Zin and Politics
Zinfandel dodged a bullet when the Governator decided to nix State Senator Carole Midgen's SB 1253 bill to designate Zinfandel as "California's Historic Wine." Once again, politics has gone askew, on second thought, perhaps cuckoo is more apt. With that one swoop of a proposition, Midgen managed to alienate all the Cab disciples, the Pinot Noir apostates, the Syrah devotees, and the Chardonnay die-hards. Zinfandel doesn't need to be classified as a historic relic. Zinfandel has broad shoulders and sturdy legs and doesn't need Sacramento screwing around to prop it up. Besides, being made the state bird or the state flower hasn't done much to enhance the quail's or poppy's image. Quails still get shot during hunting season (albeit with a state-issued license) and it's against the law to pick the poppies. Does that mean the state would start controlling the amount of Zinfandel its citizens drink? Please, let's keep the politicians out of my wine cellar and in the state's capitol where they belong.
Big Zin for Practically Nothzing
Zinfandels can be staggering big, red things, some are more appropriately described as a jammy red wine with a detonator. However, it is also a wine with a lot of diversity with different regions producing Zinfandels with their own distinctive character. Prices in recent years have also risen to lofty levels, to the point where Zinfandel's image was elevated beyond its earlier jug wine status. However, delicious and value-rich Zinfandels abound with prices below a $15 retail price point, with many slipping easily below the $10 price. Some advice that may help you find a good value Zinfandel is to look for a winery that specializes in producing Zinfandel. Many of these wineries produce a range of Zins from the high-end to the low-end. They are able to exploit their knowledge and skill to make their best Zinfandels and apply that to their lower, value-priced wines. Acreage for traditionally highly rated Zinfandels have been in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino, but Zinfandel has been losing ground in these regions and replaced by other varietals. However, there has been an uptick in acreage in the Central Valley, the Central Coast, and the Sierra Foothills. Consequently it is reasonable to expect a Dry Creek Valley or Alexander Valley Zin to cost more than a Shenandoah Valley or Lodi Zinfandel. Also, many producers will make a California blend with grapes from various regions and these can be well-made and delicious wines that go easy on the wallet.
Sample of Choices Under $15
Here's an abbreviated list of affordable wines that consistently deliver that Zinfandel charm.
Old Vine Zinfandel, $10. Bogle is located in Clarksburg, an AVA in the Sacramento Delta. Their Old Vine Zinfandel is a meaty and reliable Zin blended from gnarly old vines from Amador County, Lodi, and Lake County. It's a juicy, dark berry fruit, spice, pepper, and lush wine with grip that holds court well with grilled meats and hearty fare. They also put out a wine called, Phantom, that is a blend of Zinfandel, Mourvedre, and Petite Sirah. It's a dark and sinister wine that sends shivers up your spine for less than $15.
Mendocino Zinfandel, $15. Edmeades specializes in single vineyard Zinfandels from the Mendocino region and particularly Anderson Valley. This one is blended with Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Grenache. This one follows the grandiose and zesty style of Zinfandel with ample fruit but also balanced structure. The 2006 vintage won the San Francisco Wine Competition Gold. In general I've found Edmeades in restaurants at a triple markup but I've also found this one in a couple of wine shops for around $13.
Earth, Zin, and Fire, $12. Rock and Roll has a lot to do with this Lodi-based winery. Their bold Earth, Zin, and Fire is not for wallflowers but Zin freaks wanting big and lush reds. Groovy stuff.
Dancing Bull Zinfandel, $8. Rancho Zabaco is a Dry Creek Valley winery near Healdsburg. Their Dancing Bull Zinfandel is a lighter version that is ready-to-drink with ripe dark fruit, good acidity, and a spicy finish. This red is approachable immediately and easier to pair with food than other over-the-top Zinfandels. Dependable.
Vintner's Blend, $8. This is Joel Peterson's "No Wimpy Wines" here winery. His Vintners Blend is a melting pot of wines from around California that Joel tastes and blends according to Ravenswood's wine profile. The Vintners Blend is not as fully realized as the typical Ravenswood Zin but for $7-$8 I can live with that and be enthusiastic. At least I don't feel like a wimp when I sip it.
Vintners Cuvée XXIX Zinfandel, $10. When I'm looking for the quintessential Zinfandel I gravitate to Rosenblum Cellars. Kent Rosenblum is a veterinarian, but he sure knows what to do with grapes. Rosenblum's Cuvée is a blend of Zinfandel from around California. This is XXIX and it is a friendly Zin with some bright jammy cherry fruit and spice like you'd expect. Great value and don't hesitate to enumerate their other numerals in a Roman way.
Special Reserve Zinfandel, $8. Shenandoah Vineyards is owned by the Sobon family, who also own and manage Sobon Estates. Both vineyards are located in the Shenandoah Valley in the Sierra Foothills. Their wines are made from organically grown grapes. Their Shenandoah Valley Special Reserve Zinfandels are not of the big fruity Zin bombs that blow up in your mouth. Their Zins express the Amador County style that is rich in fruit but well-balanced with spice, chocolate, and bright acidity. Excellent value and great with all types of food.
Rocky Top Amador Zinfandel, $12. Although Sobon is in down the road from their sister winery, Shenandoah, their wines are made from different vineyards in the area and it's interesting to compare the differences in character. The Rocky Top Zinfandel is bigger with more pronounced Zin personality.