8 Elegant Zinfandels

GDP gives us his top 8 Zinfandels for summer


After last week’s look at value-oriented Zinfandel, I was pretty excited to jump into and taste some higher end wines. I love Zinfandel’s many iterations. From the Claret styles of yore to the fruit bombs that have made bold headlines and big points over the past decade, there is a great variety of styles well suited to many cuisines. Of course, many people instinctively pair Zinfandel with barbecue. That is a great a pairing, but with so many of these wines you really can do so much more.Zinfandel has become so much more than a barbecue wine. In truth, you would be hard pressed to find better values at this price point in the domestic market; only one reason why I think Zinfandel is truly America’s greatest grape. The unique flavor profile, drinkability and freshness of fruit in the best wines are immensely appealing to me, but they also allow for great Zins to be served with so many great dishes or on their own. I would not hesitate to pair any of the top wines here with grilled meats, naturally, but I can see them also working spectacularly well with a more refined dinner of duck or game birds. Zinfandel is growing up folks, so don’t be afraid to give it its due!

Photo courtesy of shutterstock images

2009 Alysian Bradford Mtn Block Three Zinfandel Sonoma County 14.5% $36

There’s plenty of oak here with a nose full of chocolate, tobacco, vanilla and crushed spices along with a hint of Iris. In the mouth, this is full-bodied but very well balanced. The assertive oak of the nose is fairly well integrated here with rugged and slightly lean black cherry fruit. There’s good acidity and ripe tannins but everything is rather well balanced, with the fruit turning redder on the back end and redder still on the raspberry-toned finish. Very long and finely balanced, showing a little bit of iron-tinged beef and soil on the finale. Fairly powerful but elegant and quite fresh, this is lovely. 93pts

2010 Dashe Florence Vineyard Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 14.1% $32

Gorgeous nose here, this is all wild fruit, dried flowers and nuanced fresh herbs that explode from the glass. A little softer on entry than expected, this soon fills the mouth with the aromas of the nose. Shows wild red berry fruit, pine cones, a touch of toasted nuttiness and blue flowers, with an almost herbs de Provence thing going on. The acidity pops on the back end and the firm base of polished tannins provides ample support. The finish is a bit short, though with sneaky length as the tannins begin to relax and let out a nice finale of watermelon rind freshness and great wild red berry fruit with hints of apple and cranberry to boot. 93pts

2009 Klinker Brick Winery Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi 15.8% $18

Wow, this is intensely briary and brambly on the nose. Super varietal with raspberry fruit, a hint of Thin Mints and black pepper. Rich, chewy and intense on entry, this is full throttle Zin with intense raspberry and wild strawberry flavors, wrapped up in some creamy oak with hints of hickory smoked meats. There's enough acidity here to keep things lively and the tannins are nice and firm if well covered by all this fruit. The finish is an explosion of varietal fruit, leaning towards the red cherry and strawberry end of the spectrum with gentle vanilla highlights and a lovely insinuation of herbal freshness. This holds its alcohol remarkably well. 91pts

2009 Bella Belle Canyon Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 14.3% $32

Subdued on the nose though what is here is very clean and very fresh. Forest floor accented aromas of wild berry jam, coconut and something both minty and lightly mushroomy. Plump on entry and a touch angular even, this is full-bodied and rich with fine wild cherry fruit up front that is pure and very well focused right through the mid-palate. The balance here improves with a little air. This has real height in the mouth with emerging wild berry nuances on the back end along with layered oak notes that build on the finish. The finish really builds as well, with good length and gathering intensity. That spicy mushroom tone adds wonderful detail to the freshness of the fruit here. Intense without being massive. I like this. 91pts

2010 Dashe Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 13.7% $27

Lots of blackberry fruit here along with floral tones and a decidedly herbal, spicy green top note. There is very nicely used wood here adding a floor of vanilla and butterscotch to the bouquet. Smooth, creamy, almost medium-bodied but rather chewy at the same time, this is not a bruiser but is rather well packed with stuff. The fruit is a bit darker on the palate showing some boysenberry and liquory cherry notes along with some gentle gingerbread spice, all wrapped up in slightly firm and drying tannins and underlain by good, juicy acidity. The finish is moderately long and a bit tannic today with some spicy wood notes, but the fruit powers through it all, popping on the finale with juicy wild cherry notes. This needs time to settle down, give it 12-18 months. 90pts

2009 Frank Family Zinfandel Napa Valley 15% $30

Liquory and deep, this reveals a ton of fruit on the nose, all baked in a pie with a light, toasty crust and served with a cup of freshly brewed black coffee. Black cherry and blackberry dominate with really nicely integrated wood spice forming a cigar box base. This is rather large-scaled, rich and slightly chewy with fine underlying acidity and soft tannins anchoring the palate. This is a rather sophisticated example of Zinfandel, capturing some of the best elements of the intense fruit of the grape and framing them well with nuanced spice and earth notes that linger on the long finish. Shows a bit of heat on the finale. 90pts

2009 Summers Four Acre Zinfandel Napa Valley 14.2% $34

Smoky oak, vanilla and espresso foam all come together on the nose along with some black pepper, black cherry and a hint of sweet pork. Full and broad in the mouth, this shows some assertive if polished tannins early on along with rich flavors of black cherry and black raspberry. There’s a certain hardness on the palate, though a nice brambly note emerges on the back end. The fruit pops just before the coffee and toasty oak emerge again on the moderately long finish. This is fairly intense Zin, well balanced but a little youthfully rambunctious. If you want to enjoy this now, throw a porterhouse on the BBQ, otherwise wait 12 months. 90pts

2008 Benessere Black Glass Vineyard Zinfandel Napa Valley 14.7% $32

This wine announces itself with an initial blast of truffle greeting the nose, following up with earthy, beefy and spicy aromas as well as some floral top notes, a hint of habanero chile and fine black cherry fruit. Lean on entry and a bit tight, this is not a fruit-forward wine. It is laden with earth, light notes of dried fruit and zesty black raspberry in the mouth. A bit of a throwback style. The finish continues the lean theme, throwing on a bit more wood spice but otherwise tending towards austerity and earthy length. This needs food. It does have a light herbal top note in the mouth adding additional complexity, but is not for everyone as it is a savory and austere if fully ripe Zinfandel. Powerful in its own right. 90pts

2009 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley 14.5% $38

A nose dominated by creamy vanilla oak, ash and leather shows faint hints of wild raspberry and dried strawberry fruit. On entry, this is smooth and seamless, a bit creamy and a touch soft for my palate, but it does deliver slow to build yet beautifully balanced flavors of plum, black cherry and a nice nutty accent. There is a lot of oak here, no doubt about that, and the oak tannins are a bit out of balance today, but this has the balance to age well for quite a long time. There’s a nice richness to the underlying fruit and already an emerging complexity accenting the plum, blueberry and boysenberry fruit on the back end. Elegant and finely balanced, though this needs 2-4 years for the wood to integrate. 89pts

2009 Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel Alexander Valley 14.5% $18

Big black cherry, blackberry fruit greets the nose with nuanced spice notes and accents of chocolate, carob and mint. Medium-full in the mouth, this shows lovely ripe tannins adding structure under the slightly creamy black fruit and anise-toned spice flavors. There’s a nice suggestion of something minty on the palate along with a hint of cocoa. The finish shows a nice pop of fruit with oak playing a decidedly supporting role here. Decent length and a really nice raspberry cream finale show the depth. 89pts

2009 Folie a Deux Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 14.5% $14
There’s a lot of caramel and licorice on the nose early on, though it is joined by black cherry, plum and a little bit of a bouillon note with time. This is smooth and soft with plenty of cherry and strawberry fruit layered over lightly toasty and spicy oak. There’s lovely balance here, both structurally and with the flavors. While this may not blow anyone away, it’s a really well done bottle of Zin that shows off the wine’s fruity side without turning monolithic. The finish shows a bit of darker fruit but the tannins remain soft and the hint of sugar here drives the finish to a red currant jam/cocoa powder finale. 89pts

2007 Del Carlo Old Vine Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 15% $32
A bit reticent on the nose building with layers of earth, mint, black currant and chocolate covered cherry aromas. Very smooth on entry with nicely defined cherry flavors early on the palate. Then, notes of blueberry, candied cherry and well integrated wood spice. The tannins are soft but present, as is the acidity. The finish is nice and bright with wild berry and raspberry notes supported by a very judicious use of oak, good length as well as persistence of fruit. A bit subtle but well put together. 89pts

2009 Bella Maple Vineyards Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 14.4% $32

Lots of oak here with deep, oily notes of cloves joined by dried herb tones and a fennel top note. This is lovely in the mouth, very transparent with a red raspberry core that shows attractive purity picking up earth-driven spice accents on the mid-palate. The tannins are crisp and well judged and the acidity is sufficient to keep things bright. There is an effortlessness to this wine that is attractive; it’s not the biggest nor the most intense, but it is persistent and shows admirable purity. This would benefit from being served at the table today, but I can see this aging well for up to a decade. 88pts

2009 Clif Family Winery Gary’s Improv Zinfandel Napa Valley 14.5% $32

Very varietal on the nose, a bit creamy and with a nice oak spice base. This delivers plenty of brambly blackberry fruit with gentle, almost floral top notes and a hint of Red Hots. Soft, creamy and rich in the mouth, there’s plenty of fresh black cherry and black plum fruit here and it really lies over the oak like a blanket. On the finish, the oak pops through with caramel and butterscotch flavors along with drying tannins. There’s also a bit of heat here marring the finish. This is a fairly big, rich and intense example of Zinfandel, structured and dense. 88pts

2008 V Sattui Black Sears Vineyard Zinfandel Howell Mountain Napa Valley 15% $44

Pretty medicinal on the nose with a fair amount of toasty oak, vanilla and cedary notes accenting the core of minty, dried blackberry fruit. Smooth and a bit soft, this shows of a lovely combination of earth and fruit-driven flavors all gently wrapped in some creamy, lightly caramelly oak flavors. The tannins are pretty firm here, adding a bit of pepperiness to the palate. The fruit is a bit restrained, nicely showing off black cherry notes on the palate and making this a bit tough around the edges. I do find the muscular nature, clean fruit and cocoa-dusted finish appealing. This could use three years in the cellar. 88pts

2009 Murphy-Goode Liar’s Dice Zinfandel Sonoma County 15.5% $17
This is pretty intense on the nose with fleshy fruits, wild cherry aromas and a very well integrated cigar box and vanilla-toned veneer. Very smooth on entry, this is fairly seamless with lots of red berry fruit that is fresh and juicy, showing a cognac cream edge from the wood along with some sandpaper tannins. The finish is large-scaled with cherries jubilee and plenty of wood spice. A bit aggressive today but long and flavorful. 88pts
2009 Sausal Private Reserve Zinfandel Alexander Valley 14.7% $20

Toasty on the nose but also quite spicy. Full of nuanced Middle Eastern spice notes of cumin, coriander and fenugreek along with some black pepper, all over some fudgy black raspberry fruit. Rich, round and creamy in the mouth with super fine tannins and enough acidity to keep the raspberry and cherry fruit fresh. This has a lovely texture, at once both tense and soft, with some nice earthy nuances creeping in on the back end along with a nice base note of old wood. The moderate finish is very fresh and crisp, full of high-toned cherry and raspberry fruit along with subtle old wood accents. I wouldn’t mind a bit more acidity and length, but this is pretty attractive. 88pts

2009 Sausal Family Zinfandel Alexander Valley 14.5% $17

Creamy and lightly spicy oak accents add vanilla and toasted cinnamon Pop Tart notes to the fruit here, which shows red cherry and raspberry notes. Smooth and medium weight on entry, this shows a nice bed of tannin and good acidity supporting a nice balance of raspberry fruit and spicy oak notes. The fruit turns a bit blacker on the back end, which gives way to a slightly oak-dominated finish. This is fairly elegant and long, certainly not a bruiser though I do think it needs 12 -18 months to fully integrate. 87pts

2008 Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 14.5% $28

A little smoky and earthy on the nose with some leathery notes accenting the spicy, candied black berry fruit. There’s a nice streak of vanilla here as well as some spice notes, but the fruit still has the starring role. A little lean on entry, this shows off some pretty aggressive acidity and fine grained yet abundant tannins on entry, all supporting earthy, slightly lean and slightly herbal blackberry fruit. The finish is a bit dry and tough with attractive bitter chocolate notes and fairly noticeable wood tannin on the long finale. A bit raw around the edges, this could stand a year or three in the cellar to see what develops, but I think it will never be generous. 87pts
2010 Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel California 15% $15
A little blueberry-toned on the nose with some cocoa and a nice aromatic wood note accenting the black raspberry fruit. This is light and fairly bright with acidity supporting the blueberry notes from the nose. There’s a light lashing of vanilla here along with some toasty wood spice accenting the core of light black berry fruit. Easy and smooth with soft and juicy tannins making this easy to drink, though it does drop off a touch on the finish. 87pts

2010 Frei Brothers Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 14.9% $20

Spicy blackberry and bramble greet the nose along with gentle oak notes of toasted nuts, dried ginger and a bit of nutmeg. Round, soft and transparent in the mouth, this has great Zin character with red cherry and wild raspberry flavors bursting in the mouth. It’s medium-bodied and middle of the road in style, so it’s not going to make many go wow, but it is a classic Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel with great flavors and balance. This really does have some great aromatics, though the finish is a bit on the short side. Still, this is an easy to drink, easy to like Zinfandel. 87pts

2009 Sbragia Family Vineyards La Promessa Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 15.5% $34

Fairly complex on the nose with notes of vanilla, coffee, raw beef and matchstick all over medicinal black cherry fruit. This is soft, creamy and rich with big black cherry flavors that show some intensity and depth but ultimately seem a bit monolithic. The oak nicely plays its supporting role with more spice and chocolate emerging on the finish, but this is just a bit too intense and powerful for my palate. Others looking for intensity will love this wine and its long black raspberry, black cherry finale. 87pts

2009 Lake Sonoma Winery Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 15% $16
A bit woody on the nose, though it has attractive cedar and spice notes over licorice-draped black cherry fruit. This is nicely plump on entry with a classic vanilla, black cherry fruit profile that offers up flashes of blueberry and strawberry with the wine’s relatively bright profile. A little creamy in the mouth, this finishes with jammy and lightly spicy black cherry fruit. Simple yes, but it does ring all the right bells. 87pts
2009 Kenwood Zinfandel Sonoma County 14.5% $14
Very lightly scented with a nice cocoa top note and some tarragon, mint and soapy floral notes all topping light berry fruit notes. This is lovely, a bit small-scaled and a bit simple. It shows fine balance, soft tannins that add a hint of mouth grab, and fresh flavors of berries, cream and vanilla, topped with a touch of dried strawberry. It’s another simple wine but one that is easy to drink and true to type. It turns a little dry on the finish, but pair this with a nice rack of beef ribs and that will be the last thing you notice. 86pts

2009 Darcie Kent De Mayo Vineyards Zinfandel Livermore Valley 14.5% $30

With aromas of old wood and something vaguely dirty here, this takes a while to pull itself together. Air does reveal some spicy carob notes and vaguely red currant like fruit. Very smooth on entry and pretty well balanced, this actually has a lovely mouth feel, fairly full but bright and lively. The flavors tend towards subtle with a bit of sour cherry, some dried strawberry, a hint of earth and a little late arriving vanilla all coming together nicely. The finish is a touch lean and drying. The tannins here really are managed very well. There’s nice length to the finish, which shows a certain unripe cherry tone. I like this more than others might. It’s a bit in the Claret mold of Zinfandel and doesn’t show great varietal typicity, but it is a pleasure to drink. Will show better with food. 85pts

2009 Bella Barrel 32 Zinfandel Sonoma County 14.5% $40

This is decidedly oaky on the nose with notes of dried mushroom, caramel, white pepper and allspice accenting the reticent core of blackberry fruit. This is large-scaled in the mouth, though it is quite soft and creamy. There's some attractive fruit here but it lacks a middle, with the wine fairly dropping off the palate. The fruit perks up on the back end, aided by some wood spice and showing a nice wild red cherry note before fading quickly on the modest finish. It seems like there is a lot here, but the wine feels fairly closed at this point. It’s big, that’s for sure, and the finish shows some nice potential, but today this is a bit simple and dull. 86pts

2009 Tamas Zinfandel Central Coast 15% $11
Lovely nose shows gentle layers of blackberries, strawberry and brambly spice. Smooth and a touch sweet in the mouth, this delivers a nicely vanilla-framed core of rather black cherry fruit, with accent notes of wood spice and pepper adding complexity. There’s a little meatiness to the black spice on the back end, along with a hint of some stemmy herbs that turn into something more licorice and medicinal toned on the slightly sweet finish. Pretty good stuff with good varietal character. 85pts
2010 Predator Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi 15% $15
This smells like grilled meat. Charry and beefy with teriyaki and smoked hickory nut top notes. Pretty sweet on entry, this is a large-scaled wine and is fairly well balanced at that, delivering slightly candied and grape flavors to the palate along with hints of herbs and bramble that become more obvious on the back end, as do the dry wood tannins here. The finish is a bit harsh and woody, covered by sugar but still peeking through. This will have its fans, but it is not particularly typical. 84pts

2010 Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Zinfandel Mendocino Co. 14.5% $17

Sweet and caramelly on the nose with notes of carob, dill and smoke. This is broad and very soft in the mouth with spicy herbal/vanilla-tinged blackberry fruit topped with some dill and wood spice. You can’t fault it for lacking flavor or complexity, but it does feel extracted on the finish with surprising fruit tannins for Zinfandel. There is not much length here either. All in all, a perfectly serviceable and somewhat varietal Zin, but there are better options at this price. 84pts

2008 Rutherford Ranch Zinfandel Napa Valley 15.5% $17
A little alcoholic on the nose, though this does show nice raspberry, briar and fennel seed notes underlain with some spicy vanilla oak and a touch of tar. Big in the mouth but not terribly heavy, this is rather dark tasting with plenty of licorice and toffee notes wrapped around the core of raspberry and prune fruit. Shows a nice layering of wood spice. A big wine that’s a touch disjointed, needs food to tame it. 84pts

2009 Ghost Pines Zinfandel 85% Sonoma Co/15% San Joaquin Co 14.5% $20

This has a really nice balsamic edge to the nose, bordering on eucalyptus with some smoky oak top notes over creamy raspberry fruit that shows some pomegranate spice. Soft and a little low acid in the mouth, this does deliver a nice array of varietal flavors, bramble, blackberry and spice. This has a nice black cherry follow through but the finish fades away and the wine is just a little too ponderous. A bit sticky and extracted on the finish as well. 84pts

2009 Bella Big River Ranch Zinfandel Alexander Valley 14.7% $34

Oaky and dark on the nose with notes of fudge, dried fruits and mocha all topped with a eucalyptus edge. Rich and mouth-filling, this is a touch soft in the mouth and has many of the same slightly dried fruit- and amber-toned flavors that were apparent with the nose. The fruit on the back end is lean with some sour cherry notes, but is overshadowed by tough oaky and chocolate notes. Well made but not a lot to actually like here. 82pts

2008 Cakebread Cellars Zinfandel Red Hills Lake County 15.2%

This smells ripe and oaky with alcoholic heat on the nose. Soft in the mouth and sort of formless, this delivers modest cherry berry fruit in a loose style with a finish that is dominated by grainy, papery wood tannins. Out of balance and unattractive. 70pts



8 Elegant Zinfandels

Alysian Bradford Mtn Block Three Zinfandel (2009)
List It
Dashe "Les Enfants Terribles" Mcfadden Farm Potter Valley More United States Zinfandel (2010)
List It
Klinker Brick Zin 375 (2009)
List It
Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves Zinfandel Belle Canyon Estate (2009)
List It
Frank Family Zinfandel Napa Valley Wines Domestic Zinfandel (2009)
List It
Benessere Zinfandel St. Helena Estate Black Glass (2008)
List It
Summers Four-Acre Zinfandel Italian Miscellaneous White Miscellaneous White (2009)
List It
Dashe Zinfandel Dry Creek (2010)
List It

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Billr85
    1122577 23

    Not one from Paso Robles area??

    Aug 07, 2012 at 4:35 PM

  • Snooth User: tracyd
    208444 45

    My two (three) faves didn't make it, either... From Michael David - Earthquake and Seven Deadly Zins. And a new favorite - Edmead. That last one was a complete surprise.

    Aug 07, 2012 at 7:03 PM

  • I agree with comment about Paso Robles

    Aug 07, 2012 at 8:34 PM

  • Snooth User: Capnkrusty
    613797 31

    I have had 4 of those wines and absolutely agree that they are excellent. I just have to say you need to try the 2010 Dashe (both) with grilled Lamb, it doesn't get any better!

    Aug 08, 2012 at 12:13 AM

  • Snooth User: skwirskm
    985184 19

    Glad to see that Frank Family made it in there. Drank a bottle last week and loved it! Excellent wine!

    Aug 08, 2012 at 11:39 AM

  • Snooth User: homestar
    512161 83

    I haven't had any of these wines, some great zins I have had are Talty, Joseph Swan, and Cosentino. Seghesio hasn't been mentioned in the zin series,despite having two wines in the WS top 20 or so the last few years. These lists only prove GDP's basic point that there is a lot of very good Zinfandel being made, eh?

    Aug 09, 2012 at 8:20 AM

  • Snooth User: Buds Girl
    1126909 22

    Seghesio and Frog's Leap....

    Aug 10, 2012 at 2:20 PM

  • Don't forget Sausal and Nalle

    Aug 12, 2012 at 2:25 PM

  • Totally agree with you, Zinfandel is the best wine I have ever tasted. Among red wines, of course

    Aug 14, 2012 at 8:56 AM

  • Snooth User: Hrabrina
    291264 11

    Hendry and Turley

    Sep 07, 2012 at 1:32 AM

  • Snooth User: Caveman6
    1279793 15

    Oh, I'm crying...This wine is so delicious, but I can't drink it 'cause I keep to the diet


    Apr 27, 2013 at 2:08 AM

  • Snooth User: jamchimps
    1385295 43

    Thats very good...

    Oct 28, 2013 at 2:47 AM

Add a Comment

Search Articles

Best Wine Deals

See More Deals

Snooth Media Network