The Zen of Zin: 40 Zinfandels Graded By Our Wine Retailer Panel

This latest issue of Beverage Dynamics Magazine, we asked members of our panel to taste and evaluate Zinfandels. As always, these selections include brief tasting notes, a rating and the wine’s retail price (which can vary from store to store and market to market).

If you’re a beverage professional with a specialty in wine and you’re interested in participating in the panel, please contact associate editor Kyle Swartz at or 203-855-8499 x2225.

Grading system:

Five Stars (92-100) A top-flight wine. Superior in taste and character and  providing an outstanding price/value relationship.
Four Stars (86-91) A very good wine and an  excellent value. A wine for which customers will keep coming back.
Three Stars (80-85) An above-average wine, at a reasonable price point, which many customers will enjoy.

Five Stars

(95) Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel 2013 (Dry Creek Valley, CA). John Pedroncelli, Sr. planted the first vines for this classic in 1927. Vintage after vintage, the wine is unique and stylistic. There is a bouquet of lilac, black fruit preserves and spice. Concentrated flavors of blackberries, blueberries, clove and pepper coat the palate and finish with a lovely herbal nuance and a touch of Dry Creek terroir. Supple tannins balance out the whole and ensure that this wine will develop in-bottle for several years. It will complement an array of world cuisines. ($17)

(95) The Federalist Zinfandel 2013 (Lodi, CA). A simply delightful, easy-to-enjoy style, loaded with classic varietal aromas and flavors of raspberry, Bing cherry and ginger. Medium-bodied, fruit-forward and loaded with classic Zinfandel spiciness. The flavors coat your mouth and linger on the finish with some sweet/tart acidity and soft tannins. It’s silky smooth and perfectly balanced across the palate. Pair this with a good curry or sate’. ($19)

(95) Trentadue La Storia Block 303 Zinfandel 2013 (Alexander Valley). Grapes for this estate-produced gem come from head-pruned vines on Trentadue’s Estate Geyserville Ranch. It’s aged for 13 months in European oak, 25% new barrels. There are floral and black fruit notes on the bouquet with a hint of that marvelous Alexander Valley volcanic terroir. Concentrated flavors of blackberry, black cherry and white pepper harmonize with toasty oak and butterscotch nuances. A hint of licorice shows in the finish. The texture is plump and velvety and harmonizes with supple tannins on the lengthy finish. An elegant, simply gorgeous Zin that will develop in bottle for several years. ($25)


(94) Trinitas El Dorado Zin 2010 (Napa-Sierra Foothills, CA). Very complex, with black tea, tobacco, vanilla, dark plum, and cherries. Velvety tannins. Simply a great Zin! ($23.95)

(94) Robert Craig, Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2012 (Napa Valley, California). 100% mountain fruit and an absolutely unbelievable Zinfandel. Fleshy ripe black and blue fruits, silky layered impressive texture and, finally, nuances of eucalyptus and herbs on the long finish. This wine is about finesse and structure and delivers an incredible mouthful of California Howell Mountain Zinfandel with each sip. Just treat yourself; you won’t regret it! ($75)

(93) Dashe Todd Brothers Dry Creek 2013 Blockbuster old-vine Zin. Dense and full-bodied with lots of black raspberry, black cherry and spice. It has the ability to be cellared for five years. Grill up a T-bone and enjoy. ($35)

(93) Beran 2013 (Sonoma County, CA). Classic Zinfandel flavors with a nose of chocolate, baking spice, plums and blueberry make this wine a real crowd-pleaser. The palate has a touch of heat with notes of blackberries, acai berries, plums, cloves and blueberry jam. Soft tannins make this a very food-friendly wine. This Zinfandel doesn’t need huge proteins to stand up next to big tannins; pair with BBQ, hard cheeses or even a great dark chocolate dessert! ($36)

(92) Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2014 (Sonoma, CA). Seghesio has done a remarkable job of producing a consistently great wine from vintage to vintage. This vintage, however, is the best they have done in years. This wine has a beautiful deep color (owing to a dollop or two of Petite Sirah). Ripe and rich flavors of raspberry, blueberry and plenty of spice. This may be the best you can do in this price range. ($22.99)

(92) Frog’s Leap 2013 (Napa Valley, CA). Made by the talented and funny John Williams. I love his approach, making wines of place that are true to the soils they come from. 100% dry-farmed. Williams has also been farming organically since 1988. Frog’s Leap Zinfandel is layered with boysenberry, fleshy strawberry and a small touch of spice. Williams also blends in Petite Sirah and Carignan, bringing more depth and structure. A steal al the price! ($35)

(92) Macchia Zinfandel Adventurous 2014 (Amador, CA). A bold full-bodied spicy-pepper laden Zinfandel that is still kept in check by nice vanilla notes and a luscious texture. A wine for a true hedonist. The rich, ripe red fruit and pepper are built to stand up to bold and powerful dishes. ($25)

(92) Storybook Mayacamus Range 2012. Classic old-style Zinfandel that’s chock full of mouth-filling briar, red plum and black pepper. Decanting first will help round out the edges. Try it with a leg of lamb slathered in rosemary and garlic. ($40)

(92) Rock Wall Hendry Vineyard Zinfandel 2012 (Napa Valley, CA). Dark fruit aroma.  Flavors of plum, blackberry and pepper. Good mouthfeel. Substantial tannins lead to a long finish  $24.99

Clusters of organically grown California Zinfandel grapes, ripening from green to blue berries.
Clusters of organically grown California Zinfandel grapes, ripening from green to blue berries.

Four Stars

(91) Dashe 2013 (Dry Creek Valley, CA). One of the most pure expressions of Zinfandel I’ve ever tasted. Hand-tended vineyards, native yeast fermentation, no fining or filtering – this wine rocks. Dark and ripe with incredible silky rich texture and bursting at the seams with blueberry cobbler, black cherry juice, and hints of mocha. Love this wine with just about anything; it’s one of my go-tos! ($19.99)

(91) Oak Ridge Zinfandel Res 2012 (Lodi, CA). Deep purple in color, a concentrated, full-bodied Zinfandel that has expressive aromas and flavors of plumb, raspberry and black cherry. The bold, rich mouthfeel provides a finish that is smooth and expansive. ($27)

(91) Sobon Zinfandel Paul’s Vineyard 2014 (Amador, CA). Powerful dark fruit up front, and a touch of oak, emerge from this smooth Zinfandel. It finishes with a subtle savory notes and a nice tannic finish that gives the wine balance. ($25)

(91) Machia Zinfandel Mischievous 2014 (Lodi, CA). This high-octane Zinfandel has a dense structure coming from old vines in Lodi. Full-bodied, and bold with intense blackberry and raspberry notes that are rounded out by aging in small oak casks. ($22)

(91) Sobon Zinfandel Fiddletown 2014 (Amador, CA). A complex Zinfandel that combines both elegance and power in its bold flavors of raspberry, blackberry, cassis and smoke. The agile smooth mouthfeel and a balancing lush texture provide a very well-structured, long-lasting, finish. ($22)

(91) Sextant Zinfandel Wheelhouse 2014 (Paso Robles, CA). Bold and powerful flavors of red currant, black pepper and rich raspberry are complemented by a judicious use of oak. This is a wine for hedonists with over-the-top body, structure and tannins. ($23)

(90) Sobon Zinfandel Rocky Top 2013 (Lodi, CA). Elegant notes of blackberry, plum and cinnamon dominate the palate and nose. Oak notes are evident and used to provide more structure for the ripe fruit and smooth tannins. ($19)

(90) Bogle Old Vine. Consistent, affordable crowd-pleaser. Lots of spicy cranberry and pink peppercorn make it perfect for summer cookouts. ($12)

(90) Mountain View Clockspring Vineyard 2014 (Amador County, CA). Certified organic, this lush Zin offers up deep spice, blackberries and a bit of anise. Dry-farmed. In American oak for 12 months. Perfect with ribs. ($11.95)

(90) St Francis Old Vine Zinfandel 2013 (Sonoma, CA). Deep ruby in color, this wine begins with aromas of boysenberry, clove and cinnamon, leading to flavors of blackberry and black cherry fruit, with a hint of licorice leading to a long luscious finish. A classic Sonoma Zinfandel from vines aged from 55-to-over-100 years old. ($19.99)

(90) Regio Old Vine – Old Clone (O.V.O.C.) 2012 (Lodi, CA). This is from some of the Scotto Family’s older vineyards that truly define the Lodi AVA. The wine is richly aromatic with bold, robust flavors of blackberry, raspberry and allspice. It’s beautifully balanced with soft tannins and zesty acidity. There are hints of pepper and terroir on the finish. It’s perfectly enjoyable now, but will cellar for 2-3 years. This is the ideal “every-day” red wine that will pair with burgers, pizza, pasta, grilled beef or pork, spicier seafood dishes, or Mexican cuisine. It’s also an excellent value! ($13)

(90) The One Armed Man Red Blend 2014 (Dry Creek, CA). A Zinfandel-heavy blend that gains richness with air; assertive flavors of raspberry and blackberry along with vanilla and spice from the oak influence. Powerful fruit well blended with sensible use of oak provides balance. ($35)

(90) Inconspicuous Zinfandel 2014 (Lodi, CA). Powerful and balanced Zinfandel with flavors of plum, black cherry and a hint of cinnamon. Full-bodied and rich in flavor, the rigid tannins and plumpness of the fruit are very complementary. ($20)

(90) Banknote Wine Co. “Counterfeit” Zinfandel 2011 (Sonoma County, CA). Not only was I impressed by the flavor, I was also impressed by the packaging. The winemaker, Pete Nixon was a graphic designer by trade. The “Counterfeit” Zinfandel is unique in its packaging but classic when it comes to all the flavors you expect: big, juicy and jammy. After the hand harvest, the grapes go through full malolactic fermentation and are aged for 13 months in French oak. It opens with a touch of vanilla on the nose due to that French oak and big blackberry pepper jam. The palate has some toasty notes and a soft silky black pepper finish. This is a wine that doesn’t need a food pairing, just a big glass and some great conversation. ($25)

(90) Montoya Zinfandel 2013 (Lodi, CA). A lively Zinfandel that delivers rich aromas and flavors of ripe plum, cassis, red currant and subtle notes of vanilla. This wine delivers lush structure and smooth approachable fruit. ($14)

(90) The Fugitive Red 2014 (Dry Creek, CA). This Zinfandel is a heavy, bold, dense, powerhouse of a red blend that shows a huge fruit-driven profile. A concentrated ripe wine that is mouth-filling, has good tannic structure, and soft oak notes. ($30)

(90) Mad Duck Zinfandel 2014 (Lodi, CA). A rich, ripe Zinfandel with lush flavors of black cherry and plum. Easy drinking. The wine is medium-bodied but rich in fruit and great in texture at the same time. ($12)

(90) Four Vines Biker 2012. Smooth and plump. Lots of ripe raspberry and toasty vanilla. Great for BBQ ribs and pulled pork.  ($15)

(90) St. Francis Old Vine Zinfandel 2012 (Sonoma, CA). The nose announced its use of oak and was verified on the palate. A fuller-bodied experience. A heavier-handed red influenced by oak with integrated fruit. Definitively showing a warmer, higher-yield vintage. ($19.99)

(89) Predator Old Vine 2014 (Lodi, CA). Fifty-year-old vines produce a slightly smoky, spice and cocoa-edged Zin. Sustainably grown, the wine is named for the ladybugs used to patrol for insects. ($14.95)

(89) Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel 2013 (Lodi, CA). From vines averaging 85 years old, this wine has aromas of berries and spice. On the palate, you will taste sweet dark fruit with a hint of black pepper leading to a long lingering finish. Lodi Zins tend to be a little on the jammy side and this wine is no exception, but it is a definite crowd pleaser. ($17.99)

(89) 2012 Zinphomaniac Zinfandel (Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys, CA). Dark fruit aroma with plum clove. Blackberry, plum flavors with hint of tobacco. Nice smooth tannins. Long finish. ($19.99)

(88) Brazin Zinfandel 2012 (Lodi). Dark fuit aroma with some cherry. Plum, cherry and blackberry flavors with some spice and pepper. Moderate tannins that end in a medium-long pleasing finish. ($13.99)

(88) Federalist 2011 (Lodi, CA). It had a bright garnet leaning towards the orange-brown spectrum. The nose was pronounced with ripe fruit. The finish was lingering with balanced acidity and revealing layers of structure as it opened. A very nice value. ($16.99)

(88) Renwood BBQ Zin 2013 (California). Aromas of cherry and strawberry leading to flavors of boysenberry and cherry with touches of cedar and herbs. This wine begins very softly, but has plenty of flavor and spice. Best enjoyed on the backyard deck or patio. A fun wine. ($12.99)

(87) Howling Wolfe Zinfandel 2012 (Heaven Hills, WA). This 2012 vintage is a single-vineyard Zinfandel fermented on the skins and aged in French and American oak for 16 months. The initial nose on this wine isn’t like a basic Zinfandel at all, with notes of purple flowers and pencil shavings. The higher elevation and cooler climate lends this wine to a mineral finish and a palate of ripened plums, blueberries and raspberries. The oak comes through and balances with the dark fruits to a dry finish. A great choice with lamb shank and prime rib. ($20) 

Three Stars

(86) Sledgehammer Zinfandel 2013 (North Coast, CA). Blackberry and cherry nose. Blackberry, spice and pepper flavors. Moderately high tannins. Fairly long finish. A best buy. ($10.99)

(85) Gnarly Head “Old Vine Zin” 2009 (Lodi, CA). Clarity was a bit muddy. Balance of fruit and acidity was off. Fruit seemed to be tired, somewhat baked. A bit past its prime. ($9.99)


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