Top Zinfandel Values

Instant gratification with quality, complex wines under $20


I make no secret of my love for Zinfandel. It’s California’s greatest red wine, with Petite Sirah making it a competitive race. Yes, that goes against the Cabernet orthodoxy, but I find too much Cabernet tastes alike, and not compellingly like Cabernet, while lots of Zinfandel tastes just like Zinfandel, and offers better value than Cabernet to boot. Unfortunately, value is becoming something of a relative thing, still secure near the upper levels of the Zinfandel hierarchy, which remains roughly in the $35 to $50 range, but perhaps less so under $20 or so (and there’s no reason to discuss wines above $50, for I am not a buyer there).
So what can you expect for a Zinfandel under $20? Fortunately quite a bit. You’ll find varietal character: great fruit, brambly notes, good acidity, moderate tannins. You’ll find regional expression that is discernable, and you’ll find enjoyment in the bottle, which has historically been one of Zinfandel’s advantages. These are wines for the hedonist: you don’t need to make excuses for these wines, and there’s no saying that they’ll need more time. These are ready to go, and with the vast majority of people enjoying a bottle of wine within hours of purchase, that’s another advantage in the Zin court. 
So jump right in. $20 is not an insignificant amount of money, but it delivers a lot of value with these Zinfandels. 

Red wine photo via shutterstock


Floral and spicy oak aromas top a nice base of peppery pastrami-like meatiness. This is fairly tight in the mouth and needs a little time to tame the lightly aggressive tannins. Dark, jammy strawberry fruit and lovely spice notes emerge on the mid-palate followed by layered vanilla, black raspberry fruit, and French oak spice on end of moderately long, moderately tannic finish. A little atypical, but I really like this. 90 points

Nice and precise on the nose, with slightly herbal, chaparral brush and edgy, wild berry fruit aromas. In the mouth there are lovely herbal shadings to the core of dark cherry fruit. This is smooth and supple, with nice soft tannins and integrated acidity, and while it does turn just a little jammy on the finish, it’s a very happy wine. 90 points

Smoky, burning chaparral top notes greet the nose followed by subtle toasting Middle Eastern spice notes over red berry fruit. There’s a little pine-like note adding freshness on the light and zesty entry, which is followed by rich blackberry fruit that's a little tight and earthy with a nice briary edge. 89 points
Dark, oily and extracted on the nose with floral top notes and oily seed aromas. The nose does offer up some fine fresh perfumes of wild fruit. On the palate there’s an early rush of blackberry fruit in a lighter style, decidedly medium body with lovely bright fruit, zesty berry flavors and fine tannins that lead to a moderately long finish. 88 points

Very pretty, and very Dry Creek Valley, with lovely, nice briary fruit that’s full of crushed raspberry and wild cherry nuances. A little plump and easy going, but varietally spot-on with fairly deep Zin berry fruit, good acidity that accents tart cherry flavors on the back end, and a little tannic bite on the modest finish. Also a bit four-square perhaps, but this checks all the boxes. 87 points
With a nose that’s a bit smoky and oily, this remains attractive with deep, dark berry fruit.  Firm in the mouth, if a bit hollow across the mid-palate, this lacks some detail but does offer up a nice, elegant and firm core of black cherry and blackberry fruit that finishes with a bit of dry tannin. A bit old school. 87 points

Chocolatey and ripe on the nose with vanilla and a little coconut layered over black cherry fruit. This is bright and juicy in the mouth, with layers of blue fruit, raspberry and red currant flavors topped with gentle spice, yielding to a light finish that shows a hint of firmness. 86 points

Top Value Zinfandels

Cougars Leap Black Rock Cuvee Zinfandel Red Hills Lake County (2010)
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Easton Zinfandel Amador County (2011)
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Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (2010)
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Jaxon Keys Zinfandel Etta's Block (2010)
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Pedroncelli Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Mother Clone (2010)
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Pedroncelli Winery & Vineyards Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Pedroni-Bushnell Vineyard (2009)
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Bliss Family Vineyards Brutocao Zinfandel Mendocino (2010)
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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: jaybird75
    100123 104

    I'd have the 2 Rancho Zabacos ($16 local) in there and the OZV ($12).

    Mar 19, 2013 at 2:27 PM

  • Snooth User: Zuiko
    Hand of Snooth
    540750 839

    Ballantine can make a good zin on occasion; so can Montevina's Terra D Oro. Years ago Milano of Hopland had some of the best but have not tasted them for quite awhile.

    Mar 19, 2013 at 3:38 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 4,004

    I bought that Maggio OZV and really did not care for it. But some under $20 Zins that I do like include Matt Cline's Three Wines Live Oak, which can be had by mail for $20; I also had some of those Pedroncellis and really liked an old-vine that they made.

    Year in and year out, Bill Easton makes terrific wine at reasonable prices. He doesn't have a fancy appellation up in Amador County, but his Zins and the Rhones sold under Terre Rouge are some of the best wines in California--unique, specific, and still true to type--at any price. Glad to see him getting some attention here and in the WS 100.

    Other than a few culty Zins like the higher end Turleys, I don't see a lot of bottles over $50, period, and I think you just can't do better than Talty and Mauritson at around $40. For the dollar, a lot more worthwhile than a $60-100 Cab, in this drinker's opinion. (Now, to try some of those Carlisles that all the Zin makers drink when they aren't having their own...)

    Mar 19, 2013 at 3:53 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 7,690

    I love every article about Zinfandel, Greg, and I really love the enthusiastic comments by readers. So, thank you, Greg, and thank you, readers.

    For my $.02 worth on <$20 Zinfandels, I continue to be impressed by Oak Ridge made from Lodi grapes.

    Mar 19, 2013 at 5:56 PM

  • Snooth User: drgallup
    1258386 27

    DAVID COFFARO has some of the best Zin values (and blends) in my book. Now some of them can be a bit more than the $20 limit here, he has one of the best futures programs which can really keep the costs down.

    Mar 19, 2013 at 6:24 PM

  • Snooth User: jamessulis
    Hand of Snooth
    426220 1,722

    No mention that I could see listed any of the Old Vine Zins. Probably because they're in a different category of taste or because they didn't measure up with the ones listed? Comments appreciated.

    Mar 19, 2013 at 8:32 PM

  • As a lover of Amador wines, I must agree with Easton. However, after Snooth turned me on to Talty...I am ok spending a little more for such a refined, balanced Zin.

    Mar 20, 2013 at 2:04 AM

  • Snooth User: Eric Tinch
    1008308 238

    Mark, I recently purchased a bottle of Oak Ridge. I am excited to give it a go now.

    My main go to for <$20 Zin would be Seven Deadly Zins by Michael David Winery. It's not Talty, but an excellent everyday drinker. Its typically $12-15 in TN, but I got a few bottles at Total Wine in Ft Worth last week for $9. Wish we had one in Nashville. That place is amazing.

    Mar 20, 2013 at 9:57 AM

  • Snooth User: jamessulis
    Hand of Snooth
    426220 1,722

    I have tried Seven Deadly Zins and I thought that it was absolutely great. A week later I purchased Zen of Zin and thought it was even better due to it's flavors of chocolate, toffee, blackberry, vanilla, plum and coffee. This along with Seven Deadly Zins are both Old Vine Zinfandels which accounts for their intensities.

    Mar 20, 2013 at 11:49 AM

  • Snooth User: vin0vin0
    Hand of Snooth
    357808 7,084

    I'm also a big zin fan, especially those from northern Sonoma (Russian River in general but more so Rockpile and Dry Creek). Unfortunately, most of these are above the $20 mark, so when I'm looking for an everyday drinker with some nice flavor, I've found a couple of the Sobon zins (Amador County) a nice go to. In particular, the Old Vines and the Cougar Hill.

    Mar 21, 2013 at 6:56 PM

  • After reading all of the reviews on zin and how good they were stopped at total wines and bought a bottle of sobon reserve primitivo really looked forward to trying it will never buy another bottle of zin found it to be too fruity for my taste do not believe there was any problem with the bottle. I drink mostly Italian reds or Bordeauxs so it just didn't fit my palate

    Mar 22, 2013 at 5:12 PM

  • I was just wondering, how I can get this wines in Montreal (Quebec)
    We have the Italian (primitivo) at (saq) but when it comes to American wines very limited.
    Sometimes I wonder if they are imported with different label... French ...

    Mar 22, 2013 at 8:02 PM

  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 156

    Some people can't stand zins, and many a cab drinker turns up their noses at pinot. Never can predict how someone will react to a new varietal. I would urge you not to turn down zins. There are many wonderful ones out there. Some are big and high alcohol and tannic, others high alcohol but sweet and round bordering on flabby. Some are austere. Seghesio makes some very fine zins, the cheapest being their Sonoma zin that lists around $23 and often is in Wine Spectators Top 100 wines. The rest of their zins are single vineyards, or if not single, from very limited areas. They are very powerful wines and they should age well.
    On the other end, Bogle Old Vine zin is usually available for $8 a bottle, tho list is $11 I think, and while not much of a wine, it is easy to drink and not thin or lifeless. It is one of the real bargain wines available. Trader Joe used to have, may still, a wine call Synergy or something like that which was a blend primarily of zin and it was around $7 and very drinkable. Francis Ford Coppola's Rosso is a blend that changes each year (used to be disclosed on bottle what the percentages are but no longer) that sells on sale for $8 and is largely zin with some syrah, petite syrah and other stuff thrown in -- it is a bit tannic and acidic very much in an Italian style and does very well with a few years of age on it. At higher price points, in the 20-35 range, there are many very fine zins and zin blends that achieve great harmony and balance. I prefer cabs and cab-sangios right now, but zin has a place in your collection. Just as do petite sirahs, riojas, lots of the italians, the obscure spanish & italian grapes that are coming onto the market (mencia, nepricia, negroamara, etc.). Most wine is below average, or at least below where they should be, so you have to drink plenty of bad wine at every price point to find the ones that fit your palate.

    Mar 25, 2013 at 3:30 PM

  • Have you ever encountered Viano Winery out of Contra Costa County. Their reserve Zin continues to be excellent year after year well below in price to neighboring better know areas of production in Sonoma, Napa, or Amador counties

    Mar 28, 2013 at 7:42 PM

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