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02.19.2011

California's Best Zinfandel: Notes from the ZAP 2011 Tasting

ZAP2011.jpgAh, Zinfandel. The all-American grape that fuels much passion in the Bay Area. The annual ZAP Zinfandel festival draws crowds bigger than most other wine events, even in the midst of a tough economy.

Truth be told, this year continued the slightly mellower note of last year's tasting, with fewer producers and fewer attendees, though no shortage of great juice was to be had.

One of the reasons, it seems to me, that the public gets so excited about Zinfandel is that the wine refuses to be taken too seriously. While there are certainly a few cult Zinfandels that are lauded by critics, somehow Zinfandel doesn't have the gravitas of Cabernet, or the mystique of Burgundy. Though some can age into very interesting concoctions, most Zinfandel is best drunk young, and therefore is almost never hoarded by collectors.

Zinfandel is a wine of immediate pleasure, and easy passion, that, when great, brings a ready smile to the lips and a warmth to the heart.

I took it easy this year at the tasting, and didn't go for my usual marathon of 200+ wines, but I made sure to taste a lot of my favorites and explore a few wines that were unknown to me.

A number of the 2009 wines are not yet available on the market, so look for them later this Spring or at the very latest, in the Fall.

Without further ado...


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10

2009 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville - Barrel Sample, Sonoma
Medium garnet in color, this wine has an incredibly beautiful nose of bright crushed blackberry, mulberry, and blueberry fruit. Aromas. In the mouth it all but explodes with bright juicy blackberry and blueberry fruit, knit together with fine grained, smooth tannins against a darker backdrop of wet earth. Exceptionally smooth and silky, and conveying a cool, almost polished metal quality, this is the best this wine has ever tasted to me. $35.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2009 Turley Wine Cellars Hayne Vineyard - Barrel Sample, Napa
Dark purple in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry, mulberry and cassis fruit. In the mouth the wine is beautifully clean and bright with a juicy core of blueberry and blackberry fruit that melds with notes of chocolate and cedar, and lingers chocolatey in the finish. Yum. $75.

2008 Bella Vineyards Big River Ranch, Alexander Valley
Dark garnet in color this wine has a nose of smoky blueberry and black cherry aromas. In the mouth bright flavors of black cherry, wet dirt, and juicy, slightly unripe blackberries burst with flavor and linger through a very nice finish. $38.

2009 Brown Estate Mickey's Vineyard, Napa
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a heady nose of blueberry and chocolate aromas. In the mouth flavors of chocolate and blueberry burst with juicy acidity and rich silky texture. Fine grained tannins creep around the edges of the mouth and linger with the chocolate flavors in the finish. $58. Click to buy.

2009 Gamba Vineyards and Winery Moratto Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, chocolate and hints of blackberries. In the mouth it has a fantastic caramel aspect, underneath flavors of blackberry, cherry, and chocolate. Juicy with acidity and smooth on the tongue, this is a rich, delicious zinfandel. $43. Click to buy.

2009 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs - Barrel Sample, Dry Creek Valley
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a bright blackberry and cherry smell. In the mouth cool cherry, chocolate and blackberry flavors mix with a hint of black pepper. Fine, faint tannins swirl in the background. $35

2009 Outpost Barrel Sample, Napa, Howell Mountain
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and chocolate. In the mouth, grippy tannins surround flavors of chocolate, blueberry, and blackberry with a hint of spice. Long finish. Fantastic. $45

2009 Hartford Family Winery Jolene's Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry, black cherry, and chocolate. In the mouth the wine offers very fine, juicy flavors of blackberry, blueberry, chocolate and a sort of crystalline brightness that is quite disarming. Fine grained tannins hover around the edges of the mouth. Delicious. $55.

2007 J. Rickards Ancestor Selection, Alexander Valley
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of chocolate, black cherry, and blackberry fruit with a hint of coffee. In the mouth chocolate covered espresso bean flavors mix with black cherry and blackberry fruit through a delicious finish. 4% Mourvedre, 5% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah, and 1% Alicante Bouschet. $22. Click to buy.


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5

2009 Gamba Vineyards and Winery Estate, Russian River Valley
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a wonderful nose of blackberry, black cherry, and chocolate aromas. In the mouth chocolate, and blueberry flavors are bright with acidity and linger with a hint of sweetness in the finish. $43.

2008 Klinker Brick Old Ghost, Lodi
Dark ruby in color, this wine smells of licorice and black cherry fruit. In the mouth the wine offers smoky caramel flavors mixed with blackberry and licorice. Faint tannins hang in the background while the smoky fruit is smooth on the palate. $37. Click to buy.

2007 Acorn Vineyards Heritage - Alegria Vineyards, Sonoma
Medium garnet in color this wine smells beautifully of rich chocolate and mixed berries with a hint of wet wood. In the mouth, flavors of chocolate, cherry, and earth are subdued and classy, with great elegance. Lovely finish. $32. Click to buy.

2008 J. Rickards Old Vine, Alexander Valley
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of wet dirt, blackberries and chocolate. In the mouth it offers a wonderful blend of earthy flavors, that turn towards sweet dark chocolate and bright blackberry fruit through the finish. $28. Click to buy.

2007 Ballentine Vineyards Block 9 Reserve, Napa. $30.
2007 Benessere Holystone, Napa, St. Helena. $28. Click to buy.
2009 Brown Estate Chiles Valley, Napa. $48.
2009 Brown Estate, Napa. $36. Click to buy.
2009 Chiarello Vineyards Giana, Napa. $42.
2007 Downing Family Vineyards Fly By Night, Napa. $??. Click to buy.
2009 Gamba Vineyards and Winery Family Ranches, Russian River Valley. $35.
2009 Hartford Family Winery Old Vine, Russian River Valley. $35.
2009 Hartford Family Winery Highwire, Russian River Valley. $55.
2008 Hartford Family Winery, Russian River Valley. $35.
2007 Hendry Block 28, Napa. $35.
2009 Ridge Vineyards East Bench Barrel Sample, Sonoma. $25.
2008 Rosenblum Winery Harris Kratka Vineyard, Alexander Valley. $40. Click to buy.
2006 Storrs Winery Rusty Ridge, Santa Clara County. $30. Click to buy.
2008 Storybook Mountain Vineyards Estate, Napa. $34. Click to buy.
2009 Turley Wine Cellars Juvenile. $20. Click to buy.
2008 Valdez Family Winery Quinn, Dry Creek Valley. $40.
2008 Valdez Family Winery Lancel Creek, Russian River Valley. $40.


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2003 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville, Sonoma.
Medium ruby in color, this wine smells of figs and chocolate covered prunes. In the mouth, flavors of chocolate, roasted figs, raisins, and cedar are surrounded by tacky leathery tannins that linger through the finish. $

2008 Acorn Vineyards Heritage - Alegria Vineyards, Sonoma. $32
2008 Bella Vineyards Lilly Hill, Russian River Valley. $40
2008 Benessere Holystone, Napa, St. Helena. $20
2009 Brown Estate Chaos Theory, Napa. $40
2008 Cedarville Vineyards Estate, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado County. $22
2009 Chiarello Vineyards Felicia, Napa. $59
2009 Fontanella Family Winery, Napa. $??
2008 Harney Lane Vineyards, Lodi. $??
2007 Hendry Block 7 and Block 22, Napa. $30
2008 Kokomo Winery Paulines Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley. $36
2009 Novy Family Vineyards Carlisle, Russian River Valley. $34
2009 Ravenswood Winery Big River Ranch, Alexander Valley. $30
2009 Ravenswood Winery Old Hill, Dry Creek Valley. $40
2009 Ridge Vineyards Pagani Barrel Sample, Sonoma. $35
2008 Ridge Vineyards Charmichael, Sonoma. $28
2007 Rock Wall Winery Reserve, Sonoma. $35
2008 Rock Wall Winery Jessie's Vineyard, Contra Costa County. $28
2008 Rosenblum Winery, Rockpile. $40
2007 Storrs Winery, Central Coast. $20
2007 Storybook Mountain Vineyards Anteus, Napa. $40
2007 Valdez Family Winery Lancel Creek, Russian River Valley. $40
2007 Valdez Family Winery Botticelli, Rockpile. $40
2008 Valdez Family Winery Landy Vineyard, Russian River Valley. $40


WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2008 Bella Vineyards Two Patch, Alexander Valley. $38
2007 Benessere Black Glass, Napa. $35
2008 Calcareous Vineyards Twisted Sisters, Paso Robles. $??
2009 Cedarville Vineyards Estate, Sierra Foothills, El Dorado County. $22
2007 Charter Oak Monte Rosso Vineyard, Sonoma Valley. $42
2008 Charter Oak Monte Rosso Vineyard, Sonoma Valley. $42
2008 Charter Oak The Zinfandel Mind, Napa. $42
2008 Charter Oak Guido Ragghianti, Napa. $48
2007 D-Cubed Cellars, Napa, Howell Mountain. $??
2007 Giadomella Reserve, Russian River Valley. $65
2006 Hartford Family Winery, Russian River Valley. $35
2007 Hendry HRW, Napa. $15
2008 Kokomo Winery, Sonoma. $22
2008 Kokomo Winery Timber Crest, Dry Creek Valley. $36
2008 Leese Fitch. $??
2009 Novy Family Vineyards Papera Ranch, Russian River Valley. $29
2009 Orin Swift Cellars Saldo. $28
2009 Ravenswood Winery Dickerson Vineyard, Napa. $30
2009 Ravenswood Winery Belloni Vineyard, Russian River Valley. $30
2009 Ravenswood Winery Barricia Vineyard, Sonoma Valley. $30
2009 Ravenswood Winery Teldeschi Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley. $30
2009 Ridge Vineyards California Barrel Sample, Paso Robles. $30
2008 Ridge Vineyards Buchignani, Sonoma. $28
2008 Rock Wall Winery Reserve, Sonoma. $30
2009 Rock Wall Winery Pearl Hart Reserve. $??
2007 Saddleback Cellars, Napa. $36
2005 Storrs Winery Lion Oaks, Santa Cruz Mountains. $34
2008 Tin Barn, Russian River Valley. $27
2007 Valdez Family Winery Landy Vineyard, Russian River Valley. $??


WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2008 Adelaida Celllars, Paso Robles. $??
2008 Bartholemew Park, Sonoma Valley. $??
2008 Charter Oak Estate, Napa, St. Helena. $42
2008 Chateau Montelena. $30
2008 J. Dusi Vineyards, Paso Robes. $??
2008 Kokomo Winery Monts, Dry Creek Valley. $32
2008 Kuleto Vineyards, Napa. $35
2006 Mantra Vineyards Old Vines Reserve, Alexander Valley. $??
2007 Milliare Winery Clockspring, Amador County. $24
2009 Novy Family Vineyards, Russian River Valley. $20
2008 Pedroncelli Mother Clone, Dry Creek Valley. $??
2009 Rock Wall Winery Stagecoach Vineyards, Napa. $40
2008 Rosenblum Winery, Paso Robles. $18
2008 Rued Winery, Dry Creek Valley. $25
2009 Saddleback Cellars, Napa. $36
2008 Stonehedge Winery, Amador County. $18
2008 Stonehedge Winery, Dry Creek Valley. $18

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
2008 Cakebread Winery, Lake County, Red Hills. $??
2008 Dashe Todd Brothers Ranch, Alexander Valley. $??
2009 Rock Wall Winery Viva La Rouge. $??
2008 Rombauer. $28
2008 Sextant Winery Genoa, Paso Robles. $??
2008 Sextant Winery Night Watch, Paso Robles. $??

WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
2007 Ridge Vineyards Old School. $28
2008 Rombauer, Sierra Foothills, Fiddletown. $42
2007 Starry Night Winery, Sonoma. $??

WINES SCORING BETWEEN 7.5 AND 8
2008 Opolo Vineyards, Paso Robles. $??

Comments (10)

Tracy wrote:
02.20.11 at 7:44 AM

I loved this post. It was a 2005 Klinker Brick Old Ghost Zin that began my more serious interest in wine and zin's been one of my "easy passion"s ever since. I'm looking forward to playing in this very inviting list. Thank you.

02.20.11 at 7:53 AM

Great post. Attended ZAP in Orlando a few years ago, but it was nowhere on the scale that you are talking about. I think I managed to get through about 50+ Zin's before my palate died.

Chris wrote:
02.20.11 at 10:45 AM

That settles it -- I'm on the hunt for Klinker Brick Old Ghost this week locally. Got to admit, though, at almost twice the price of Turley Juvenile ($20 - KBOG/$37) it's going to have to be really spectacular to win any kind of QPR battle.

02.20.11 at 2:15 PM

Congratulations, Alder. This is your best ever report on a big tasting, IMHO.

Jason Cohen wrote:
02.20.11 at 6:00 PM

Whoa, that's a lot of enticing-sounding Zinfandel. I'd better get started...

Side note: I know you're a big proponent of spitting (and I realize this is a necessity when tasting multitudes of wines), but when it comes to the 10's and almost-10's, do you ever cheat a bit and just, you know, "accidentally" swallow some?

Alder Yarrow wrote:
02.20.11 at 6:23 PM

Jason,

Absolutely. Even at these tastings, occasionally you run across a wine that you just can't bring yourself to spit out. I definitely swallowed the full mouthful of the Geyserville above.

zoeldar wrote:
02.21.11 at 10:57 PM

Alder - great post, and I agree on most ratings (well-calibrated, palates aligned). Esp glad on the callouts of Hartford and J Rickards (although I thought his Old Vine better of the two). You missed two stunning wines, IMHO, connected by the same winemaker:

1) Wilson - a whole treasure trove of fine full-throttle Zins at reasonable prices. Definitely in the 9+ range.
2) Matrix - blow-away Zins with polish and style...I stopped by their tasting room the following week - and their PNs are even better than the Zins...wow. Seriously fine juice...

Z

jason carey wrote:
02.24.11 at 2:19 PM

Ridge Pagani Ranch..liked all the Ridge.. but this one stood way out to me.
Bedrock
Ravenswood Old Hill, Teldeschi
Deloach OFS
Easton Shenandoah.. I found the Fiddletown ones over ripe
Claudia Springs, including the blend.
Kokomo
Hartford Single vineyard wines, esp Jolene's
Gamba
Novy
Gundlach Bundschu
Chateau Montelena.
Seghesio Cortina and Old vine.

Hank Eisengrein wrote:
02.24.11 at 8:16 PM

I love the Ridge wines and think that they are an American treasure. I have saved the Geyserville wines since 1993. They are fun to drink with friends. The range of Ridge Zins are always very good and many are excellent. I had a 1979 Ridge Lytton Springs with my friend Dan Hench at Bern's in Tampa and it was only $ 42. You can't fault as Ridge is a soild choice when dining out with guests. Too bad more people don't try these instead of drinking another boring Napa Cabernet. The Chardonnay is a big sleeper as well.

Jack Weissberg wrote:
04.08.11 at 3:40 PM

Thanks for the reviews and ratings - so nice and useful. You've clued me into a few I haven't had and it's moved me to go and seek them out. J Rickards Ancestor is great and well balanced. Downing Family Fly By Night is big and juicy. These wines are bargains with pure enjoyment within! I look forward to trying more of the winners you list here.

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