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The Zinfandel Grape

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About Zinfandel

(Synonyms: Black St. Peters, Crljenak Kaštelanski, Gioia Del Colle, Locale, Morellone, Plavac Veliki, Primaticcio, Primativo, Primitivo, Primitivo Di Gioia, Primitivo Nero, Taranto, Uva Della Pergola, Uva Di Corato, Zeinfandall, Zenfendal, Zinfandal, Zinfardel, Zinfardell, Zinfindal, Zinfindel, ZPC)


Zinfandel grapes Map showing California's wine regions

Zinfandel is a red-wine grape originating in the Puglia region of southern Italy, where it was and is known as "Primitivo" (and possibly it was grown in Croatia even before that); but its fame arose from its development in California, where its ultimate source was long a much-debated mystery till recently modern DNA identification pinned that source down.

Zin (as it is often called) is probably vinifed in as wide variety of styles as any grape out there: it can range from bland, mild jug wines to huge, powerful tannic monsters to sweet dessert wines, and everywhere in between. (And that is not even to speak of that abomination known as "White Zinfandel", and not speak of it is what we will do.)

Though Primitivo is now not as obscure as it was before its identification with Zinfandel, for all practical purposes Zins are a California product. Certain regions in California have become associated with certain styles of Zin, though of course that can only be a rough guide. Here they are more or less as Wikipedia recounts them:

  • Amador County: big, full-bodied, extra-ripe and thus jammy, briary, and brambly, with aromas of sweet berries.

  • Santa Cruz Mountains: complex and deep.

  • Dry Creek Valley: juicy, with bright fruit, balanced acidity, and notes of blackberry, anise and pepper, often spicy though balanced.

  • Paso Robles: soft and round.

  • Napa Valley: plummy and intense, tasting of red berry fruits with cedar and vanilla; tends toward claret styling.

  • Russian River Valley: typically spicy and somewhat lower in alcohol than most Zins; in poor years, unduly acidic.

  • Mendocino County: "high quality" (style unspecified).

  • Lodi: juicy and approachable, often from old vines.

Italian Primitivo may now be lawfully labelled as Zinfandel in both Europe and the U.S. Some Italian vintners choose to do so to make their wines more recognizeable, while others retain the old name hoping to sell on its "Old World" aura. Most Italian bottlings remain rustic high-alcohol versions, though some makers now use oak aging to rmulate American Zin styling. (Curiously, though, in America the label must be one or the other: makers cannot put both names on the same bottle, leading to such nonsenses as a bottle specifying that its contents are a Zinfandel-Primitivo blend.)

High alcohol is not an artifact of Italian winemaking: it is natural to the grape. Many California Zins are quite high in alcohol (often to a greater extent thatn the label shows, as there is more legal slack in that number than is commonly realized); numbers like 15% or even (though rarely so labelled—winemakers are allowed +/- 1.5% leeway, which is a lot) 16% are not uncommon. Consequently, many Zins will taste as "hot". Nonetheless, most serious makers seem to feel that vinifying for lower alcohol tends to lose the nature of the grape (and terroir), and they hold that the tannins and other flavor elements make the wines quite drinkable even at such levels.

As you see, it is hard to generalize about the nature of Zinfandel wines, but broadly speaking, one expects a full-bodied, assertive wine tasting deeply of dark red fruit (notably cherry) and with a good deal of "oomph". There are lighter-weight versions as well, but Zin is rarely (if ever) a wine of delicacy or subtlety.

Because Zin is so popular (and such a good-selling wine), there is an awful lot of mediocre Zinfandel out there. Little or none is actually awful, but "Zin" is now like "Chard" or "Cab", a mass product that the lesser makers would like buyers to think of as fungible. More than ordinary care is wanted in selecting Zins to drink.

Factoid: Zinfandel represents about 10% of all wine consumption in the U.S., but the dire white goop outsells real Zin by about 6:1. Sigh.

Some Descriptions of Zinfandel Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "The grapes typically produce a robust red wine . .  The grape's high sugar content can be fermented into levels of alcohol exceeding 15 percent. The taste of the red wine depends on the ripeness of the grapes from which it is made. Red berry fruit flavors like raspberry predominate in wines from cooler areas, whereas blackberry, anise and pepper notes are more common in wines made in warmer areas and in wines made from the earlier-ripening Primitivo clone."

  • wineaccess

    "Zinfandel is not the rage it was in the 1980s and early 1990s, as there are now too many wines made from overripe fruit or from young vines, or overwhelmed by excessive use of new barrels. Today's Zinfandel styles range from elegant, taut, and claret-like midweights to superripe and potty behemoths, with off-the-charts alcohol levels, distinctly exotic character, and, frequently, noticeable residual sugar. Classic Zinfandels are normally medium to full in body, with fruit-driven aromas and flavors of fresh berries, black pepper, and spices, sometimes with notes of citrus zest, chocolate, and briary underbrush; they are rarely overwhelmed by oak notes. Many of the best producers continue to work largely with very old vines . . . which give consistently low crop levels and make wines with atypical creaminess of texture, aromatic complexity, and aging potential. "

  • Wine Folly

    "Zinfandel has high acidity which is often described as tasting ‘spicy.’ Berry flavors are dominant, from strawberry to blackberry bramble, depending on the ripeness. If you like 5-spice powder, cloves and cinnamon look for oak-aged Zinfandel. If you like lighter and more delcate wines look for less oak. Alcohol level matters. Do you want a richer Zinfandel or a lighter Zinfandel? The easiest way to tell how a Zinfandel will feel is to look at the alcohol level. Riper Zinfandel grapes produce wines with higher alcohol. Riper = richer darker ‘sweeter’ tasting Zinfandel."

  • Total Wine

    "It offers an array of flavors including black and red fruit, spice, pepper, tar, licorice and wood. Zinfandel is produced in three distinct styles. The first is the fresh and fruity, easy-drinking style that offers charm and balance with light tannins, followed by the medium-bodied, fuller flavored Zinfandels with noticeable spiciness and ripe tannins. This is followed by the big, concentrated and powerful style with intense fruit and unbelievable richness."

  • Stacy Slinkard, about.com

    "Zinfandel, meaning the red wine, is known for its rich, dark color scheme, medium to high tannin levels and a higher alcohol content. The Zinfandel feature flavors include: raspberry, blackberry, cherry, plums, raisins, spice and blackpepper all wrapped around various intensities of oak."

  • Appellation America

    "Opinions about how to classify this grape have also shifted continuously, as consumer whims have tested Zinfandel’s ability to play the chameleon. Zinfandel has delivered not only zesty, berry-fruity reds, but spicy tannic beasts, vin nouveau, and tart, intriguing roses. There have also been soft, simple and sweet blushes, unusual sparklers, dessert and fortified wines, and nearly combustible, highly-alcoholic versions."

  • Food & Wine

    "The California wine country’s warm, easygoing weather gives Zinfandel a jammy, juicy fruitiness (except when it’s made into dull, lightly sweet white Zinfandel). Typically high in both alcohol and flavor—boysenberries with a touch of brambly spiciness—Zinfandel is the perfect cookout wine, great with grilled burgers, sausages or chicken, or even chips and dip."

  • Steve Heimoff and Virginie Boone, Wine Enthusiast

    "In general, Zin shows two styles: one from warm, inland regions, the other from cool-to-warm regions where the vines experience some maritime influence. The former tends to be higher in alcohol, the latter a little more elegant, but neither is “better.” It’s all a matter of taste. Keep in mind, too, that vintners have several techniques for adjusting alcohol downward. So even warm-climate Zins that got very ripe can still have moderate alcohol levels."

Some Zinfandels to Try

(About this list.)

We thought this would be a cakewalk, selecting from the countless Zins out there; it was not. The chief block is that these are California wines, meaning they cost about double what wines of corresponding quality from elsewhere in the world cost. Nonetheless, "It was a tough fight, Ma, but we won." Further, we strove to include samples of each of California's recognized Zinfandel districts plus some Italian Primitivos; we succeeded with all save the Santa Cruz Mountains area, whose Zin makers are all just too pricey for these lists.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Easton Zinfandel, $14 - $20.
    (Amador County).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Wine Spectator magazine included that $18 bottle of Easton 2011 Zinfandel Amador County in its year-end list of “100 Outstanding Values.” Keep in mind that only two wines in all of California made this list . . . This inclusion marks the second straight year an Easton Zinfandel Amador County has scored a spot on Wine Spectator’s “100 Outstanding Values. . . The 2011 Zinfandel Amador County is noted for its blackberry and dark fruit flavors, smooth tannins and spicy overtones.

    Here is a solid young Zinfandel that exhibits both the ripeness and spice that we expect from Amador County versions, and, if it makes no pretense to polish, the wine is fleshy and balanced with well-managed heat and a bit of firming tannins for grip. It will do the trick now as a gutsy companion to hearty barbecue fare, but it promises to grow for a bit and should be better yet in a couple of years.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (March 2013), 90 points.

    Floral, sleek and elegant, with aromas of raspberry and riverbed rock, offering supple, balanced cherry and spicy fennel flavors that linger on the finish.

    An excellent Zin—this has an invitingly soft floral nose, mountainous black-fruit flavors and structure and plenty of depth. This should age nicely over the next 3–5 years, but it is delicious to drink now, too. 91 points.

    The grapes used in the wine are coming from 40 to 60-year-old head-pruned vines in Amador County. It also sees 10 months in French oak barrels, which contributes to the spice, complexity and roundness of the wine. Intense aromas of dark fruits, spice and vanilla notes float out of the glass. Ripe, full flavors of blackberry, black cherry and raspberry float seamlessly on the palate with a velvety texture and super long finish. Juicy, jammy and very well balanced — those qualities make this zin a real winner in my book.

    Black cherries, berries, pepper and sweet oak scents inhabit the nose on this medium-red wine. Loads of fruit and tannins are initially very dry and a bit peppery. The tannins subside in a long middle and finish. This one's best imbibed with hearty food.

    Bright medium dark garnet color in glass. Spicy, varietal nose. Good body with lots of ripe fruit on palate and moderate tannins. Moderately astringent finish. Fruit and alcohol in balalance (14.5%). A very nice zin, well made but not too complex. Not quite at peak - needs another year and should hold for a few more. 89/100.

    [T]the story of Amador can't be told without acknowledging the role of Bill Easton, whose Domaine de la Terre Rouge has been making a strong case for the Rhone family of grapes in the area for 30 years. Easton also makes fine Zinfandel under his own name.

    87 points, begins with a slightly vegetative and mild dark berry aromas, having a light ruby color and flavors a bit sharp and rough on the edge, but okay and not unpleasant, but not that memorable either. Easton ends with a fair spice finish.

    Ruby in the glass with a restrained dark fruit nose. Dark berry flavors with significant, grippy tannins and great acidity produced a very light-in-the-mouth wine. The tannins linger in this wine. This wine provoked a lengthy discussion. Some found it unbalanced with regard to fruit and tannins, some tasted more wood than others. Very interesting.

  • Montevina Terra D'Oro Zinfandel, $12 - $24.
    (Amador County)

    Some quotations and facts:

    A dark ruby red color. The aroma was charred wood with a hint of herbs. The flavor was spice and the wine had a thin mouthfeel; medium body. I was missing the fruit forwardness (see Winemaker's Notes below). The finish was long and tannins low. Also, balanced.

    Color – Crimson. Nose – cherry, rhubarb, blackberry. Taste – black currant, spice, raspberry, cedar and cola. Mouthfeel – smooth and lush, with round medium body and dry elegant tannins. Finish – medium in length and fruity. . . The 2005 MonteVina Terra d’ Oro Zinfandel was very fun, good structured Zin with a splash of acidity that wasn’t overly extracted or to “big” for its britches.

    "The wine had intense flavors without being a fruit bomb. . . The Montevina delivers all the spiciness and pepper without excessive jamminess. I like both wine styles, but can appreciate the Montevina for a more subtle delivery of my favorite grape. CA dark ruby red color. The aroma was charred wood with a hint of herbs. The flavor was spice and the wine had a thin mouthfeel; medium body. I was missing the fruit forwardness (see Winemaker's Notes below). The finish was long and tannins low. Also, balanced.A dark ruby red color. The aroma was charred wood with a hint of herbs. The flavor was spice and the wine had a thin mouthfeel; medium body. I was missing the fruit forwardness (see Winemaker's Notes below). The finish was long and tannins low. Also, balanced.olor: Dark red. Aroma: Spicy zinfandel nose, green pepper? Taste: Intense zinfandel spiciness without any sweetness. Finish: Light.

    Very soft and subdued on the nose with slightly tarry blackberry bramble fruit and a touch of candied cherry and blue fruit notes with a powdered sugar edge. Surprisingly brisk mouthfeel with sweet fresh berry fruit notes that are pure and focused if low key. Very soft tannins in an easy drinking style with a touch of cinnamon on the finish. Solid if simple Zinfandel. 85 points.

    The nose was fruit evident, and somewhat lush, basically a “fooler’ because it smelled much more pricy than it is. Suggestively, the aromas of that plum character, black pepper and blackberry, and even a hint of jam, made me wonder what was to come. The mouth was leaning to a smooth finish, but the initial taste was snappy and even a bit tangy. Airing brought it into line, and I find this wine to be a great barbecue sauce candidate, and a remarkable value. The  . . . wine has it all – richness, density, color, aromatics and value.

  • Dry Creek Vineyard "Heritage Vines" Zinfandel, $14 - $20.
    (Dry Creek appellation; blend.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    This is a big, powerful yet well-mannered Zinfandel, blended with 16% Petite Sirah. The Zinfandel vines average 30 years of age, and it’s classically Dry Creek, with an exotic spiciness and briary, brambly notes of blackberry, raspberry and Dr. Pepper. The tannin-acid balance is just about perfect. 92 points.

    The 2011 Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel carries a medium garnet color and looks a little lighter than many wines of this variety. The nose carries plenty that I like about Zinfandel - clove, vanilla, sage, brambly currant, raspberry - and the aromas are not shy at all. The palate offers spicy peppery eucalyptus and strawberry, raspberry and cherry fruit that is juicy and somewhat tart. The fruit shows very well, but the spicy character really steals the show. This wine will dress up even the plainest piece of meat you can put on the table.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (June 2013), 90 points.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (December 2013), 89 points.

    The 2011 Zinfandel Heritage Vines is another delicious blend of 84% Zinfandel and 16% Petite Sirah with surprising ripeness and richness. This front end-loaded Zin is very much in keeping with the better 2011s. It offers a burst of spice and briery fruit in its cleanly made, impressive personality.

    A lively, zesty Zin, with raspberry and fresh sage aromas and appealing cherry, pepper and mineral flavors that finish with ripe and briary tannins.

    The 2011 Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel definitely falls into the feminine category. It is a pretty, soft and round Zinfandel with plenty of acidity to make it a food friendly wine, thanks to the cool 2011 vintage. The velvety texture is enticing and the addictive mid-palette of spice and tobacco leads to a long, mineral finish with a bit of plum and white pepper, likely attributed to the 16% Petite Sirah added to the blend. This wine is versatile when it comes to food pairings—from barbeque to roasted chicken, you can’t go wrong.

    Using old vine budwood grafted into a new vineyard, the Heritage bottling is a young vine Zin with distinctive old vine characteristics. . . 84% Zinfandel and 16% Petite Sirah. Deep, purplish red in color. Aromatic with blackberry, black cherry, plum, and spice on both the nose and palate. Medium to full-bodied with lively acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish. Quality: 3.5 stars (out of 5); QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of 5).

    A fantastic value Zinfandel (blended with 16% Petite Sirah) for under $20. A robust nose of black cherry jam, espresso and dark spice. A soft mouth-feel with balanced acidity and silky tannins. Flavors of dark cherry jam, blackberry, strawberry, plum, espresso, cinnamon and baking spice. Rating 90.

    Let’s begin by talking about what this wine is not — a big, jammy, fruit bomb style of Zinfandel. The 2011 growing season in Sonoma County simply did not provide the “tools” required for that style of Zin to be produced. That said, this is a well-made and perfectly balanced wine, with a healthy dollop of Petite Sirah contributing to the engaging aroma and flavor spectrum. Think: dusty red fruits, white pepper, raspberry liqueur, cinnamon, clove and black licorice. Translucent ruby in color, this wine has a dusty red fruit quality in the nose, is big in the mouth, and finishes with a candied fruit impression. It needs time in the glass to reveal all of its nuances . . . 88 points.

    Pouring this wine into the glass, it’s hard not to be immediately struck by the beautiful, dark purple hue. At first whiff, you’ll find that the nose of this zinfandel is loaded with black raspberry, red plum and dark violet aromas. The palate is studded with deep, dark fruit flavors such as blueberry, dark plum, and blackberry. Bits of dusty chocolate weave their way in and out of the fruit flavors. Rhubarb, anise, tobacco, espresso, continued dark fruits, and a final wallop of plum pudding spices are all part of the finish which has terrific length and measured intensity. This wine is an excellent example of zinfandel for a very good price. As with all the zinfandels from Dry Creek Vineyard, it’s balanced, proportionate and primed to pair with food. One vintage after another, they release a number of distinct expressions of zinfandel that are worth spending your money on. This particular offering is a textbook example of zinfandel made in a genuine style that is simultaneously loaded with gorgeous fruit flavors, while also being even keeled and harmonious. If you’re a fan of the more classic style of zinfandel, you should seek this wine out.

  • Quivira Zinfandel, $16 - $26.
    (Dry Creek appellation)
         ($22.64 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The Quivira 2011 zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley is aromatic, with notes of black cherry, raspberry, vanilla bean, pencil shavings, and anise. Backed by a firm acidic backbone and moderate smooth tannins, the palate has notes of juicy fresh strawberry, minerality, cracked black pepper, clove, and a lengthy wild berry finish, with a little heat. Overall, the wine is well-made, demonstrating restraint and finesse, and it’s a good value for money. You can enjoy now but it will hold for a few years.

    At just under 20 bucks, this 2010 zin has some really impressive characteristics. It’s layered with flavors of fruity berries without being too jammy: a hint of raspberry in the high notes with plum and black cherry lingering beneath. And it’s punctuated with a splash of pepper, resulting in a yummy concoction of fruit and spice. Beautifully balanced, this one pairs great with most meats, including spicy dishes like steak fajitas (which we paired it with tonight) as well as pastas with red sauce, fish, and olives. An added bonus—we love the vineyard’s commitment to sustainable farming practices and biodynamic winemaking.

    Look: This wine is dark garnet at the depth and ruby red at the edges. It has the clarity of a Pinot, and none of the inkiness of some Zins. Smell: Spiced rhubarb pie, served with a side of plum and raisin compote come through in this bold, rustic and fruity nose. Taste: Quivira comes on with a rush of smoked raspberry, anise, bitter chocolate and black pepper with ample alcohol with sleek acidity.

    This zin from Healdsburg, California, nips at you with a bit of a tart, almost mouth-puckering feel, though not as a much as, say, a Sauvignon Blanc would. A little breathing time over a meal helps smooth this out nicely. If you are looking for a fruit-bomb zin, this isn’t it. It’s a bit leaner, has berry in the aroma, and lingers with a nice finish – raisin and a hint of smokiness. The reason this might not come across as a traditional zin probably is related directly to the winemaker’s decision to add other grapes - Petite Syrah, Carignane, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah – as well as mixing in grapes from varying zin lots. It’s the biggest production wine from the vintner, which makes about 20 different wines.

    Crisp and nicely focused, with bright cherry and underbrush aromas and zesty raspberry and herb flavors.

    Quivira Zinfandel from 2011 expresses a bright, red raspberry aroma. It’s almost jam-like. Rich and ripe fruit-forward flavors dance on the palate and are nicely balanced. This is certainly not one of those 16-percent alcohol wines. It’s perfect with BBQ ribs or grilled chicken. How about a grilled sausage party? That would work well too. $22 is a very nice price for this bottle.

    [T]his one is a quintessential red Zin – brimming with raspberry-like aromas with sweet, jammy highlights – that positively bursts with fresh, zesty, snappy varietal fruitiness jumping out of a dense, sturdy body, without being heavy or dried out with excess tannin. A wine you can drink every day, but never tire of.

    [This] is a juicy, smooth blend of estate and purchased grapes, and has lots of classic Zin character in a moderate 14.1 percent alcohol package.

  • Peachy Canyon West Side Zinfandel, $14 - $22.
    (Paso Robles)

    Some quotations and facts:

    This bright red colored Zinfandel is a reasonably priced good value Zin. It opens with black cherry and red currant bouquet with hints of black licorice and twig. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, balanced, and juicy. The flavor profile is a ripe red currant and boysenberry blend with notes of cedar and plum. I also detect some old oak and a touch of strawberry licorice and black pepper. The finish is dry and its fruit flavors linger for a while after the wine is gone. 88 points.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (date unknown), 88 points.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (date unknown), 88 points.

    This jammy red is full of fresh plum and pepper aromas, with supple raspberry, earthy sage and licorice notes.

    Inky purple. Spice-accented aromas of candied black and blue fruits, licorice and cola, with a subtle floral nuance emerging with air. Lush and expansive, offering bitter cherry and boysenberry flavors supported by gentle acidity. Soft tannins add shape to the slightly warm finish, which strongly repeats the boysenberry and spice notes.

    Deep red. Pretty, youthful aromas of red berries, cherry, licorice and smoky spices. Juicy and fresh but also supple and ripe, with plump raspberry and cherry flavors supported by gentle acids and tannins. Finishes sweet and smooth, with an echo of red fruit. Uncomplicated and very easy to drink.

    This is the most balanced of the winery’s many 2011 Zins. It’s also half the price of the vineyard designates. With raspberry, cherry and cola flavors set in a flurry of spices, it doesn’t have the massive overripeness of the others. But that’s exactly why it’s a more appealing and food-friendly wine. 90 points.

    This Zin is medium dark in color with a pretty purple around the rim. Brilliant aromas of blueberry dance with notes of black pepper and sage. The palate is just as fruit-forward, with big blueberry and black cherry flavors residing on base of savory black olive.

    For the past three years, anytime I want a Zin, I turn to Peachy Canyon and that was true again at this event. This particular one is very well balanced and just fruit forward enough to be called a Zin.

  • Caparone Zinfandel, $16 from the winery (quantity discounts available).
    (Paso Robles)

    Some quotations and facts:

    This wine has a very earthy, acidic, spicy, red-fruited bouquet. This wine smells like it’s going to be a rustic, classic, austere Italian-styled red wine. And based on the fact that I’ve had several vintages of Caparone’s Zin, I would just about guarantee that that’s exactly what it’s going to taste like! . . In case you hadn’t noticed, their Zin is not your typical Paso Fruit Bomb; Caparone’s Zin has only 13.3% alcohol, is unbelievably well-balanced, and has a depth-of-flavor that most Cali Zins would envy. The tasting profile is also atypical of most Paso Zins. Whereas most Cali Zins have a black fruit profile, Caparone’s Zin has mostly, if not all, red fruit in its flavor profile; there’s sour cherry, raspberry, and currant fruit, along with a MOUNTAIN of savory herbs (rosemary especially) and a universe-worth of black pepper as well on the palate. This wine is rich and viscous, exhibiting more terrior than 99.9% of any/all wines I’ve ever tasted. Also contributing to its fabulous earthy/terrior essence, Caparone’s wines are unfined and unfiltered, which, in my opinion, allows the vineyard’s soil and essence to shine brightly. I’ve always felt that fining and filtering wine extracts critical elements (both flavor-wise and terrior-wise) from its profile, and this Zin SCREAMS depth-of-flavor and terrior. I’ve used the term “dirty” wine many times before (wines that parlay their sense-of-place (terrior) as well as earthiness) and this is one dirty wine (in only the best of ways)!! Once again, this is NOT your typical Paso Zin. Whereas most Paso Zins are high-octane fruit bombs with limited depth and soft, silky tannins, this wine is rich, creamy, earthy (“dirty”), spicy-beyond-belief, delicious-beyond-belief, viscous, slightly oaky, with a depth-of-flavor that never seems to cease and a finish that goes on for light years. It is also tannic and acidic, but in only the best of ways; this wine begs to be paired with good food, whereas a typical Cali Zin can be drunk on its own. If you’re adventurous and well-versed on what a good, interesting, not-your-father’s Zin should be like, you really owe it to yourself to give this Zin a try. If you prefer safe, fruity, high-alcohol Zins, look elsewhere. If you like to challenge your preconceptions of what a Zin can/should be, and you’ve had it up to HERE with typical Zins, you truly must give this Zin a spin. It’s fabulous.

    The wines are not the hyper-oaked, heavy, fruit bombs that typify the California style. Caparone wines are done in a more time-consuming old world style, with as little processing as possible. They are not fined or filtered. They are barrel-aged for several years and then bottle aged for more. The resulting full-bodied wines are complex, earthy, and food-friendly. The alcohol content is decidedly light for California reds, weighing in at between 13 and 13.4 percent abv. All six [varieties made] are great to drink now, but they’ll continue to develop in the bottle for many years.

    We don't normally interject our own opinions in these wine notes, but we have been enjoying Caparone wines for three decades now, from when we lived only an hour's drive away, and they are simply jaw-dropping values. Dave Caparone keeps a very low profile or he could be vastly better known. His was one of the first wineries ever in the Paso Robles area (possibly #6), he was the first in the U.S. (and probably the western hemisphere) to release a varietally labelled Sangiovese, and one of the first with Nebbiolo. His motto is "I make wine for my table, and what's left over I sell," and it's not just a clever shibboleth. All six wines Dave makes are superb values. His winemaking style, the rest of the quotations here will tell you about. And you will notice that Caparone followers are by and large as enthusiastic as we are about his wines.

    Medium purple color, showing tart berries and a brushy note on the nose. A lighter style, with more spice showing in the flavors, and surprisingly fresh acidity for a 2004. The tart fruit carries through on the finish.

    Not being one to mince words, let’s get this out of the way: I consider this wine to be the best Zinfandel for the money that I have EVER tasted. I absolutely LOVE this wine and consider it to be the Bargain of the Century! I’ve drunk Zins that cost five to six times what this wine cost that weren’t one-quarter as good. Hyperbole? Exaggeration? No! Just the facts, folks. The aroma profile for this fabulous wine exhibits mostly red fruit along with suggestions of black fruit as well, such as cherries, raspberries, and plums. There are also hints/suggestions of oak, earth, and savory herbs. This is a rich, dark, spicy, earthy, tannic, creamy delicious Zin that anybody who appreciates a well-made, quality Zin should reach-out and enjoy. As the bouquet suggested, there’s an abundance of red and black fruit, such as raspberries, blackberries, plums, and black/sour cherries, along with a gargantuan amount of spices like black pepper and savory herbs (rosemary, thyme, as well as hints of sage and mint). The wine also exhibits a mountain of earthy elements as well as the perfect amount of sweet, creamy oak. The Caparones employ classic Italian/European winemaking techniques, which results in a red wine with VERY Italian traits, especially as it pertains to tannins and acidity (in the best possible ways). This Zin is very well-balanced with fabulous structure, tremendous complexity and a flavor profile that just doesn’t quit. The finish is smooth and lingers for quite a while. This is an extremely Italianesque wine; it showcases all of the best qualities that a CalItal wine could possibly muster. If you savor rich, tannic, earthy, creamy, and delicious-beyond-belief Italian wines, this wine was made for YOU. If you prefer typical Paso Zin Fruit Bombs (15%+ alcohol, jammy sweet fruit, a one-dimensional flavor profile with almost zero depth), look elsewhere. Somehow/someway, Dave and Marc extracted every last micro-ounce of flavor from their Zinfandel grapes to assemble this gorgeous wine. They age their wines for two years in oak and then bottle-age their wines for another year before releasing them to the public. How they’re able to make such fantastic wines for $14 a bottle is beyond me (especially with all of that patient aging). Their other Italian varietal bottlings are also fantastic (Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Aglianico). But I believe the star of the show is this 2004 Zinfandel. I’m as giddy as a 12-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert whenever I open one of these fabulous bottles!
    Note: in fairness, we have to point out that this is by the same blogger who elsewhere wrote the first quotation for this wine.

    Unfined, unfiltered, well-aged reds make for big tastes, and that’s what I found at Caparone Winery in Paso Robles. . . What a pleasure to taste — all big and bold, with great character .  The wines [are] made by Dave Caparone and his son, Marc Caparone, without any employees. All Caparone wines are unfined, unfiltered, and made with minimal processing. They’re aged two years in small oak barrels. And at $16 each, they’re a great value, in my opinion.

    Medium purple color, showing tart berries and a brushy note on the nose. A lighter style, with more spice showing in the flavors, and surprisingly fresh acidity for a 2004. The tart fruit carries through on the finish.

    Dave [Caparone] believes that given the winemaking methods at Caparone, their wines have the potential to age fifteen to twenty-five years. For example, he poured a 1986 Caparone Zinfandel at the 2002 Paso Robles Zinfandel festival, and the wine showed beautifully.

    In 1979, when Caparone selected his vineyard site on 60 acres five miles southwest of Paso Robles, Zinfandel was on his mind. He claims his microclimate and soil is especially suitable for Zinfandel, notably for wines of complexity and balance. His Zinfandel, 1985, is a big Zinfandel in every sense of the word. It has strong structure, a full and spicy aromatic nose, ample flavor and plenty of heat from 13.2% alcohol. This outstanding, aggressive style demands considerable time, but the future is excellent.

    As if to prove that California wines can be, should be, and sometimes actually are complete, I am [in 2009] enjoying the 2003 Caparone Zinfandel. A mucklet of sediment splats onto my countertop when I pop the cork, and as I pour I see that the wine suggests fall, a pale rose petal color that foreshadows brown. It even smells slightly autumnal, like a redwood forest on the coast, an aroma that plays well.

  • Ballentine "Old Vines" Zinfandel, $13 - $24.
    (Napa Valley; this seems to be the Zin widely sold as just "Ballentine Napa Zinfandel", but that is not guaranteed; check the label before buying.)

    Some quotations and facts:
    Old Vines Zin label.
    This ruby colored Zinfandel opens with a heavenly blueberry and plum bouquet. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, balanced, and fruit forward. The flavor profile is a tasty blueberry and black cherry blend with notes of old oak. The finish is dry and its dusty tannins are sticky and linger for a quite a while. 90 points.

    Ballentine has a fantastic, if little known, track record for Zinfandel, and they’ve actually been lowering their price lately, making this a great buy. It shows classic Napa structure, with Zin’s briary, brambly berry character and a spicy finish. The grapes come from the winery’s Pocai vineyard, and while alcohol is high, the wine feels balanced. 92 points.

    What a beautiful color on this wine! Aromas of black and blue berries, with flavors of cranberry and cracked black pepper. Pizza, pasta, or grilled meats would be great with it. Excellent QPR.

    I would swear that this wine had Pinot Noir, Cab or Syrah in the blend because I taste a little green/bell peppers as well as some black pepper. You are instantly hit with some very deep blueberry combined with dark cherries, but there is the undercurrent of bell peppers and black pepper on the backend that makes you recognize as well. The finish lasts longer than half a minute and devolves the flavor profile towards vegetal, but you still have the pepper aspects running around your mouth like a giddy school kid hopped up on Jolly Ranchers. The color is a very inky purple and the nose floors you with the wallop of 15.5% alcohol. All I can say is that this wine can lead to some trouble, both good and bad. 9/10.

    In the glass: Deep red. On the nose: Poured cool with a brief decant and swirled vigorously, shows full fruit and chocolate. On the palate: The primary elements on the palate are chocolate-covered cherries, with a very long finish. In summary: Overall, rates four stars on the five-star Spirit of Wine scale, with a plus for pleasant tannic furriness. Good value.

    [W]e were able to sample the Ballentine 2009 Zinfandel Old Vines at $25 which was very well balanced, with good fruit, some spice (pepper) and very nice overall presentation and a good finish. It has 10% Petite Sirah and 4% Syrah added. This is an excellent Zin for the money and one that is hard not to like.

  • Hendry HRW Zinfandel, $16 - $20.
    (Napa Valley)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Nose – prune, plum, blackberry, smoke. Taste – black cherry, raisin, plum and cocoa. Mouthfeel – medium to full body, dusty tannins and spicey. Finish – quite long with dusty dry tannins and dark fruit flavors. . . I really enjoy the Hendry “Zins” but have a hard time popping a $30-$40 bottle of wine on a daily basis or to have at a cookout. The HRW line gives you the quality you expect from Hendry with slightly less complexity, in a rocking Napa Zin.

    This second label Zin is a solid, value-priced every-night style of red from this reputable Napa Valley winery. Dark-ish black ruby. Extroverted nose of brambly/cedary blackberry juice. Soft, fleshy, and loose-limbed in the mouth, with lots of straightforward Zin fruit, lots of balsa/cedar notes, and a good bit of (pleasant) heat in the fairly long finish (notwithstanding that it has a relatively low stated alcohol content of 13.8%). 87 points.

    While we are on the subject of Hendry, I found their value Zinfandel blend in a shop and picked up a bottle... its a mix of fruit from various vineyards and is clearly not in the league of the single vineyard wines, but for a value Zinfandel, its quite well made, has good medium body, a decent smoky spicy nose and medium spice in the flavor profile... the usual briery Hendry qualities are on display, albeit in a muted form... an excellent value for the price. Taste 6; Nose 6; Value 9.

    If I had to pick a wine to take home frdinner, it would be any of the following three wines poured by Hendry Wines. George Hendry grows wine on 117 acres divided into50 blocks of vines on his property in southwestern Napa. He nurtures several different red and white varietals, including some really great zinfandel. .  Even the HRW ($15), a second-label blend of several Hendry zinfandel lots that don’t make the top-line assemblage, is a great everyday wine.

    Exceptional Zin at the price: full-bodied, supple and ripely flavored, with moderate richness and a long finish, tasting of blackberry, cherry, pepper and spicy oak. Aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 10% new.

    Hendry “HRW” 2008 Zinfandel (Napa Valley) – 15.3%. I’m normally a big fan of Hendry, but I kind of hate this. Stenchy dark fruit with a twisted-off finish, like drinking wire one picked up off a dirty floor.

    Structured blue-black fruit, asphalt, ground-up redwood, and firmness to spare. Yet the wine doesn’t lack generosity (the too-frequent flaw of Napa zinfandel), and the length promises more richness to come. Zins of this form tend to age along Bordelais paths, and so except it to take a while to unwind into something more complex.

    To me, Hendry is an underrated producer. Heck, I even like their chardonnay. Mitigating against that, at least for my cellar, is that their prices are…well, they’re low for Napa, but aggressive in any wider context. That’s one thing when discussing the cabernet, quite another when looking at the zinfandels, which are reliably high-quality but priced as if they’re at the pinnacle, which they’re not. Here’s a wine with concentrated wild-berry fruit (blackberry, olallieberry, perhaps even some dark, exotic plum), excellent structure, and obvious aging potential. The finish is medium-length but vibrant throughout. I just wish it was a little cheaper.

  • River Road Vineyards Old Vine Boschetti Vineyard Zinfandel, $18.
    (Russian River appellation)

    Some quotations and facts:

    A lovely Zinfandel, so light in texture and silky in tannins, you might think it was Pinot Noir. It's translucent ruby in color, and tastes as savory as it looks, with raspberry, cherry red currant, bacon, sandalwood, and spice flavors. Simply delicious for drinking now with grilled lamb or steak. It's a mystery how they produced a wine this good at such an everyday price. 91 points, "Editor's Choice".

    Almost nodding more to Pinot than Zin (moreso, in fact, than some of its neighbors' Pinots) this leads with tart cranberry flavors and a charcoal-like mineral aspect. The extraction was light in this cold year, which allowed a rosemary-like savory aspect to dominate.

    This wine is apparently distributed solely by the Total Wine chain, which may account for the paucity of press reviews; but those that are out there are, as you see, all quite enthusiastic. (Their Pinot Meunier is another praiseworthy wine that they seem to distribute only through TW.)

    Due south of River Road lies one of the best areas for Zinfandel in the Olivet-Piner area of the Santa Rosa Plain, which is also in the wheelhouse of Pinot Noir territory. The prevailing winds from San Francisco/San Pablo Bay rising up from the Petaluma Gap have a profound effect on these appellations. A good year sees the rains hold off and Zins from the Santa Rosa Plain hit the sweet spot allowing for longer hangtime, which lets them achieve perfection. The Boschetti Vineyard is one dating back in the early ’20′s and my fav is the 2011 [River Road] Old Vine Zin. It’s bouquet opens with aromas of cassis and star anise gently flowing into a creamy vanilla with an oak and nutmeg spice. The palate finds ample dark berry fruits of blackberry up front, raspberry mid-palate and loganberry in the finish with added notes of cedar and white pepper lingering as well. Great flavor at a modest price!

    The wine was a 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel from the Boschetti Vineyard. Now I normally do not order Zinfandel wines, but I have enjoyed many a wine from the Russian River Valley, and they did want my opinion of the wine, so I opened up this bottle. I must say that it was very smooth and lush and not as sweet as some Zinfandel wines that I have tried, in fact I would even order or buy this wine if I saw it again. So I do have to adjust my thoughts on this varietal, as I have done to others in the past.

  • De Loach Russian River Valley Zinfandel, $15 - $22.
    (Russian River appellation)
         ($20.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Vivid aromas burst with jammy characters, while violet perfume mingles with red-fruit components on the nose. This Zinfandel presents old-world style aromas of red cherries laced with smoky characteristics. Brambly and raspberry notes linger on the palate, while intense layers of cranberry and zin-berry mingle with soft hints of barrel spice and elements of walnut. This wine unfolds with a wonderful balance of acidity and soft tannins; it is harmony in the mouth.

    Easy to like for its ripe fruit, cola, spice and meaty flavors. This is DeLoach's basic Zinfandel, and it's very good due to the balance that makes it so drinkable. 89 Points, "Editor's Choice".

    ♣ 2013 North Coast Wine Challenge, "Zinfandel Under $20" category winner, 96 points.

    From its 90 acres of old zinfandel vines in Sonoma County, De Loach Vineyards is making an increasingly impressive array of concentrated, flavorful red wines. The most impressive of its 1991s is from the Papera Ranch ($15.69), but the Sonoma County-Russian River Valley bottling is only a step behind.

    [A] red for those who can’t stomach the thought of a lighter wine. This DeLoach Zin is a deep ruby color and has aromas and flavors of baked cherry pie with a hint of chocolate orange. Great for those cooler late summer nights.

    Raspberry, cherry, cassis, and oak are nicely balanced, with cinnamon, a note of strawberry, and a pleasant, vapor-filled blowback on the lightly tart finish.

    Aromas of cheery and raspberry lift from the glass, followed by notes of spice and pine duff. Brambly boysenberry notes linger on the palate as joicy cranberry layers mingle with black peppery hints of autumn forest. Medium bodied and fresh, this wine unfolds leading to a long finish. Robust and high-toned, this wine will drink beautifully for years to come.

    The cooler climate of the Russian River Valley produces Zins that are more about elegance than power. A few favorites include De Loach, as well as vineyard-designated bottlings from Ravenswood and Rosenblum.

  • Edmeades Zinfandel, $13 - $19.
    (Mendocino County)
         ($18.64 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Edmeades winery makes nothing but zinfandel, and that devotion pays off in even its basic bottlings, such as the 2007 Edmeades Zinfandel Mendocino County. This full-bodied red has an earthy, smoky nose, and flavors of cherries and blackberries with a hint of chocolate. This a good, meaty zinfandel that has plenty of stuffing without being over-the-top jammy.

    [O]ur wine-of-the-week winner — the Edmeades, 2011 Mendocino County Zinfandel, a great value for the $20 price tag. The zinfandel is ripe, but not over the top, and it's briary, with an undercurrent of cracked black pepper. But what makes it distinct is its layered concentration of fruit flavors — blackberry, black cherry, plum and a hint of rhubarb. A ripe zinfandel but not over the top. Layered, with fruit flavors of blackberry, black cherry, plum and a hint of rhubarb. Briary, with an undercurrent of cracked black pepper. Nice length. A great price point for the value. 3½ *.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 90 points.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (30 ‎June 2012), 88 points.

    This is a beautiful 2006 Zinfandel that sells for a song. This has got to be one of the better values, and of course, 2006 looks to be a vastly superior vintage to 2005 for Zinfandel. This wine, which has some Petite Sirah, Merlot, Syrah, and Grenache blended in, exhibits deep ruby color and a big, sweet nose of peppery black cherry and raspberry liqueur intermixed with spring flowers and earth. The wine is medium to full-bodied, ripe, and altogether a hedonistic mouthful of big Zinfandel.

    Fully ripe and wide open with nothing held in reserve, this wine follows the family style in being both balanced and fruity even while showing a fair bit of heat. . . it stays fixed on berryish fruit and steers clear of any raisined desiccation, and its grippy last-minute tannins make a good case for a few years of age.

    Ripe, focused and zesty, with wild berry, bitter chocolate and anise aromas that follow through to appealing flavors of plum, smoke and freshly cracked pepper.

    It's a bit hard-edged when it's first opened, but this full-bodied red wine quickly opens up to display vibrant flavors of blackberries, wild berries, plums, herbs and chocolate and black pepper. There's a port-like quality to this blockbuster, but it's a fully dry wine. It's pretty gripping.

    Edmeades Mendocino Zinfandel is a red wine that is bursting with red cherries, strawberries, and raspberries aromas and flavours. The tannins are soft, and the finish has an amazing toasted vanilla and smoky sweetness.

    At $19, this is one of the more expensive Zinfandels I’ve reviewed in this series—but it’s also one of the best. I am often critical of more expensive wines, as they are frequently no better than other wines at half the price. In this case, if you’re willing to splurge a few extra bucks (over the typical $8-12 wines you know you love to buy) I think you’ll get your money’s worth. Edmeades is known for their Zinfandel. . . A beautifully herbal nose introduces this zinfandel. Floral, mint and cedar overlay rich raspberry aromas. The palate is absolutely delicious and creamy. Black cherry, vanilla, raspberry and chocolate make the palate delightful. There is a bit of pepper, but it isn’t overly spicy. The tannins are silky smooth and the finish is long and memorable. Simply put, this is an outstanding bottle of wine. Although it’s not the most inexpensive Zinfandel you will find, it is still a great value. 92 points.

    This bright ruby colored Zinfandel from Mendocino is a good value option. It opens with a faint red plum bouquet with hints of red berries. On the palate, this wine is medium bodied, acidic and approachable. The flavor profile is a gentle plum with hints of cherry-cola and touch of oak. The finish is dry and its mild tannins drift away nicely. 88 points.

  • Carol Shelton "Wild Thing" Zinfandel, $17 - $22.
    (Mendocino County)

    Some quotations and facts:

    If you aren’t already familiar with Carol Shelton and her library of delicious Zinfandels then it is time we formally introduce you. An expert winemaker and former poet from California’s Mendocino County, Shelton’s single-vineyard, old vine Zins have won her countless medals throughout her career. Carol has been labeled “Winemaker of the Year” on numerous occasions and is widely cited as one of the most awarded female winemakers in the United States. . . Shelton’s rich and creamy “Wild Thing” Zinfandel continues to be a clear standout at a modest $20 pricepoint. Harvested from Cox Vineyard, a deeply rooted Mendocino plot dating back to the 1950s, these old-vine grapes are fermented with naturally occurring wild yeasts, ergo the name “Wild Thing”. Rocky soils and a rigorous irrigation regime help these vines produce impressively mature wine despite the young age. The “Zen-like Zins” of Carol Shelton’s wine portfolio prove that the renaissance of passionate Zinfandel winemaking in California is alive and well. Garnet in color and rich in complexity, this wine is loaded with major layers of cherry pie, grilled plums and blackberry jam. Barreled in American and French oak for over two years, this “wild” zin has multiple ribbons of pure satin. With an overall finesse comparable to a premium fine wine, it is pleasant on your palate without the hefty price tag. Beautifully balanced with notes of vanilla clove, spiced butter and licorice.

    Deep briary nose a little poppy seeds, spice and black raspberry fruit with bitter chocolate shavings and coffee oak aromas. A big wine with layers of flavors, bitter cherry, musky, wild flowers and jammy black currant all framed with a little nutty oak and some fine green edginess here as well. The tannins are noticeable, acids bright, both contributing to a little tactile and dusty feel in the mouth but this turns very focused and steely on the backend with cherry skin notes, and a little wild blackberry thing going on. A little chewy and raw and sure to improve. 90 points.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (16 July 2010), 91 points.

    A handful of vineyards have enough muscle to back ageworthy Zins . . . and certain winemakers like to build them that way. Carol Shelton is one. Her Wild Thing 2006 is a great case in point. As the name suggests, the wine can be untamed when first released, and the 2006 was no exception. It was a briary monster with considerable tannins, but it showed bold fruit and good structure—a Shelton hallmark. I revisited the 2006 recently [2010], and it was coming into its own, smoothing out and starting to reveal finesse and a more supple texture. I rated it 91 points, non-blind.

    This is Shelton’s “workhorse” Zin, the one with a cool etching of old Zinfandel vines on the bottle. A wine-expert colleague of mine refers to Shelton as “one of the mightier intellects in fermentation” and says she’s “quite the badass, all in all.” When tasting her wines, I began to understand his affection for Shelton. These are not cookie-cutter, please-the-masses, lowest-common-denominator wines. I mean, they are outstanding, but they are also unique, each with its own distinctive personality. Wild Thing is scrumptious—a lush, well-rounded Zin with loads of jammy raspberry, black cherry and plum flavors and a judiciously restrained use of oak, resulting in subtle vanilla notes. It’s a remarkable wine for 14 bones.

    [It] has a deep ruby-red color, a nice red berry aroma with mild cinnamon hints, a light to medium body that is juicy, but not syrupy. The flavor is a nice blend of red raspberry, plum, sweet strawberry with hints of cedar, and a fair finish of white pepper and a bit of heat from the 14.8% alcohol. 90 points.

    The Wild Thing opens with aromas of smoke, brambleberries, and cranberries. Juicy and light on the palate with that characteristic zinfandel tannic zing at the end. . . By the way, this wine won gold medals at the 2009 California State Fair and the 2008 Los Angeles County Fair.

    It’s certainly an old style of California zinfandel with aromas of black cherry, plum and raspberry fruit combined with a beautiful hint of vanilla, from the 24 months in oak, I am sure. It’s smoothly textured in the mouth, very creamy yet “punchy” in the tail – showing power and a briary edge. The finish is long and has lush, jammy fruit, and I feel it needs a good hour of air to round out to perfection. Basically, this is what zinfandel was 20 years ago, as opposed to so many of the medicinal cherry-jam and plum-paste zins that have become the norm.

    Grade=Outstanding. Kicks a lot of ass with its jammy blueberry fruits, graham cracker, vanilla and mocha notes.

  • Uvaggio Primitivo, $17 - $20.
    (Lodi appellation, Primitivo; beware confusion with the like-named rosé.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    [Winemaker] Moore describes this as a “simple take home wine.” With aromas of Cassis, rasp­berry and bright red cherries, the prim­itivo (which, while it shares genetic heritage with zinfandel is, in fact, not the same grape) is simply delightful. Pizza, pasta, in fact anything with tomato sauce is in order.

    If only more California Primitivo could be made in this style - soft, lower in alcohol, modestly showing its fruit - there would be more converts among Zin fanatics, who would be wowed by the subtle black cherry and licorice flavors and dry finish, minimally aged in oak. 92 points.

    This racy, floral-scented 2011 Uvaggio Primitivo, a deliciously balanced red from the Lodi region with a taste of spice and juicy berries and layers of flavors, is one of my discoveries. I think it’s the ultimate gourmet pizza wine — soft and easy to drink, yet surprisingly complex for its well-under-$20 price.

    Dark garnet in colour, aromas of raisin and cinnamon swirled about in the glass. Red currant and dried cherry flavours were joined by hints of dried herbs and toasted oak in the medium body. Spicy black pepper, sweet vanilla and traces of cigar box spice rounded out the velvety finish. Rustic and easy drinking.

    Another slam dunk winner from Jim Moore Sellers . . . Old World style. Think Crianza – recent vintage Spanish wine meant for early drinking. Jim takes a hot zone grape and renders it immediately approachable. More exciting than snuff and not near as dusty. Forward, balanced, medium weight. . . Jim is the master of fresh, fleshy, lovely food friendly wines.

    While Primitivo’s DNA is identical to Zinfandel, Moore claims the grapes for his Primitivo mature much later and exhibit more uniformity in ripening than most Lodi Zins. After picking fresh mulberries from our backyard tree, the aroma of those dark fruits was fresh in our minds as we nosed the Uvaggio Primitivo. Those juicy, dark berry fruit aromas carried through on the palate with also a hint of pomegranate and currant. The wine was medium bodied with a supple texture carrying through with nice and ripe blackberry flavors. It finished with a dash of black peppery spice. The Uvaggio showed zingier acidity than [another Lodi Zin].

    Uvaggio Primitivo has a bright nose with aromas of raspberry, cherry, and vanilla. The wine is smooth with tastes of cherry, pomegranate, vanilla, and toffee surrounded by hints of oak. The wine finishes with a little spice and a nice dose of acidity to lift the finish followed by lingering notes of vanilla and toffee. I think this wine has tons of potential but the vanilla and toffee flavors overpowered the palate for me. .  My Wine Rating- B

    The Primitivo was my surprise wine. It’s got a juicy (not at all jammy) core, with just enough heat and weight while being dance-y in the mouth. Of the portfolio the Primitivo was the one that most impressed me for hitting good value.

  • Mettler Family "Epicenter" Old Vine Zinfandel, $15 - $27.
    (Lodi appellation)

    Some quotations and facts:

    When it comes to zinfandel, there can be quite a bit of variation in how the wine is expressed. Some folks like a more elegant and approachable zinfandel, while others like them big and aggressive. If you’re in the latter camp, this may be one for you. There’s quite a bit of intensity on the nose of this wine. There’s also a strong alcohol vapor. With high alcohol wines, sometimes the fumes can be a bit intense, and that’s the case with this one, making it a bit out of balance. Beyond the fumes, this wine offers aromas of herbs, coffee and fruitcake. The palate is loaded with thick, jammy fruit flavors like cherry and black currant. It also has coffee notes and spice. It finishes with plum and black pepper. 86 points.

    I can’t mention Lodi without saying something good about zinfandel. The Mettler Family Vineyards 2006 “Epicenter” old vine zin provided a smooth mouthful of pleasure. It was classic zinfandel, brambly with enough jammy fruit to be finely balanced.

    Our shorthand for Wine of the Week (and maybe yours) is wow, an exclamation that fits the 2009 Mettler Family Vineyards Lodi Zinfandel . . . like a glove. First clue to this stunning red's promise is its provenance, California's Lodi district, the epicenter for outstanding zins. This one is a blend of 78 percent old vines zin, 12 percent petite sirah and a smidge of cabernet franc, a combination that yields a beautifully complex and full-bodied wine. In the glass this zin is a deep plum purple. The plum comes through on the nose, too, abetted by notes of warm spice and black pepper. On the tongue it rewards us with three very distinct but smoothly transitioned flavor phases, all informed by that inimitable zin bramble. First there is an opening burst of juicy dark stone fruits, especially black cherry, plus blackberry and the warm spice detected in its bouquet. Next comes a deep and mellow mid-palate that adds notes of dark chocolate and tobacco to the blend. Finally there is a surprising finish, long and smooth and smoky. We love zinfandels and this has just become one of our favorites.

    Sourced from one of the older vineyards in the region, Mettler has stayed true to Lodi’s larger Zinfandel style with Epicenter, a wine that’s black as night with notes of dark berry, plum, tar and brick, as well as a hint of tobacco and dark chocolate. Layered and complex, it’s full bodied, but retains enough acidity to taste balanced despite its oak and ample alcohol. Enjoy with hearty fare. 89 points.

    Spicy aroma of cinnamon, black pepper, mint and clove, with deep, dark berries, prune plums, dark chocolate and cherries; dense concentrated fruit with flavors of chocolate, mission figs and berry compote with vanilla.

    A monster zin, but a Shrek, big and brooding with deeply extracted aromas and flavors, but nonetheless lively and lifted by moderate tannin and tame alcohol.

    The 2007 Epicenter Zin (gets it name from Lodi’s “center of zinfandel” reputation) is not a wine for those seeking light-hearted red wine. Burly, muscular, concentrated flavors don every drop. Ripe black cherry, blackberry, black pepper, vanilla and coconut define the experience but it also offers some feminine lavender and semisweet chocolate. Has a slightly sweet finish of bright fruit. Lots going on and sports a helluva lot of alcohol but you don’t really notice it. Delicious. 4 *.

    The Mettler Family Vineyards Zinfandel Epicenter 2010 shows deep, dark prune at first, followed by black licorice and a hint of dolce de leche.

    Dark and saucy on the nose, with lots of plums and blackberries, along with mocha, chocolate shavings and some earthy-peppery notes. Bright berry fruit leads the way on the palate (raspberry and blackberries), the acid is medium-to-low, and the tannins show some grip. The chocolate, toasty aspects are bold but integrated. Notes of cinnamon and baker’s chocolate linger on the rich, plummy finish. 86 points.

  • Apollonio Terragnolo Primitivo, $13 - $17.
    (Italian Primitivo)

    Some quotations and facts:

    [A] good Primitivo wine does have a fair bit in common with a big, brooding Zin. Some Primitivo wines have loads of ripe, juicy fruit and they can be boozy monsters (this one is 14.5%). This one showed a bunch of dusty black cherry, black licorice and cola mixed with an edge of brawny leather and tar… this is backed up by strong tannins and an edge of vanilla from the generous oak. That leads out to a long finish. Good stuff. One thing to note with this wine – because of its dense and tannic structure, it needs at least 2 – 3 hours in a decanter before meeting a glass (and your mouth). If you try it before that, you’ll just be disappointed. The true character of the wine comes out of its leathery disguise after that and is really quite balanced… and don’t expect a fruit bomb. This wine is very Old World in its fruit. It’s very tasty, just not a slutty Zin clone.

    Coffee, raisins and berry fruit on the nose. Full bodied, chocolate and mocha flavours, powerful. 3 *.

    ♣ International Wine Cellar (1 July 2008), 88 points.

    Deep red. Aromas of perfumed red cherry and ripe raspberries macerated in alcohol, complicated by hints of vanilla and cinnamon. The palate offers spicy black and red fruits and a somewhat rough texture, and finishes rather long and saline, with mounting tannins.

    American oak. More grown up and dense, floral and ethereal than the richness of the [same maker's] Negroamaro. Black fruits. Very rich and sweet on the finish. Long. 16/20.

    [Google-translated from Portugese] In Visual: Ruby red color with intense violet reflexes. Brilliant. Dense tears drawing the walls of the bowl. In Olfactory: Complexity expressed in olfactory intoxicating notes of dried fruits, spices, and hints of tobacco and toasted. On the Palate: Moderately full-bodied structure. Repeats on the palate the findings of dried fruit in harmony with hints of toast and tobacco. Fine, velvety and well-integrated tannins. Long and persistent finish.

    Color: Ruby-red with burgundy flashes. Bouquet: Very typical and delicate.

    [Google-translated from Romanian:] Intense ruby ​​red. Nose of chocolate, cocoa, mix berries, soy sauce, and sweet hints of candied fruit. In the mouth expresses cherries, plums, licorice and chocolate cough goes to a final steep, to say a mixture of notes, blueberry and herbs. Good acidity that supports the sweetness of the fruit. 88 points.

  • Cantina Salvalai Flaio Primitivo, $8 - $11.
    (Italian Primitivo)

    Some quotations and facts:

    This wine was the favorite of the blind tasting. It has a huge nose of cooked blackberry and it smells just the tiniest bit hot. For such a big nose, I expected this wine to be big. Instead, it was light in flavor profile (not aggressive) and balanced. It is a little hot, but this heat balances very well with the tannins and the acidity. Medium bodied. NOTE: The winery that makes this wine uses grapes grown in Puglia, but it makes the wine just outside Verona. 8.5/10.

    Best value. Totally pleasing, with nice earthiness, a light touch and shy, balanced tastes. Fun. Very Good.

    A wonderful wine for the price. It's youthful, with a few raw edges, but overall it's extremely balanced, well-integrated, and, as Steve says, "rich." It has good dark fruit, with chocolate, and (okay, we'll say it) leather. It has a little funkiness that tastes like age, although it's not aged. .  It's essentially classed as a table wine—Indicazione Geographica Tipica—but delivers a lot more character than other IGT wines we've had from Italy. Cost: $8.59; Drinks like: $15; Bang for the buck: 175%.

    Hailing from the heel of the boot of Italy, Flaio features the ancestor of the Zinfandel grape, Primitivo, though it is not nearly as heavy or oak laden as American Zinfandel. Because the wine sees just a short time in large Gypsy wagon sized oak barrels, it remains lively and juicy with both red and black fruits in a medium bodied-plumy patina. The acidity balances the mouth filling fruit nicely and you can’t beat the quality and value for the price.

    This well priced Italian cousin of Zinfandel has loads of red fruits - cherries and plums - with smoked hints, saddle leather and iodine with chocolate and espresso undertones. The palate is simple and rustic but satisfying with layered flavours of pomegranate, red currents, fine cedarbox spices and tobacco lingering on the finish. It's a smooth wine with nice balance. Good value!

    Nose of strawberries, lilacs, and green pepper. Smooth mid-palate. Finish of herbs and mushrooms, with a bitter note on the end. This wine is a little odd. It might sound delicious based on my tasting notes above, but it didn't come together. I was was expecting something a little different and even with all the flavors, it seemed disjointed. . . To be honest, my wife and I both turned away from it after a half glass or so. The bottle then sat on the counter for two days until I decided to give it another try. Guess what, it was actually a little better- rounder, smoother, and with better integrated flavors. Interesting!

    Nice jammy fruits with prominent smells of bacon, rhubarb, green peppers and blueberry juice; a bit of anise also shows in the heat of the nose. Rich fruit flavours with raspberries and some clean smokey flavours of charred oak and grilled berries. Very easy drinking and easily paired with tomato based dishes. 90/100.

    Flaio Salento 2008 Primitivo, $7.64-$10.99, 89 points, is the richest of the Pirmitivo wines I've tried. It is darker, more earthy aromatic, smoother, more full-bodied, more plum-like, more Californian-like. The Flaio has a fair spice finish and complimented Asparagus in cheddar cheese sauce, and tenderloin well. [It] is a perfect example of QPR, and the bonus is that this is another Zinfandel wine . . . of good flavor, structure, and character for under $10.00 (A rare find indeed).

For a Splurge

With all the great Zins out there, a choice is monstrously difficult. It is generally felt that you cannot go wrong with a Zin from any of "the three R's", Ridge, Ravenswood, and Rosenblum. But the generally perceived overall leader is Turley Wine Cellars, which makes twenty-five distinct bottlings of Zinfandel. The biggest problems with Turley are two: deciding which one or ones to favor, and finding some to buy. It is said that if one goes to the winery in Paso Robles, one can usually buy any but the scarcest bottlings, but don't look for these in your neighborhood wine shop with much hope of success.

Your best bets for availability are probably the relatively lesser bottlings, say the Turley "Juvenile" Zinfandel ($22 - $53) or the Turley "Old Vines" Zinfandel ($29 - $91). Top-flight Turley Zins (good luck) include their their Cedarman Vineyard" bottling ($49 - $91), their "Ueberroth Vineyard" bottling ($55 - $128), and their "Hayne Vineyard" bottling ($60 - $153).

But, as a last thought, keep in mind that some of the wines in the main lists above have receieved some awfully high ratings—several at 90 or over—and maybe you don't even need to splurge to get a great bottle of Zin.

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