Category Archives: Zinfandel

Zinfandel and blends

Cameron Hughes Lot 321 2010 California Field Blend

Cameron Hughes Lot 321Price: $10
Maker: Cameron Hughes Winery, Geyserville, California
Variety: Red Blend
Packaging: 750ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 14.5%
Our Rating: 9.0 out of 10

Cameron Hughes Lot 321 2010 California Field Blend is a really, really nice wine for a mere ten bucks. It’s a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Carignane. Its aroma includes berries and licorice. The Zin is the predominant grape, and on the palate the first impression is lots of fruit – blueberries and raspberries. But then, the flavor expands into a rich complexity, with chocolate and chewy tannins. If you like complex Zins that exhibit good fruit without being simple and too sweet, you’ll like Lot 321. Continue reading

Barefoot Zinfandel (Update)

barefoot zinfandelPrice: $5
Maker: Barefoot Cellars, Modesto, California
Variety: Zinfandel
Packaging: Bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

It’s been five years since we looked at Barefoot Zinfandel (non-vintage), and it’s good to know that not much has changed with this very inexpensive wine. Continue reading

A History of Zinfandel

Zinfandels

Zinfandels are perhaps my favorite reds – particularly the big, bold, not overly sweet Zins that combine rich complexity with plenty of fruit. I enjoy Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Chianti, Bordeaux, and many other red wines, but somehow Zins are special. I was delighted to run across a wonderful chronicle of Zinfandel history at the Times & Transcript. I was surprised to learn that its American origins trace to New England before being transported to California in the 1850s. Although its origins seem to trace to Italy’s Primotivo grapes, it is considered an American varietal. Continue reading

HRM Rex Goliath California Zinfandel

Price: $6
Maker: HRM Rex Goliath Winery, Woodbridge, California
Varietal: Zinfandel
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.3 out of 10

Is it possible to buy a good Zinfandel for six bucks? Well, HRM Rex Goliath California Zinfandel isn’t a great Zin. It’s not as complex or intense as the “big” Zins I favor, and at 13.5% alcohol it’s at the lighter end of the spectrum for Zin. But, it’s a fair representation of the varietal and not a bad wine for casual swilling. Rex Goliath Zinfandel’s flavor is fruity and slightly sweet, with blueberry and strawberry notes predominating. It has a reasonably long, peppery finish.

According to the Rex Goliath website, “We sourced fruit from throughout the state of California to make this wine. This is important because each viticultural area brings something unique to the blend. The old-vine fruit from Lodi provides an abundance of ripe blackberry and cherry flavors. The Central Coast provides earthy, spice, coffee/mocha notes. The dry farmed fruit from the Sierra Foothills provides the depth and complexity which really rounds out the flavor profile.”

That description might make Rex Goliath Zinfandel sound like one of the greatest Zins of all time. Don’t expect that. But, it is a super value in the $5-7 range and will provide a nice, fruity accompaniment to barbecue or another dish that can pair with its fruity nature.

Temptation Zinfandel 2005

Temptation ZinPrice: $12
Maker: Alexander Valley Vineyards, WH, Sonoma County, Healdsburg, California
Varietal: Zinfandel
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, screw cap
Alcohol: 14.5%
Our Rating: 8.9 out of 10

If you favor big Zins, Temptation Zinfandel 2005 might punch your ticket. It has a moderately strong berry aroma, and a warm, fruity flavor with black cherry and chocolate notes. This Zin builds in intensity as it approaches the finish, which is long and slightly acidic. This wine isn’t overly complex or subtle, but is definitely nice to drink. I opened it to accompany outdoor-grilled strip steaks, a pairing which worked out just fine. I’d also pair this wine with fun food, like Chicago deep-dish pizza.

Temptation Zin has already achieved recognition:

  • Gold Medal – 2008 Houston Rodeo Intl Wine Competition
  • “Highly Recommended” – 88 Points – 2007 World Value Wine Challenge
  • Silver Medal – 2007 Hilton Head Wine Fest

According to the Alexander Valley website, Temptation Zin is a blend of 46% Dry Creek, 33% Alexander Valley grapes, and 21% Solano County grapes. It’s a winning combination.

Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois Red 2006

Menage a Trois RedPrice: $10
Maker: Folie à Deux Winery, St. Helena, Napa County, California
Varietal: Blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois Red 2006 is a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon that most heavily favors the Zin side of its heritage. It has a nice aroma of spicy berries. It’s flavor is jammy, with strawberries, raspberries, and chocolate notes, and the finish is slightly peppery. This red wine leans toward the sweet side a bit.

We found a few other wine bloggers who have tried Menage a Trois Red. Budget Vino said, “This wine is overly sweet- so much so that I questioned whether I would be able to finish the glass I poured and salvage my $10 investment.” The Wine Cask Blog liked it a bit more, saying, “It delivers easy drinkability and simple, fruity tastes and smells. Structurally it is unsophisticated but not poor. A good every-day value wine.” Yoav thought it “went down nicely.” And, G&D’s mother-in-law recommended she try Menage a Trois, much to G&D’s delight.

The last vintage of this wine we tried was Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois Red 2003.

Toad Hollow Cacophony Zinfandel 2006

Toad Hollow Cacophony ZinfandelPrice: $13
Maker: Toad Hollow Cellars, Paso Robles, California
Varietal: Zinfandel
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 14.8%
Our Rating: 9 out of 10

Toad Hollow Cellars seems to have our number dialed in. We really liked their Erik’s the Red, and Toad Hollow Cacophony Zinfandel 2006 is at least as pleasing. This Zin starts with black cherry and plum notes, and after this fruity introduction, the flavor explodes with more fruit, spice, and soft tannins. This is the kind of Zin we like – big and bold, with a playful attitude.

I paired this with grilled tenderloins, which proved to be a perfect combination.

According to the Toad Hollow website, “Our fifth release of the Toad Hollow Cacophony Zinfandel is a Paso Robles appellation where the long hot days and chilly nights are just what zinfandel vines thrive upon. The new offering is 92% zinfandel with a smattering of other fun Paso Robles area varietals folded in for additional character, and dare I say, excitement!”

Toad Hollow has a number of other reds, including a Merlot and two Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley. Based on my experience with Erik’s “proprietary red” and their Cacophony Zinfandel, I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do with these traditionally lighter reds.

Baron Herzog Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2004

Baron Herzog Lodi Old Vine ZinfandelPrice: $12
Maker: McWilliam’s Hanwood Estate, New South Wales, Australia
Varietal: Zinfandel
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 14.1%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Baron Herzog Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2004 is the first kosher wine that we’ve tried, at least knowingly, and we liked it. It has aromas of berries and smoky leather. The wine is medium to full-bodied and nicely structured. Flavor notes include cherries, dark berries, chocolate, and toasted oak.

The Baron Herzog website says, “These old-vine Zinfandel grapes are taken entirely from gnarly, head-trained vines in the Watts Vineyard. The wine is aged in 30% new and 70% one year old American barrels for six months.”

This isn’t the biggest and boldest Zin we’ve tasted, but it has a lot to offer with its pleasantly complex flavors.

Montevina Zinfandel: Revisited

A couple of months ago, we tried Montevina Zinfandel (specifically, Montevina Sierra Foothills Zinfandel 2003), and dubbed it a nice bargain ($7) with a rating of 8.5. We happened to pick up another bottle on sale for about $5 – an amazing price for a drinkable Zinfandel. Our second tasting mostly confirmed what we found the first time around. This time, we happened to save a half-consumed bottle for the next day with no particular precautions – no argon gas, no decanting into small containers. When we tried the wine the next day, the intensity of the fruit had increased dramatically and my overall impression went up another notch. I can’t guarantee similar results, but it suggests that breathing will really help this wine.

In short, this is definitely a bargain if you like fruity Zinfandels. Give it lots of air, and you’ll be amply rewarded.

Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel 2004

Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine ZinfandelPrice: $12
Maker: Ravenswood, Sonoma, California
Varietal: Zinfandel
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 14.5%
Our Rating: 9 out of 10

Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel 2004 was a nice find. It is a full-bodied Zin, leading with intense cherry, raspberry, and plum fruits, then offering chocolate and smoke notes, and moving into a big finish with black pepper, oak, and modest tannins. This is a bold, palate-filling wine, and it would have been a great match with the flavorful and well-seasoned smoked sirloin I had the night before (if only the restaurant had offered it!).

If we have any complaint at all about this yummy wine, it’s that the Ravenswood County Series wines come in very similar-looking bottles. The only distinction is the county of origin, with a few also bearing the “old vine” distinction. This may be a strong branding statement, but the occasional wine drinker or random shelf-browser might well be confused or have difficulty remembering which variation he tried and liked. Stores, too, may hesitate to devote a lot of shelf space to a half-dozen similar-looking Zinfandels. Ravenswood has a page devoted to this wine where you can also sign up for their Zinsider newsletter from their Department of Zinformation. These guys really like their Zins…

In a characteristically well-written set of tasting notes, Style Gourmet declared this Zin “well-made, stimulating to drink, a little brassy and fun, with complexity if you want it.” Rhino Wine Times thought it was “good stuff.” Good stuff indeed!