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

1.
Xyzin Old Vine Zinfandel (2012)
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2.
Ravenswood Zinfandel Napa (2012)
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3.
Ravenswood Zinfandel Lodi Old Vine (2012)
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4.
Project Paso Zinfandel Old Vine (2010)
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5.
Bliss Zinfandel (2010)
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6.
Kendall-Jackson Zinfandel Vintner's Reserve California (2012)
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7.
Ravenswood Zinfandel Sonoma Old Vines (2011)
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8.
Mud Pie Zinfandel (2010)
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9.
Kenwood Zinfandel Sonoma Valley (2011)
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10.
Plungerhead Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel (2011)
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Mentioned in this article

Comments

  • You continue to profile lower end wines that I would not drink. For a Zin fan, none of these are acceptable. I don't see the point of this exercise unless you want to be like cheap throw away magazines that try to foist lesser products on common consumers.

    Sep 17, 2014 at 6:42 AM


  • Snooth User: bunique
    833577 52

    I appreciate the profiles of less expensive wines since my income does not allow but for the occasional purchase of a $20+ bottle of wine. I would venture to guess that Richard-iii is not a "common" consumer that enjoys wine but does not have an unlimited budget to do so. Instead of berating the article and author perhaps Richard-iii could suggest some other less expensive zinfandels that are to his liking.

    Sep 17, 2014 at 9:05 AM


  • Richard iii have you actually tried any of the above mentioned wines? The Plungerhead is a Lodi wine and very good especially for the price point. I hope you are not one of "those" that judge a wine by it's name and/or price. Just because a wine is expensive does not mean it's good & just because a wine is inexpensive does not mean it's bad.

    Sep 17, 2014 at 9:25 AM


  • Snooth User: zinfandel1
    Hand of Snooth
    154660 1,085

    I am willing to splurge for really good zin. I prefer Ridge and Edmeades when it comes to zinfandel. A little more money but in the long run it is definitely worth it.

    Sep 17, 2014 at 9:25 AM


  • Snooth User: WilAE
    1277828 18

    Joel Gott is a favorite...2011 strong bodied, robust dark cherry flavor with a peppery sting. Restaurant price ranges high $40s to mid $50s...but well worth the expense. Yes, I'd rather buy it for home at a price that allows for evening feels by the fire.

    Sep 17, 2014 at 11:34 AM


  • Snooth User: dtrumpet
    966403 2

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with profiling lower end wines. We all know a $30-40 zin will be better than these. But sometime the wallet doesn't allow. There are a lot of zins at this price point and the results are mixed, seeing a tasting of wines people routinely shop for is helpful when Ridge or Green and Red or and other higher ends can't be afforded.
    And I can trust this list, because I second the appearance of Ravenswood so prominently. Having tried many in this price range, I have found them to consistently good for the money.
    Slightly more expensive but worth mentioning as good mid priced zins I would add Dashe, Peterson and BraZin.

    Sep 17, 2014 at 1:44 PM


  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,163

    Richard, poor Greg can never win. If he writes an article on Zinfandels that cost over $40, the first commenter will chastise him for pandering to elitists. However, I have to say that I love your passion. As a Zinfandel bigot, I would appreciate it if you would come back and tell us your favorites.

    Actually, I felt the most complelling part of this essay came in the opening paragraphs. I can understand Greg's thesis at the end of paragraph 2 and the following paragraph, but I'm not sure that I completely agree. I certainly can't argue with the sentence " cheap Zinfandel should be alcoholic, a little sweet, laden with vanilla and woody flavors and a bit jammy to success [sic]." However, I might argue that that theory should not be limited to low-dollar Zins. I have had many fairly pricy examples that fit that description. However, through trial and error, I am learning the makers who can avoid the overly fruited, overly alcoholic characteristics.

    Sep 17, 2014 at 3:06 PM


  • Snooth User: drgallup
    1258386 27

    I have a strong preference for Dry Creek zins & I see nothing wrong with a bit of "jamminess" in a zin. Ridge, Wilson, Segessio & Rosenblum are among my favorites. However, their prices have spiraled upward over the years to where I seldom buy them anymore. $40 for a bottle of Zin is out of my price range. I will try some of these as it is hard to find decent low priced zin. I've been drinking a lot more Portuguese & Spanish wines lately as it seems easy to find outstanding values.

    Sep 17, 2014 at 8:23 PM


  • Snooth User: gazelle851
    1537091 22

    Cline Zin should be on that list--really appealing and inexpensive bottle!

    Sep 18, 2014 at 8:48 AM


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