intensely flavored, if decidedly acid-driven. A Zinfandel for lovers of Italian wines. And I love Italian wines. 93pts

2007 Benessere Napa Valley Zinfandel Holystone-Collins Old Vines, 14.5%
Creamy black cherry fruit backed up with slightly medicinal notes greet the nose, all accented with gentle soil tones and hints of briary herbs and vanilla. Nice and tight on entry with good focus and energy across the palate. This delivers finely balanced black cherry fruit across the palate, framed with modest but firm tannins and accented with licorice, cocoa and wood spice tones. There’s a fine freshness to this and wonderful varietal character. This finishes with great briary blackberry fruit that lingers and ends on a nice earthy spice note. 91pts

2007 Ballentine Napa Valley Zinfandel Block 9 Reserve, 16.3%
Rather subdued on the nose with deep, plummy black cherry jam notes. This is rich, chewy and powerful in the mouth, if a touch soft. There is a lot of weight and dry extract here but the flavors -- earthy and very gentle spicy -- are rather restrained and balanced. Shocked to see the alcohol. The finish is soft, chewy and lush. This is a mouth-filling wine with great balance and surprising restraint that really shows it best on the long, black-fruited and black-spiced finish. 90pts

2005 Prix Napa Valley Reserve Zinfandel Moskowite Ranch Block 61, 14%
Fairly jammy with a waxy quality, actually intensely wild cherry jammy, with notes of underbrush and spice accenting the fruit. Very well balanced in the mouth with a freshly fruited character recalling a mélange of red apples, strawberries and melon. There are some still-stiff tannins here but all in balance with the fruit. The finish is long, nicely fruit-driven and fairly spicy with a lovely lingering tea note. Nicely balanced in a restrained style and drinking well. 88pts

2007 Saddleback Cellars Napa Valley Zinfandel Old Vines, 15.5%
Nice dark, slightly pruny fruit on the nose is accented by notes of carob and cigarbox with a menthol top note. Rich on entry with good acidity and nice supportive tannins. This unfolds on the palate, remaining focused and vibrant, though quite rich with juicy red and black fruit. It’s a touch monolithic but endowed with great, pure, ripe fruit. The finish shows off flashes of briary, herb and wood spice that help to highlight the brightness of the fruit. Ends with some slightly drying, sandpapery tannins that should disappear with some time in the bottle. 88pts

2006 Z-52 Napa Valley Zinfandel Truchard Vineyard, 14.5%
Very sweet-smelling and somewhat stewy-smelling with low, chocolatey, slightly pruny fruit, and chocolate-covered cherry top notes. Nicely medium-bodied in the mouth, with a nice, fresh feel to both the tannins and the acidity. This is fairly medium-bodied with a very easy-drinking styled mid-palate full of red currant and jammy strawberry fruit. The finish shows more chocolate and a bit of heat with the structure peaking out on the finale. 87pts

2007 Benessere Napa Valley Zinfandel Black Glass Vineyard, 14.7%
Smoky and herbal on the nose with note of brushfire and curranty fruit with hints of pineapple, cinnamon and white pepper. A bit on the soft side in the mouth, easy drinking with licorice and cocoa accents up front that segue into a black cherry, black currant mid-palate that shows a touch of firm tannin. Spicy on the finish with good cherry fruit but it’s a bit short and slightly bitter. 86pts

2009 Fontanella Family Winery Napa Valley Zinfandel, 14.9%
Dark, meaty and toasty on the nose, with a burnt note and a touch of caper accenting the boysenberry and plum fruit. Nicely balanced in the mouth with good richness and some emerging sweet fruit. I’m tempted to say this is simply too young as it’s not showing much fruit but it is gently fruity, with plenty of vanilla and milk chocolate oak character, finishing on the short side with a touch of coffee and drying tannins. 86pts

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: KimHauck
    Hand of Snooth
    43988 19

    Great article. We love HammerSky Zin from Paso Robles.

    Jan 13, 2011 at 4:11 PM

  • why weren't any from the Dry Creek, Alexander Valley, Healdsburg? These to me are some of the best and I have seen other reviews that claim this area to be prime Zin country. Is this because the author doesn't think they stand up to these listed? Or was it that there just weren't any in the sampling? Or, did I miss something in the report?

    Jan 13, 2011 at 5:21 PM

  • Snooth User: JJZak
    649261 11

    I too noted the absence of any Sonoma County wines. Wow! What a change. Although, Pappapietro Perry Zin (Dry Creek Valley) is a knock your socks off wine.

    Jan 13, 2011 at 5:32 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 202,135

    Maybe this paragraph will help explain that.

    "As you can imagine, there are tons of great Zins out there, and many, if not most, come from Sonoma County. In fact, there were so many wines to taste for this article that I’ve decided to split the load into two parts. Today I’ll be reviewing the wines from some regions that might be less well known, particularly for their Zinfandel production."

    Jan 13, 2011 at 6:21 PM

  • Snooth User: knosbetta
    729064 1

    Hmmm...A quick review of the recently released results of the SF Wine Competition shows 71 Zinfandels awarded Gold (or better) Medals in the $20-+$50 catagories. 51 of those 71 (72%) were from Sonoma County. 20 of those 71 (28%) were from Dry Creek Valley. Those results would have been even more lopsided had some of the best producers from Sonoma (Seghesio, Nalle, Raffinelli, etc.) entered the judging.
    Sort of like an article on the Rolling Stones without a mention of Mick Jagger.
    Just sayin'

    Jan 13, 2011 at 6:30 PM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 3,738

    Just goes to show you Greg that people aren't reading your articles just your recommendations.

    Jan 13, 2011 at 8:04 PM

  • Snooth User: clifhenry
    721107 27

    Curious, as well, regarding the absence of Sonoma/Russian River/Dry Creek wines; nothing from Ridge, Carol Shelton, Martinelli etc. Hard to believe, at least for me, that these guys struck out in a list of 32.

    Jan 13, 2011 at 8:49 PM

  • Snooth User: Frauenberg
    644986 21

    I live in germany, so my palate is close to european wines, but every time when i have the opportunity to taste a good zinfandel, it is hard for me to find any point in the structure of these wines, that doesn't make me feel good. Congratulations to the art of winemaking out of this grape in california! One of my favorites is the "Directors Cut" Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel from FF Coppola.

    Jan 14, 2011 at 5:16 AM

  • Thank you for the clarification. While I try to read the articles completely through, it is obvious that I missed that part. And, while you may have trouble believing this from someone who just demonstrated that they didn't read carefully, I do enjoy your articles; they are some of my favorite readings regarding wines.

    Jan 14, 2011 at 10:07 AM

  • Snooth User: tlb73737
    354038 35

    Yes folks Sonoma produces some great Zins. But to feel slighted because the article mentions Paso Robles and Lodi is more than a bit ridiculous. Those regions produce some great wines. For those of us who like Zins, those regions should be celebrated. I love those regions an am glad that to hear that they are getting some press. There is more than one region in California and as a native Californian I celebrate them all, not just one.

    Jan 25, 2011 at 11:12 PM

  • As soon as it was explained that Sonoma wines were in their separate article I retracted. My first (and erroneous understanding) was that this singular article was looking at all Zins and did not contain any from that region which was perplexing. I too, like Zins from the other regions (Lodi, especially) and am extremely appreciative of the information. I agree, to have done all of them in one article would have been too much.

    Jan 26, 2011 at 9:46 AM

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