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California's Best Zinfandels: A Report From ZAP 2004

This past Saturday, along with 17,000 (or so it seemed) other industry insiders and wine hungry San Franciscans I attended the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) Tasting Event at Fort Mason. I'm not going to bore you with the numbers, scathing reviews on the highly disorganized volunteers and registration process. Others can tell you what happened there. I did one thing and one thing only: taste wines -- about 85 of them. I'm just gonna tell you the best ones which will already be selling like hotcakes, so go get 'em.

NOTE: About my scores. You might be thinking, "Hey, why aren't there any 5's or 4's in this list?" I stayed away from the Gallos and the Kendall Jacksons of the world and went straight for the producers that I knew best, as well as experimenting with some small vineyards that I had never heard of.

All of the wines below are Zinfandels.

TOP 10 (in no particular order):

  • 2002 Downing Fly-By-Night - Brilliant bright fruit with a heady nose. Just say yes to the screwcap! $?? Score: 9.5
  • 2001 Charter Oak Monte Rosso - Incredible chocolate notes from 118 yr. old vines. A bust 16.5% alchohol but incredibly smooth finish. $?? Score: 9.5
  • 1999 Ballantine Reserve - Tobacco and cedar nosed huge fruit bomb that amazingly remains balanced in the mouth with lovely blackberry and black cherry notes. $27 Score :9.5/10
  • 2002 Copain - Lovely fruit with nice peppery...can't read the rest of my notes due to wine stain. $35. Score: 9.0
  • 2001 Cosentino "The Zin" -- Huge extracted Turley style zin that I think is a touch better than their immensely popular Cigar Zin (which also earned a 9 in my book). $30. Score: 9
  • 2001 August Briggs Napa Valley - Less of a fruit bomb with more pepper and herbs, but still nicely balanced. Barrell samples of the 2002 showed immense promise as well. $32. Score: 9
  • 2001 D-Cubed Napa Valley - Heavy hitter of a wine, dark brooding, and oh so lucious. $25!! Score: 9
  • 2001 Brown Estate -- there's a reason this wine won best of ZAP last year. It's amazing. $32. Score: 9
  • 2002 Novy Russian River -- made by Eric (missed his lastname), winemaker for Sidury. Yum yum. $30. Score: 9
  • 2002 Outpost Howell Mountain- Made by the precocious Thomas Brown (formerly of Turley) and extremely unique in character and flavor. He only had a barrel sample, but this is going to be one hell of a wine. $40. Score: 9/9.5


  • 2001 Spelletich Amador County " Tim makes his wines in ways that defy common winemaking practices, but he doesn't care, and you won't either once you taste it. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. $24 Score: 8.5/9
  • 2002 Cedarville " This wine has what winemaker Jonathan Lachs accurately calls a "shy nose" but it tastes great, and may open up as it bottle ages. $22 !! Score: 8.5/9


  • 2002 Rosenblum Monte Rosso " big, big, big extracted fruit. Lovely complex cherry and spices. Compare this with the Charter Oak above for an evening of California terrior. $30. Score: 9
  • 2002 Hendry Block 7 " these vines were planted in 1975 and it shows. $27 Score: 8.5
  • 2001 Dashe Todd Brothers Ranch - $28. Score: 8.5/9
  • 1999 Eric Ross Feeney Ranch " wonderful licorice and black cherry nose. $27 Score: 8.5
  • 2003 Hartford Highwire Zin " wonderful tobacco and cedar notes from a barrel tasting of this young and dynamic vintage. Should be super. $35. Score: 8.5
  • 2001 Harrison Zebra Zin - I wrote something down about its nose but I can't read it. You would think I was swallowing the whole day. $27. Score: 8.5
  • 2001 Saddleback Old Vine Zin " can't read the notes on this one either but something kept it out of the top 10. $30. Score: 9.
  • 2002 Schrader Vieux-Os " very small production (less than 200 cases usually) so get on the mailing list now. $35. Score: 8.5

    Wines that scored at least a 7 (good wines):

  • 2001 Chase Hayne Vineyards
  • 2002 Carlisle vintages
  • 2001 Chiarello Young Vines "Giana"
  • 2001 Girard
  • 2000 " 2002 Ballantine
  • 2001 and 2002 Dashe, esp. Big River
  • 2001 Bella vintages
  • 2002 Ridge Lytton Springs
  • 2002 Turley Hayne Vineyard (barrel sample)

    Wines not to bother with:

  • 2000 " 2002 Chatom
  • 2002 Sineann Pines and Old Vines

    Comments (9)

    Steve Killey wrote:
    03.25.04 at 1:42 PM

    I drank a bottle of the Brown Zin 2001 the other night and second the sentiment that it is excellent!
    Thanks for the recommendation.

    Basil wrote:
    04.06.04 at 11:57 PM

    Just found your site...and agree with some of the zins you listed. For what it's worth, has anyone tried the "1999 Scott Harvey Amador Old Vines" Zin. He's the former Renwood and current Folie a Doeux Winemaker. This one is very hard to find, but is worth the search...it has the richness and briary character of classic Amador old vine zins, but at 14.5% it's not overpowering or overly jammy. Very nicely structured, with plums and black cherry giving way to hints of chocolate at the finish. All for a basement bargain of $19.

    Alder wrote:
    04.07.04 at 10:04 AM

    Thanks for the comments. I'm a big fan of Scott Harvey (as you can see in this review but I have never heard of the wine you reference. Thanks for the tip, I will hunt it down.

    Cliff Jackson wrote:
    05.13.04 at 7:59 PM

    Anyone familiar with Bradford Mt. Grist Vineyard '01? How would it be rated relative to the "Top Ten" wines?

    Alder Yarrow wrote:
    05.14.04 at 6:26 PM


    Unfortunately I am not very familiar with Bradford's wines, and if they were pouring at ZAP I missed the table. Sorry I can't be of more help. I’d love to hear your impressions.


    Cliff Jackson wrote:
    05.15.04 at 2:52 PM

    The Bradford Mt. '99 was eye-opening to me, but I suspect not to those familiar with highly extracted Zins. The closest that I've tasted to it since has been the Claudia Springs Rhodes Vineyard '99, which at 17.1% was an impressive wine in that the fruit flavors still dominated the palate. The nose was a little closed, though, and made me still favor the Bradford. After reading the notes from the ZAP festival, it is clear that I've just scratched the surface on full-bodied, fruit-dominated Zins, a style that I really enjoy! As long as the prices don't get out of hand, the future looks good!

    mm wrote:
    08.01.05 at 6:41 AM

    I am looking for a 2001 rosenblum red zin (oakley). Is any still available, and can you suggest an equivalent

    Alder wrote:
    08.01.05 at 11:17 AM


    There are a lot of Rosenblum Zins to choose from. I do not sell wines and I haven't tried to purchase this wine myself, so I have no idea as to its availability. My recommendation would be to check a site like Wine Searcher.

    As far as an equivalent, I'm sure you'd be happy with many of their Zinfandels in that price range.

    Brendan wrote:
    08.02.12 at 9:02 PM

    Hey Adler,

    Have to disagree with your ranking. Brown Estate should be the perfect 10 on the top of your list. I know this post is older, but have you tried there 2010 Rosemary's block? If not, try it and thank me later!

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