The Best of Zinfandel

An amazing line up of the very best Zinfandels

Before we take a look at some producers and their wines a few words about recent vintages.
2013 - While it’s too early to tell exactly where things will pan out in 2013 things are at least looking promising. I heard some producers who believe it will be one of the greatest while others felt the sugars got ahead of the flavors a bit. Everything came in  pretty much together this year causing some logistical problems at smaller operations. It will be interesting to follow the development of these wines. 
2012 - A big, beautiful, ripe vintage that some are saying reminds them of 1991 in the sense that everything ripened well and evenly though at the same time and with yields coming in well above expectations space in the winery was at a premium. After the troublesome years of 09, 10 and 11 this was a blessing for the industry, though a few producers did say that they were concerned that the crop lead to some lighter wines they might have preferred. Leaving me to wonder whether they were referring to impacy of grape growing issues or winemaking issues due to the scramble for space. 
2011 - Softer for the most part with supple tannins and moderate scale, which is a positive outcome considering that most producers feel this is among the worst if not the first vintage of their lifetimes. Vineyards got off to a slow start and had to deal with a cool, damp growing season, which was particularly hard on heat loving Zinfandel. Still there were success, mostly those who were able to pick before the one two punch of storms that arrived in early October followed by a warm front that caused rot to become a significant issue for those who had hoped to wait out the storms. 
2010 - A cool vintage that was marked by a heat spike in August. Making matters worse is the proactive stance growers took after the difficult 2009 vintage which was also very cool. Aggressive canopy management and leaf pulling meant that when the heat spike struck many clusters had little protection from the sun. The results speak for themselves. Significant loss of fruit, up to 60% in some cases and an entire vineyard as an isolated case, and wines that often carry a roasted, almost pruny note even though their flavors tend to be rather fresh and towards the red end of the spectrum due to the cool growing season. Unusual wines but not without successes. 
2009 - Set the stage for 2010 in that it was a cool growing season followed by tremendous rain right before harvest that really impacted the production of Zinfandel. Growers who picked before the rains brought in some lighter Zins though many do show an unripe edge both in their higher acids, which can be welcome as well as with dry tannins which are often not well covered by the fruit in this difficult vintage. 
Now on to the show. Producers are listed in the order of my visits. Some were packed with Zinfandels, other featured but one example, but I’ve included them all here.

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12 Top Zinfandel October 2013

Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Florence Vineyard Dry Creek Valley (2010)
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Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel Ancient Field Blend (2010)
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Ridge 'Lytton Springs' (2011)
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Talty Winery Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Estate William Talty Vineyards (2009)
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Seghesio Zinfandel Monte Rosso Sonoma Valley (2011)
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Green & Red Tip Top Vineyard Zinfandel (2010)
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Elyse Zinfandel Napa Valley Morisoli Vineyard (2009)
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Carol Shelton Wines Zinfandel Rockpile Rocky Reserve Rockpile Ridge Vineyard (2009)
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Gary Farrell Zinfandel Bradford Mountain (2010)
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Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves Zinfandel Big River Ranch (2010)
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Rockpile Winery Zinfandel Rockpile Jack's Cabin (2011)
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Storybook Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley Eastern Exposures (2011)
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Mentioned in this article


  • Hi. Have you heard of C.G. DiArie Vineyards? I would like to hear about them if anyone has any experience with them. Thanks.

    Nov 05, 2013 at 11:23 AM

  • Snooth User: Mccz
    536799 3

    Ever heard of as Robles? Wow!

    Nov 05, 2013 at 3:31 PM

  • I have been to DiArie Vineyards about two years ago. They do have quite a few good zins.

    Nov 05, 2013 at 3:45 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 2,863

    I've said it elsewhere: That Seghesio Rockpile is from a vineyard that produces some great Zins. They are not allowed to vineyard designate it (only the owner of the property has SVD privileges on his grapes), but it is single vineyard. And now that Seghesio has been sold, the contracts have terminated and that wine will no longer be available. So buy the 2011 (and maybe there is a 2012 in the pipe) because you will never see it again. At $35, it's a relative steal--the other bottling from that vineyard will be selling for 7-10 more.

    Nov 05, 2013 at 3:54 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 5,267

    I have had a few DiArie wines and they are darned good. Snooth Forum regulars will confirm that I am a Zinfandel bigot. However, I think that the best DiArie that I have tried was a Barbera.

    Nov 05, 2013 at 7:40 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 2,863

    DiArie is also, from what I hear, a really nice guy. He comes down to Oakland to do tastings, but I've never managed to get to those.

    One thing not mentioned in the article: The Dashe Enfant Terrible used to be made with no sulfites added during bottling. So it was volatile and had to be drunk young, hence the name and also the style. Don't know if it is still done that way, as I haven't had it in a bunch of years. And that Lily Hill is my favorite Bella, to be sure.

    Nov 05, 2013 at 7:51 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 5,267

    2nd Comment. As a big fan of the Ridge Lytton Springs bottlings, I was impressed with your opinion of the 2011, Greg. I was really disappointed with the 2010. So, I guess I'll start stocking up on the 2011.

    Also, I guess I should give a shout out for the Southern California wine--the Carol Shelton Cucamonga Valley. About a year and a half ago, we were dining with a friend from North Carolina and saw that on the list. I really do not recall what vintage it was, but I thought it would be neat to try a local wine. A total fruit bomb. I was really disappointed. However, I'll keep an eye out for this 2010

    Nov 05, 2013 at 8:28 PM

  • Snooth User: BGBGBG
    1386177 8

    Did you even go anywhere near Paso Robles? Only some of the finest Zin I've ever had.

    Nov 05, 2013 at 10:14 PM

  • Snooth User: ddingley
    395920 5

    Nothing from Amador here, unless I missed it somewhere. That is a great, historical region with vines going back to the Gold Rush and a great value ratio as they have remained affordable. The best vineyard in my experience is Deaver who makes their own limited bottlings and sells to a few others, notably Montevina D'ell Oro.

    Nov 05, 2013 at 10:24 PM

  • Snooth User: Mccz
    536799 3

    So many great wineries in Paso Robles, where grapes are often sourced for award-winning wineries in (you guessed it), Napa Valley!

    True, many of them in Paso are embracing the Rhone Rush (and why not?), but the region is still much about Zinfandel, and they do it well! Check out the Zinfandel Festival, March 14-16 in 2014, but the best time is year-round, when you can more leisurely chat with the winemakers.

    And bookmark Paso Robles Magazine to download (free) monthly issues for all the happenings. This weekend is all about the Paderewski Festival with wines, a vineyard tour, classical and jazz music performances by some amazing world-renown artists.

    Paderewski was a brilliant composer, pianist, and former prime minister to an independent Poland. He grew grapes in Paso on over 2,000 acres and really kick-started the region for his Gold medal Zinfandels. Today, Epoch Estate Wines has resurrected Paderewski's old vineyard and also purchased the historic York Mountain Winery. Their wines fly out the door as soon as they're released...they're that good!

    Nov 05, 2013 at 10:47 PM

  • Snooth User: ubla
    1043713 7

    My favorites are Turley and Klinkerbrick by far!

    Nov 06, 2013 at 8:53 AM

  • Snooth User: sunnyg
    1198458 38

    I agree. Turley is the best! Will have to try Klinkerbrick. Thanks for the tip!

    Nov 06, 2013 at 1:04 PM

  • Snooth User: lodiwino
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    222318 82

    GDP - you gotta have at least 1 Lodi Zin in that line up...Klinker, Fields, McCay, M2 - some beauties at some great price points

    Nov 06, 2013 at 1:23 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 198,039

    Fair enough folks. There are great Zins produced in Mendocino, Lodi, Paso and the Sierra Foothills. The greatest concentration are still in Sonoma, and those are some of my favorites. But, I'll make a point of planning on a trip next year that visits the rest of the state in search of great Zins!

    Nov 06, 2013 at 3:58 PM

  • Snooth User: SGD
    610727 21

    Had some great examples of Plavac Mali made by Dubokovic in Hvar, Croatia. Plavac Mali is said to be the earliest form of what is now known as zin

    Nov 06, 2013 at 4:56 PM

  • Snooth User: mrwino
    1279683 64

    Been there...Drank them! You're right GDP; Sonoma (Dry Creek) is the Disneyland of Zins. But you failed to recognize two of the top producers of the juice. Mazzocco (a block from The Ridge) and Wilson Wineries’ are the TOPS in my book, and also that of this past year's Harvest Fair, garnering over 40 Best of Class, Double Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze awards. Winemakers Antoine Favero at Mazzocco and Diane Wilson at Wilsons (International Women's Winemaker of the Year a few years ago), do the best job in crafting their wines that I've tasted none! Another great producer in the Valley is Tom and Bruce Cousins Armida Winery. The "Tina's Block" Zin from Tom and Tina Maple's vineyards (arguably the best Zin vineyard in California), is a stand out...and sells out FAST! Also, don't forget Martinelli's great juices, J&L and Jackass. A couple of the better Zins I've found in the Sierra's belongs to Terra-Rouge/Easton Winery (Check out the cover of September's WE), and Bella Grace's Old Vine Zin. Easton also produces some of the best Syrah's around. Lodi and Paso are both great Zin farms. A couple you might try are Klinkerbrick's Old Ghost and Michael-David's Gluttony in Lodi. Two very different wines but both are simply fantastic. I’ve been to all but 17 wineries in the Dry Creek/ Amador/El Dorado and Lodi areas, which I’ll knock off a couple of those this weekend. GDP, if you need a traveling partner on your next road trip, I'll be glad to navigate!

    Nov 07, 2013 at 6:05 PM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 3,594

    "Had some great examples of Plavac Mali made by Dubokovic in Hvar, Croatia. Plavac Mali is said to be the earliest form of what is now known as zin"

    Zinfandel is not the same variety as the Croatian variety Plavac Mali as stated above. It is, rather, the same variety as the Croatian variety Crljenak kastelanski, which has also been called Pribidrag and Tribidrag. And it's the same variety as Primitivo. Many names for the same grape variety. (Plavac Mali is actually the progeny of Crljenak Kastelanski and another Croatian variety called Dobricic.)

    Nov 08, 2013 at 1:19 PM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 3,594

    My comment above cites UC Davis Geneticist Carole Meredith who was the person who genetically DNA fingerprinted Zinfandel to Crljenak Kastelanski.

    Nov 08, 2013 at 1:24 PM

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