Category Archives: Zinfandel

Zinfandel and blends

Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2005

Dancing Bull ZinfandelPrice: $8
Maker: Rancho Zabaco Winery, Healdsburg, California
Variety: Zinfandel
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.9%
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

When we picked up a bottle of Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2005, we noticed some subtle changes. Since we last tried Rancho Zabaco Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2004, it seems the winery is shifting its brand emphasis. The “Rancho Zabaco” name is gone from the label, and even the website has shifted – it’s now Even the wine seems to have changed. The spicy, earthy aroma is still there, but this Zin was dominated by juicy raspberry and cherry notes, with mild spice and soft tannins. The 2005 is much fruitier than the 2004. Breathing toned down the fruit a bit, and added a bit more balance. Overall, this is a very approachable and drinkable wine, though it isn’t the kind of big, complex Zinfandel that lovers of that varietal might prefer.

The new Dancing Bull website is notable for its main feature, The Guy’s Guide to Wine. This is a Flash “booklet” that covers a variety of wine topics, ranging from food pairings to how to store wine. The site, unfortunately, lacks much information about the winery. The Vinicode blog tasted Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2005, and two out of the three tasters like it: “As for the taste, I liked what I believed to be a nice earthy quality. But the aftertaste did have a kool-aid kind of quality to it.” The third didn’t like it at all. Most of the other blog comments we found seemed to be for earlier years. If your tastes lean toward the fruity/juicy, try this Zin and see whom YOU agree with.

Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Zinfandel 2004

Francis Coppola ZinfandelPrice: $14
Maker: Francis Coppola Diamond Collection, Oakville, California
Varietal: Zinfandel
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Zinfandel 2004 has tempted us from the wine shop shelf for a while, and we finally broke down and tried a bottle. We weren’t disappointed. The aroma is mostly spice and berries, with a bit of vanilla. This Zin is medium bodied, with a bold fruity flavor. Cherry dominates, with plum and chocolate adding interest. The flavor is smooth, rounded, and fruity, with just enough tannins to keep it from being boring; they add a little bite in the finish, along with a tiny bit of oak. This wine is not huge, highly complex, or heavy in alcohol content – it’s just a very pleasing and accessible Zinfandel.

The Francis Coppola website says, “Sourced from old vines in Amador County and cooler vineyards in Paso Robles and Sonoma County, our Red Label Zinfandel has exceptional depth and complexity. Petite Sirah is blended in to further enhance the luscious strawberry jam, cassis, and briar flavors that follow its perfume of dark fruit, sweet spices and toasty vanilla.”

Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Zinfandel 2004 is an ideal choice for entertaining or gifting – a very accessible wine combined with a celebrity label, the perfect combination.

Pepperwood Grove Old Vine Zinfandel 2005

Pepperwood Grove ZinfandelPrice: $7
Maker: 3 Loose Screws, Napa, California
Variety: Zinfandel
Packaging: Bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Pepperwood Grove Old Vine Zinfandel 2005 is a steal at 7 bucks or so if you are inclined toward a fruity Zin. The bottle has a clean, contemporary design, and the artificial cork is a brilliant white in color. This wine’s nose isn’t exceptional, with mild spice, dark berry, and smoke notes. On the palate, though, it starts with a big blast of cherry that morphs into a finish that balances oak, spice, and tannins nicely. This Zin isn’t huge, and it’s not extremely complex. It’s not a high alcohol Zin either, weighing in at 13.5%. But at a price that’s well under $10, it’s a very pleasing red that will satisfy a wide range of wine drinkers. (Let it breathe for a few minutes, though – we saw a big change for the better after it got some oxygen.)

Pepperwood Grove is a brand of 3 Loose Screws, which is a division of Don Sebastiani & Sons. They also produce mass-distributed Smoking Loon wines, along with various less common brands like Used Automobile Parts. Their website suggests pairing Pepperwood Grove Old Vine Zinfandel with wild boar. We didn’t happen to have any wild boar cutlets in the freezer, but this is a wine that will pair well with beef, pork, or game, not to mention being fine to drink by itself.

Artezin 2004

Artezin 2004Price: $13
Maker: Artezin Wines, Napa, California
Varietal: Zinfandel
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 14.5%
Our Rating: 9 out of 10

Artezin 2004 Zinfandel is our kind of wine. We admit to being prejudiced toward big, bold Zins, and Artezin is one. The nose is nice but unexceptional, mostly the expected berries and spice. On the palate, though, this wine is smooth, rich, and deep… jammy plum, cherry, and blackberry combine with black pepper, woody notes, and soft tannins to produce surprising complexity and a lengthy finish. There’s a hint of fruity sweetness, though no more so than for a typical Zin.

Artezin Wines is part of the Hess Group – they have a limited range of wines, just making Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, and Carignan. This particular Zinfandel has grapes from Mendocino County (58%), Sonoma County (25%), and Amador County(17%).

The WineAss blog wasn’t nearly as impressed, scoring it a mere 3 out of 5 and summarizing, “Art is Out.” The Sacramento Bee commented, “the Artezin went well with the tri-tip not so much for its juicy fruit, which it did have, but for its solid structure and its ample weight, all of which danced gracefully with the richness of the beef. On its own, the wine, which includes 6 percent petite sirah, carries a note of white and black pepper to spice up its gentle blackberry and raspberry fruitiness.” Bigger Than Your Head called Artezin a cheapie that “should satisfy just about any palate.”

Artezin certainly satisfied OUR palate. If you like big, smooths Zins, give Artezin 2004 a try.

Zen of Zin 2004

Zen of ZinPrice: $15
Maker: Ravenswood, Sonoma, California
Varietal: Zinfandel
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

Ravenswood Zen of Zin 2004 is an OK Zin that isn’t huge, but may satisfy the typical red wine drinker . Its nose is a nice blend of dark berries and spice. The flavor is a bit oaky, but there is a good balance of blackberry and tannins. Zen of Zin isn’t extremely fruity like some Zins, and it doesn’t offer the smoky complexity we like… still, its structure partially makes up for the fact that it’s not an entirely typical Zinfandel. The finish is big, spicy, and long-lasting. In short, this wine starts and ends well, but on the palate it’s a bit lacking.

Zen of Zin is from Ravenswood Winery, though we couldn’t learn much about the wine from the Ravenswood website. Oddly, despite careful searching, it didn’t seem to be listed among their various offerings. Even the listings they did offer were kind of sketchy – we really like the sites that offer a data sheet for each wine, with background information, the winemaker’s tasting notes, reviews and awards, etc. We were able to find some opinions from bloggers, though. Dewayne from Missouri really hated it:

From the get go I thought that this wine was horrible. The only thing I can say in kindness was that it had a gentle fruit nose. That was it, the mouth was diluted and the finish was lacking. I would be pissed off if I had bought this wine for even $8. The only thing this may be good for is vinegar.

Neil Drinks Wine gave it a qualified thumb up: “I guess if you were just sitting around with friends and drinking some wine this would make an okay amuse bouche before breaking out the good stuff.” We liked the wine more than Dewayne – I suspect a bad bottle, it doesn’t sound like the same stuff at all. Still, for the same or lower price, we’d opt for So Zin or Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel. You can probably find both of those for a few bucks less than Zen of Zin, and both deliver a bigger Zin flavor. And it’s been a year since we tasted it, but Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin would be a good choice in the same price range.

Vendange Zinfandel 2004

Vendange Tetra PacksPrice: $3.50
Maker: Vendange Wine Cellars, Lathrop, California
Variety: Zinfandel
Packaging: 500 ml Tetra pack
Alcohol Content: 13.0%
Our Rating: 7.0 out of 10

We were excited to find that one local merchant expanded their assortment of Vendange Tetra Packs to eight varietals. We immediately picked up a Vendange Zinfandel 2004 – we’re partial to Zins, and the Vendange packages are compact and inexpensive. Unfortunately, our excitement lasted only until we opened the wine. The nose was promising, with juicy blackberry and raspberry backed up by mild licorice and clove notes. On the palate, though, the wine was a disappointment. Weak berry and spice notes fought with an unpleasant sharpness that lingered on the back of the tongue long after the rest of the flavors had dissipated. Based on our experience with other Vendange reds, we tried letting this wine breathe for a bit; unfortunately, that didn’t help.

We do like the Vendange packaging a lot – these packs hold a half-liter of wine in an incredibly small space. But, if you are looking for a red, give Vendange Zinfandel 2004 a pass and opt for Vendange Shiraz instead – we liked it a lot more than the Zin.

Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel 2004

Bogle Old Vines ZinfandelPrice: $10
Maker: Bogle Vineyards, Clarksburg, California
Varietal: Zinfandel
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 14.5%
Our Rating: 9 out of 10

Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel 2004 is a big Zin at a small price. This wine’s nose is prominent, with dark berry, leather, and smoke notes. On the palate, this zin bursts with plum and cherry flavors, with oak and spice notes increasing in the finish. This is no wimpy red – it starts strong, and finishes long. According to the label, some of these vines have been producing since the early 1900s, leading to lower fruit production but more intense flavors. If you like a plummy, fruit-forward flavor, Bogle Zinfandel could be for you.

The New York Times cited this wine in Who Knew a $10 Bill Had Such a Nice Bouquet? They commented, “a Bogle zinfandel, struck me as a little too sweet; yet zinfandel deserves to be on our list, as it was for years a foundation of inexpensive California wine before it began to get fancy.” We didn’t find a particularly high level of sweetness in our bottle.

Cardinal Zin 2005

Cardinal ZinPrice: $19
Maker: Cardinal Zin Cellars, Santa Cruz, California
Varietal: Zinfandel
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, screw cap
Alcohol: 14%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Cardinal Zin 2005 features a creative, funky label design that includes the tag line, “Beastly Old Vines”. (Oddly, it’s one of the only wines we’ve seen that includes the alcohol content in a size and color that doesn’t require a magnifying glass to read.) This Zin has a nice, smoky berry aroma. The flavor is a nicely balanced mix of cherry, blackberry, and oak, with a black pepper finish that’s slightly slightly acidic. This isn’t a really gigantic Zin, but its structure will appeal to many wine drinkers, including those who avoid over-the-top Zinfandels.

From Underdog Wine Merchants:

We are zealous believers in the decadent and forbidden flavors of this sinfully delicious Zinfandel. Grown from Beastly Old Vines (vines in the ground for 20+ years), this wine elicits fervent, fecund and frenzied tongue enveloping pleasures. A wine of substance, it’s a Cardinal Zin not to drink at the altar of this decadent, rich and spicy old vine zinfandel.

An amusing sidenote is that the label art for this wine was apparently banned in Ohio. The Australian Wine Society of Toronto blog characterized the 2004 version as, “lots of plum, spice and some cherry jam.” The Guy & Girl blog described the 2003 vintage as, “Sweet, without being overbearing. Hints of pepper, very unique.” That sounds a bit different than the 2005.

The label of the bottle suggests that it complements “all manner of game and other wild beasts, including sloth.” Chances are you won’t serve sloth at your next dinner party (it’s getting sooo expensive and hard to find!), but Cardinal Zin would be a fine choice with grilled or roasted beef, or other dishes requiring a robust red to accompany them.

So Zin Zinfandel 2003

So Zin ZinfandelPrice: $10
Maker: Off-Schuetz, Oakville, California
Varietal: Zinfandel
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 14.7%
Our Rating: 9 out of 10

We tried So Zin Zinfandel 2003 at a local wine tasting, and picked up a bottle to explore more fully. Happily, the full bottle lived up to expectations. We admit to leaning toward red wines, and Zinfandels in particular, that combine boldness and complexity. Thus, in both tastings, So Zin was a winner. It offers a rich nose of ripe berry notes, combined with a background of leather and spice. The flavor is what you expect and hope for in a big zin – lots of fruit, mostly cherry in this case, well balanced with black pepper and soft tannins that lead into a long and pleasant finish. While some wine lovers look down on bigger, higher alcohol Zinfandels, So Zin makes a good case for the merits of that style.

We’re not to sure about the Off-Schuetz website, which takes off-kilter humor to new levels. At least we think that’s what it is… for example, the About Us page notes, “French people came over and the rabbits got over marinated in papaya. The cows said, ‘entonnoire’. Then there was no sushi. But there was Saudi Arabian cheese. One day, the cows from the potato chip republic of diagonal parking built four thirteenths of a website with mangosteens. And they became less invisible. With slightly higher resolution. And they drank tequila and ate durian.” I’m not sure what that tells us about the Off-Schuetz. Thankfully, So Zin Zinfandel speaks for itself.

Cartlidge & Browne Zinfandel 2005

Cartlidge & Browne ZinfandelPrice: $10
Maker: Cartlidge & Browne Winery, American Canyon, California
Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: 750 ml bottle
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

We found Cartlidge & Browne Zinfandel 2005 as a special at the local Houlihan’s, the casual dining restaurant that seems to work a bit harder at their wines and beers than others in that space. They served the Zin in a oversized glass with a generous pour – there was still plenty of air space to appreciate the wine’s nose. That nose was rich with cherry and pepper notes. The wine had a big, fruity flavor. There were strong cherry and blackberry notes that led in to an oaky, spicy finish. Overall, Cartlidge & Browne Zinfandel 2005 is what you expect from a relatively inexpensive California Zin – lots of fruit up front, and a moderately complex finish.

We haven’t noticed Cartlidge & Browne Zinfandel, or any of their other varietals, in our local shops. We’re going to keep our eyes open – we liked this one well enough to try some others. In addition to the wines sold with the the Cartlidge & Browne label, they have several other lines – one that looks interesting is their Rabid Red blend.