Wine Talk

Snooth User: jamessulis

New on the block with Zinfandel

Posted by jamessulis, Jan 23, 2013.

Being a cab lover I am hesitant to stray from what I like. On a recent occasion I had the opportunity to try a Zinfandel and to my amazement, it had some of the same attributes of the cabernets I love so well. I perused Snooth and stopped on a particular zin from Bogle vineyards. Gregory Dal Piaz gave it a nice rating and being a member of Snooth for quite a while I trust Gregs opinions. So off to the store for some zinfandel. Purchased a bottle of 2010 Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel  from Clarksburg, Ca. Cannot wait to pop the top and imbibe with some pasta of my choice (white sauce). I am extremely interested in hearing from Snooth members about their Zinfandel experiences.

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Reply by amour, Jan 23, 2013.

Zinfandel really surprised me!

I found most old vines Zin really interesting in flavour...outlandish!


Reply by GregT, Jan 23, 2013.

James - Zin is pretty much nothing like Cab. It is generally less tannic, lighter in body, has a different flavor profile, and is a completely different beast.

The Cab family of wines (Carmenere, Malbec, Merlot, Cab Franc, even Sauvignon Blanc) share some characteristics, the most apparent being a note of bell-pepper and a vegetal note that many other wines don't offer. In small amounts, it's a great addition to the complexity of the wine.

Zin ripens completely differently than Cab - more unevenly for one thing, so to ensure that the entire bunch is ripe, people tend to let some of it get riper. Usually, but not always, it's likely to have a higher alcohol level. That's a big generalization obviously, but it's kind of a rule of thumb. And again a generalization, but it's usually "fruitier" if that makes sense, in the way that say, Grenache is fruitier than Merlot. That's hard to quantify, but drink a few and you'll get what I'm saying.

What will be similar is the fact that a lot of winemakers put it into barrels for an extended time, so it picks up that woody note that I think you kind of like. When it ages for like 10 years or so, it either just dies or it drops that major fruit note and starts to be more similar to a Cab. Some people age them, others figure that's completely destroying the thing that makes Zin so unique and delicious.

They're starting to get expensive these days, which is a shame, but they're still usually a lot cheaper than Cab.

And for me, they come in several distinct genres.  There's the big, thick, ripe, blockbuster type and my hunch is that you'll like those. Turley might be the best known, but at a lower price point, you should try the Earthquake Zin or it's little brother, Seven Deadly Zins. Those are full-throttle wines and I'm certain that you'd like them. They're pretty good, truth be told, but some people find them overdone. Ravenswood is another like those, but less immense. Unfortunately, the Vinters Blend, which is the cheapest, isn't very good. You have to pay like $25 for one of the better ones and you'll be a happy man.  Four Vines is another you might look at - even their most basic bottling is nice and it's not that expensive either. We had some the other day.

Then there are the "claret" kinds of zins, that are more elegant. Ridge would be in that camp. A very nice and not so well known one would be Downing Family Fly by Night. Very good, not overdone, sweet fruit, just good. Another might be the current version of Fife Old Vines - his Cab is higher alc than his Zin! D-Cubed from Howell Mountain is another - I just picked some up on sale, which is good because it's a little pricy. 

Then there are the "Pinot Noir" kind of Zins. That's my personal description. Those are the grapey kinds of things that are thinner, lighter-bodied, and remind me of Pinot Noir. Some people like those too. One that you might want to look at is one that Greg DP sold me about 10 years ago, Sobon. It's under $12 most places and surprisingly good for what you pay. Should be a model of how to market wine, but unfortunately, it isn't.

Regarding that Bogle, don't judge the entire grape based on that bottle! I'll just say it's not my fave. Try Rancho Zabaco - I think the pricing is similar.

Rosenblum has a million different bottlings but they're kind of spotty - it's almost hit or miss.

Anyhow, let us know what you find in your explorations.


Reply by jamessulis, Jan 23, 2013.

First of all let me say "duh" for comparing Cabs to Zins. What the hell I was thinking? .A strong reason why I'm a  member of Snooth is there are  real people talking to real people with some of the greatest wine opinionated  minds around to be willing to share their knowledge with their fellow Snoothers.. I opened the Bogle Zinfandel and had it with a fresh salad and some Linguine. The Linguine sauce was,diced fresh garlic, red pepper and red onion with oregano sautéed in olive oil with hot Italian sausage. The wine was very nice with the dish.I have decided that I like the Zinfandel very much and is probably an extension of my palate that I didn't know existed. I'm happy I found it. Thanks GREGT for your valuable comments. I did see the 7 Deadly Zins on the shelf but grabbed the Bogle instead. I'll be shopping soon for the heavier Zins you suggested in your post. AMOUR, your comments are priceless! 

Reply by JonDerry, Jan 24, 2013.

Love the Zin commentary Greg...can't forget what crowd pleasers those Ridge Zins can be. Mild-Medium tannins probably have a lot to do with it along with the tasty fruit.

Reply by amour, Jan 25, 2013.

Good heavens!!!  I was not really planning to get back on Zin....anyway....I guess I cannot resist debate, especially on Snooth, the love of my life!!!!!

As many of you may be aware, there is always discussion among wine people, on BALANCE and ZIN.

One may ask: TO WHAT END???

BALANCE may be so subjective, after all!

The matter may be pure and simple: whether one likes the wine or not!

And in any event, does BALANCE have to do more with terroir, context, culture, than with technical benchmarks and measurements?

I honestly feel that fruit-forward CLARET STYLE ZIN comes over as more interesting and bordering on some complexity, as against the jam jar fuit bomb typical ZIN. A lean structured Burgundy ZIN is definitely not!

Zin is not about subtle aromatics, herbs, organised flavour, and very solid, well-integrated structure; that's Bordeaux indeed!  But it is the very thing that Zin is not, that makes for the excitement on my least Zin is sometimes a welcome change, not a particular favourite perhaps, but a good change!  And everyone is welcoming a change on the palate, especially if one is grown-up!!!!

(By the way, I do taste fruit aromatics in some Zin.  And I like that aspect too.)

As I understand it, from my California wine friends, most Zin makers are striving to bring out the best in their Zin. As GregT pointed out, uneven clustering, green berries and raisins on the same cluster, means that alcohol levels increase after crush. ( By the way, Dry Creek and Rockpile AVA produce more even cluster maturity, resulting in more solid Zin.)

 The softer side Zin of Turley, Bedrock, and Carlisle, as well as Dashe Cellars are truly rewarding, in my opinion.  Turley is said to be bringing back Zin to the Claret days.

Big Bold Zin has its place in the world, but the movement towards 70's style Zin is also welcome as well.

In any event, Zin drinkers are increasing!  Some feel that this increase has nothing to do with MOVEMENT TOWARDS CLARET STYLE, but precisely because better wines are being produced; vineyards are being more carefully farmed, general husbandry is improving, meticulous sorting is now the order of the day.

Let us all buy our Zin for its character, its special personality!


CHEERS! amour!

Reply by amour, Jan 25, 2013.

St Francis Zinfandel Old Vines is the one I drank first, at a BBQ.

It cost around $20 per bottle, in Miami, Florida.

Long interesting finish, cigar-box taste.

Bold. Yes.

Try it; you might like it!

Reply by GregT, Jan 25, 2013.

James - I have a hunch you'd love a lot of Zins, based on the stuff you say you like. Actually that St. Francis mentioned above is worth trying. They're worth looking at in general - they make what they call a "claret" that's not too shabby and the price is usually under $15.  It's a blend of Cab, Merlot, and Zin. If you try the Deadly Zins, and you like that, you HAVE to try the Earthquake Zin by the same producer. Will probably be around $20. It's big stuff - clocks in at 16%, but it's memorable.

Reply by zufrieden, Jan 25, 2013.

Excellent review of the  attractions and detractions of Zinfandel.  I find this humble grape a winner for the price, but prefer those under 6 years of age from harvest.  There is - as was eloquently put by GregT - absolutely no (lasting) similarity between Cab Sauv and Zin, but given the marketing push toward a lowest common denominator of taste it is not exactly surpising that we find comparisons of the type you raise, James.  You could well be hoodwinked.

I have been (of late) reliant on my niece for the information on demand for Zin in restaurant settings, and find that "full throttle" (to borrow a phrase) is the term temporis momentum but that this is not necessarily the preference of the writer.  I love the wines of Calabria (Italy) so I find that the Zin (full throttle or not) meets my palate in terms of need.

Compare the Shiraz of under-20 dollar wines from South Australia for a little understanding of what is going on in the marketing world today...

Nice thread.

Reply by Ivesreeves, Jan 25, 2013.

To Greg T's and Zufrieden's point re: misguided comparisons between Cab Sauv and Zin wines, I recollect the polarity between those who like one over the other being the source of some fun in a wine club I belonged to years ago.  During our monthly gatherings we would routinely play scrabble. Teams were divided by their allegiance to either Zin or Cab and we good naturedly named each others team. The names? The Zinfandel Infadels and the The Cab Scabs. Isn't that fun?

Reply by jamessulis, Jan 25, 2013.

IVESREEVES, Did the team Zin create a din and did the team Cab just gab? I'm getting information that I am trying to digest and at best I believe that I have not tried too many Zins to get the differences spoken about within the Zinfandel family. Time will heal my understanding. One of the questions to pose here: What the heck is an Old World Vine? Does it have any significance to heavier Cabernet preferences which I adore? Will Zins that are Old World Vine always state so on the bottle?  Meanwhile as this post develops further I will try and solve my own questions through research which I find a relaxing way to visit and search the Web. I plan on trying Earthquake and 7 Deadly Zins in the very near future. Further investigating on my part is necessary to appease my curiosity.  

Reply by GregT, Jan 25, 2013.

I think very serious investigations are in order Inspector!!

As I'm sitting here right now drinking an unenjoyable Chianti, I'm wondering why I didn't open a Zin tonight.

But your post above raised an entirely different issue and you should make that a separate thread entirely. In fact, there may have been one, either here or on some other board.

And be careful - you said "What the heck is an Old World Vine?"

Not to be a nudge, but the expression is "Old Vine", not "Old World".

That matters because people become very passionate about old vines.

I'll give you my abbreviated version.

"Old Vine" really doesn't mean anything, because it's not a trademarked or legally protected or mandated term. Really, it only means vines that you and your brother didn't plant in the couple of years.

But there's more.

There were a lot of Italians who moved to CA to become zillionaires during the 1849 Gold Rush and who moved there to farm during the big Italian immigration to the US in the late 1800s. "Real" Americans drank whiskey but the Italians drank wine and they were mostly peasants, so they planted the grapes to make it.

At some point, somebody carried over an old Croatian grape that was also grown in south Italy, where it was named Primitivo.  Some guy in New York was selling it as Zinfandel, and that got carried out to California, probably by some Italians who had landed on Ellis Island, but the exact journey is unclear. The Italians planted the grapes they knew - Charbono, Primitivo, Barbera, and a number of others. Other people, who wanted to emulate France, brought Cab and Merlot and Syrah.

Well, those peasants died off, their offspring went on to different careers, and then we instituted Prohibition. A lot of vineyards were simply abandoned. Some stayed on and if you look at a lot of the names in the US wine industry, many are Italian.

In the 1980s, when the US wine industry was taking off, people started finding vineyards that had been abandoned and uncared for. And guess what? A lot of them had Zinfandel planted.

There wasn't a lot of science associated with vineyard planting in the 1800s, and since there was no DNA sampling, there wasn't always an understanding of exactly what was being planted, and most importantly, the peasants didn't even want to plant a single variety - they always planted a mix. That way if it was a little too cold or too hot or budding came late or frost early, they'd still get some wine. Monoculture is really a feature of today. Even where it was mandated, in places like Burgundy, people did massale selection.

And then just look at the name "Primitivo". It isn't something that makes you think this grape is royalty.

In recent years, while people at UC Davis and Fresno and scientists over in Bordeaux were studying the best ways to plant and grow grapes, those old abandoned vineyards were doing just fine each year and sometimes only birds and deer were eating the grapes. Eventually people started harvesting those grapes in the "modern" era and they found out that those old abandoned grapes were pretty good and that they made pretty good wine.

So if you're a marketing guy and you have a choice, what story do you pick:

"The grapes were grown on vines that we planted six years ago."

Or do you tell the story I told above?

There's a romance that you get when you tell people that your grapes come from some old vineyards. As a rule of thumb, people call "old vines" something over 50 years old, but that's not mandated anywhere.

And because nobody really cared all that much about Zin, you find a lot of Zin old vines. Not so much Cab, which is more recent. CA used to have a lot of Carignan as well and it's a pity, but most of that was ripped up to plant Cab or to plant subdivisions. Used to have a lot of Barbera too, and maybe there's still some of that around.

An entirely different question is whether the old vines are simply romantic or whether they actually produce different wine than young vines.

I am certain that I have posted on that before. I know I posted elsewhere.

But in short, the answer is that it really comes down to a kind of religious thing. Science does not support that contention.  Romance and passion however, have a different take.

There are people who have created an organization that is trying to preserve some of those old vineyards and old vines. I can't say that I oppose their efforts or their sentiments.

And "old vines" are not limited to the US. In France you often see labels that say "Vielles Vignes", and the wine industry in Priorat, Spain, is built around the idea that there are old vines in the region. Interestingly, the reputation was NOT made on those old vines. But whatever. The oldest producing vines on the planet are in Australia. Remember, that in the late 1800s, phylloxera wiped out most of Europe's vines.

So there you are.

Hope that helps!

Reply by outthere, Jan 26, 2013.

Those people are the Historic Vineyard Society and I am an avid supporter. These old vines are the oldest  surviving wine grape plantings in California and are a part of its wine heritage.  As Greg noted many of these vineyards are planted in multiple varieties. Some have as many as 30 different grapes planted. Some are there for acidity, others for tannin, some for color and others for fruit. 

As for old vines vs new vines where Zinfandel blends are concerned the old vine produce a much smaller yield but the flavors are much more intense and complex. While many of these wines will be labeled Zinfandel they can have as much as 25% blended other blacks and whites. Each vineyard is planted to a different field blend and when combined with unique soils in each area they all produce wines with extremely different characters from one another.

Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Mataro, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane, Mourvèdre, Grand Noir, LeNoir, Cinsault, Valdigue, Chasselas, Syrah, Tempranillo, Trousseau, Mission, Muscadelle, Semillon etc are just some of the varieties interplanted.

Lefty, if you are willing to splurge a bit more on price you can venture into some of these older field blends. Low yields create a higher retail price from your bargain basement sub-$10 Zinfandel but the experience is so much more enjoyable.

Ridge, Bedrock, Carlisle, Turley, Bucklin, Ravenswood, Seghesio, Mauritson, Martinelli... just to name a few Sonoma County locals, are producing exceptional wines form these Old Vines. Definitely something to seek out if you get an itch for it.
Plus they're just sexy old things too
Martinelli Jackass Hill
Funny this thread emerges when it does. I'm putting together an Old Vine Field Blend offline in Santa Rosa in early March and we are enjoying many of these wines going back to early 1990s vintages.
Reply by jamessulis, Jan 26, 2013.

Tried the 2010 7 deadly zins and the 2009 Rutherford ranch old vine zinfandel and looks like I'm on the way to really liking the old vine zinfandels. Both wines were almost black in color, deep flavor and peppery. Hints of chocolate was also to my liking. Will continue to explore others that were recommended here on Snooth.. Found a Fred Meyer adjacent to the Columbia River in Vancouver Washington that has a storehouse of many wines, most of which I thought were unavailable. I am extremely happy that I found a store to shop for hundreds of different wines and also thrilled that my palate has been extended to enjoy Zinfandel.

Reply by GregT, Jan 26, 2013.

It's that peppery quality that I love. Love it in any wine actually. You get it sometimes in Syrah and Blaufrankish.

So if I were you,one day I'd try the 6th Sense Syrah by the same producer. Has that peppery note and a hint of bacon or meat that makes it a classic Syrah, even tho it's in that same bombastic style. Tasty stuff for the cold winter!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 29, 2013.

OT covered almost all my favorite Zins, but I have to share a story from Mike Talty, who makes great Zins in Dry Creek:  His vines are all 40 plus years old, there when he bought the property, planted on St. George Rootstock so he missed the phylloxera last time around.  One of his neighbors planted vines 8 years ago and started selling the wine as Old Vines--even though it takes 4 years before you get usable fruit! 

The vines up in Rockpile are, in many cases, not terribly old because the area had been ranched and farmed up until the dam was built that formed Lake Sonoma.  But the lake changed the microclimate by acting as a heat sink/store to moderate temperatures and made it better for ripening Zin than just about anywhere on the planet. Oddly, the really old vines are sometimes in places that you don't think of as wine country.  They were planted on areas that weren't good for other crops, like the sands in Delhi, a town in the Central Valley, or the Evangelho and Live Oak vineyards in Contra Costa County.  These survived (not wholly, but they survived) almost because they weren't well known or crowded out by other uses. 

I asked Clay Mauritson last year about Zin's tendency to ripen unevenly and he told me that his brother had written his master's thesis on the subject and discovered a pruning/trimming method involving cutting off the shoulders of the bunches that improved ripening and, in blind taste tests, flavor. 

Lefty, welcome to Zin--it's a journey all its own.

Reply by jamessulis, Jan 29, 2013.

Thanks FOXALL, this has been a nice post for me and an education not only for myself but for all who decided to check it out. The information here is valued.

Reply by penguinoid, Jan 30, 2013.

You may (or may not) be interested to know there is a small amount of zinfandel planted in Australia. There's some in South Australia, and I think some in West Australia. Kanarilla Road, from Mclaren Vale, is a good example of one from South Australia:

I've yet to try many US zinfandels, though, so can't make much of a comparison. The price on US wines seems to inflate somewhat by the time they get out to Australia. Eg, Ridge Lytton Springs (one I'm keen to try) is $37.00/bottle from the cellar door in the US, but $69.78 (AU$66.66) or more by the time it gets to Australia (another price I saw was $90.55/AU$86.50), so that will have to wait...

Reply by outthere, Jan 30, 2013.

Funny you mention Evanghelo Fox, as many of those Central Valley vineyards along the Hwy 4 / 160 intersection are on PG&E and or DuPont property and is leased back for farming. They use the vineyards as buffers for the other things going on at the plants. That's why they have lasted so long and not been torn up or developed over. Grown in sand they are immune from Phylloxera because it cannot survive in sand. Look for them to continue to provide great fruit for years to come.

Reply by EMark, Jan 30, 2013.

Lefty, I, too, am all over the list of Zin makers that OT provided above.  To that I am also going to add this low-dollar suggestion--Oak Ridge Ancient Vines (I guess their marketing guy felt he had to outdo the "Old Vines" crowd.) from Lodi.  It comes in at about $10.

I also will add the opinion that Zinfandel does age wonderfully.  Just my opinion, but  I'm still saying that one of the most ethereal wines I have ever experienced was a Zinfandel from the 1994 vintage that I had a couple years ago..

Reply by Richard Foxall, Jan 30, 2013.

Some of the Ridge wines age really well.  I've had Taltys that made it to seven years, but beyond that? Most Zins don't have that kind of longevity.

OT, thanks for making that point about the sand and phylloxera.  I've seen that elsewhere, but no one had brought it up here.  There are other places where the vines were grown in sand and are much older.

I recently picked up some of Matt Cline's Zin from Live Oak--only two acres survived when it was torn up to build condos. Luckily the market for the apartments collapsed before they could expand into the last two acres.  Saving those historic vineyards is very worthwhile.  Funny that it is often an accident of history because someone wants to make a power plant less visible.  Not sure John Muir would approve, but it's an imperfect world. 

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