Value Zinfandel $15 and Under

Separating the wheat from the chaff, and at this price point there is a lot of oaky and undrinkable chaff!


As you may know I love Zinfandel. I think it’s the greatest domestic wine produced in this country, both for its historic significance as well as for the exquisite expressions of variety and terrori that the great examples are capable of.
As these great examples continue to become more expensive, many are above $40 now, certainly remaining good values for wines for their quality, though no longer cheap as aficionados have come to appreciate the inherent quality of these wines, it becomes ever more apparent how difficult it is to produce truly fine Zinfandel. there are plenty of lovely wines in eh $20 to $40 range, though the lack the great terroir of the more expensive single vineyard bottlings, but when you dip under $15 a bottle something drastic happens. many wines turn into formulaic, wood soaked abominations. caricatures of all that Zinfandel has to offer.
Now you could say that about many wines, but it’s just not as true. Inexpensive Merlot can be terrific, Cabernet quite good, Syrah stunning, Chianti, Rioja, and portuguese reds off the charts. It’s only when you get to Pinot Noir that you run into these same problems. the base wines is just not that good. Cheap Zin, for the most part and there are of course exceptions, tends to be over-ripe, over-cropped, over-oaked, and barely drinkable. It seems that there is a theory that states cheap Zinfandel should be alcoholic, a little sweet, laden with vanilla and woody flavors and a bit jammy to success. Sadly that seems to be true. 
Consumers seem to like these wines, or rather I should say that they buy these wines. I’m not sure they actually like them, with some of these examples there is so little to like that I think it’s merely massive national distribution that keeps these things selling. I did find wines that were well made and delicious, and some came from one of the biggest brands out there. the Ravenswood Appellation series of old-vine Zins was really fascinating to taste and as a group represented the best wines of the tasting. I sampled three wines, from lodi, Sonoma, and Napa and while they spanned a pair of vintages all three wines were classic expressions of their appellations and terrific wines. Significantly all three typically come with a heavy dose of Petite Sirah which helps to form some of the classic Zinfandel based field blends and is one of the most fortuitous of pairings out there.
That they are not pure Zinfandel should not be held against them, neither was my top rated wine, one which was a little less Zinny than some of the other wines of this tasting, but still remained instantly recognizable as Zinfandel. And that is all we should be asking of these wines. While $15 is not terribly inexpensive, it’s not a lot of money once you realise what goes into these wines. And while the term ‘Old Vines’ is unregulated in the USA, if producers are really using the Old Vines they claim to be, yields from these vineyards should be fairly modest. When all is said and done producers don’t make a lot of money from $15 bottles of Zin, which makes the better ones even more precious and important.
The wines that follow can essentially be divided into two groups. the first are wines that have something unique and distinctive to offer, the second rely on the magic recipe for cheap commercial wines with varying levels of success. That some of the biggest brands bottle wines that are undrinkable to me might indicate that i am woefully out of touch with today’s consumer. On the other hand it may also simply indicate that today’s consumer is being sold a bill of sales. I wonder what would happen if they were given access to the wines I see as being better and that access came with thoughtful and intelligent commentary on the wines. Perhaps we do just face a problem of education in the wine world, but with the powers that be in a position to lose market share and money if consumer catch on to their ploy, I don’t think we’ll ever see any meaningful efforts towards mass consumer education when it comes to wine.  
The best we can do is stand out ground and beg, cajole, and even shame enthusiasts into trying something new. There are great wines out there at nearly every price point, but perhaps they can never be great until someone important, someone with a voice and an audience takes a stand and says; “ Come on folks, you CAN drink better!”
Let’s start today with these top value priced Zins, shall we?

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10 Top Zinfandel Values Tasted 9/2014

Xyzin Old Vine Zinfandel (2012)
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Ravenswood Zinfandel Napa (2012)
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Ravenswood Zinfandel Lodi Old Vine (2012)
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Project Paso Zinfandel Old Vine (2010)
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Bliss Zinfandel (2010)
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Kendall-Jackson Zinfandel Vintner's Reserve California (2012)
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Ravenswood Zinfandel Sonoma Old Vines (2011)
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Mud Pie Zinfandel (2010)
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Kenwood Zinfandel Sonoma Valley (2011)
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Plungerhead Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel (2011)
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