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You can’t come to Sonoma and not taste Zinfandel. Well, you could but why would you? Especially since the area is one of the premier Zinfandel growing regions where the grape has been grown since the 1800’s. Zinfandel is a medium-bodied dry red wine with a range of dark fruit flavors that include raspberry, blueberry, red and black cherry, and plum. Notes of tobacco, brambles, and spice are common as well. Medium tannins make Zinfandel a versatile food pairing wine for a wide range of dishes from pizza to barbecue.
Here are capsule reviews of Zinfandel’s you may find along the Wine Road.
NOTE: The wines below were tasted and evaluated 100% by a human being. No AI was harmed or used in the writing of these notes.
The Acorn Heritage Vines 2019 Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley is a field blend of 78% Zinfandel along with 11% Alicante Bouschet and 9% Petite Sirah. I implore you to get a bottle and see the 16 other varieties that make up the remaining 2% —it’s astounding and it’s also what makes Acorn field blends so enigmatic and pleasurable. On the nose, notes of mocha, blackberry tea, Santa Rosa plum and garrigue—which are herbaceous shrubs found in the Mediterranean. On the palate, multiple layers of flavor come into play. Soft medium tannins support notes of salty licorice, blackberry and plum that offer both juiciness and depth with a bright spicy finish.
The Carol Shelton Rockpile Reserve 2019 Zinfandel hails from a region famed for the grape and is grown at an elevation of 1400 feet. On the nose a light dusty scent of sage, crushed violet, and briar with a vanilla-mocha note like warm s’mores. On the palate it’s a rush of flavor with rhubarb, raspberry, plum, mocha and all-spice. Taut tannins build to a long satisfying finish with lively acidity and spicy earthy notes of thyme and cedar.
The DeLoach Vineyards 2019 Zinfandel from Wild Creek in Dry Creek Valley checks all the boxes for a classic Zinfandel. On the nose, chocolate covered raspberries interspersed with notes of white pepper, butterscotch and sweet tobacco. It’s both earthy and bright. On the palate juicy acidity with notes of plum sauce, ripe strawberry, and peach preserves. Multi layered finish with deep flavors of sweet briar and blueberry pie ride upon soft plush tannins with notes of black pepper, cinnamon and sweet tobacco.
The Dry Creek Vineyard 2019 Zinfandel, from the Farmhouse Vineyard, almost brought a tear to my eye in gratitude and appreciation. It’s a marvel of balance between fruit, tannin and acidity. On the nose, bright strawberry, all-spice, black cherry, blueberry and a seductive meaty note that was thoroughly enticing. On the palate a harmonic convergence of peach preserves, strawberry and an herbal sage note that gives it depth and continuity. It’s buoyant, balanced and complex with hints of white pepper and dark chocolate on the long fine finish.
The 2019 Dutcher Crossing Zinfandel from Bacigalupi Vineyard, is bursting with the vitality and verve that I’ve come to associate with Bacigalupi fruit. Upon opening, the nose has faint earthy notes of sweet briar and brambles along with dusty gravel and saddle leather. As it evolves in the glass, scents of strawberry waft up along with a warm tendril of vanilla and mocha. On the palate, a plush body with flavors of black cherry, blueberry and blackberry and a hint of clove. The soft tannins deliver a spicy finish with grounding notes of dark plum and soft sage. It’s sleek and smooth and savory.
The Ehret 2021 Zinfandel form Knights Valley is a beguiling beauty. On the nose, a clean scent of fresh picked strawberry, and a delightful mix of vanilla, butterscotch, peach and fleshy bing cherry. On the palate there’s a savory meaty note along with rich voluptuous flavors of blueberry and boysenberry. The long soft finish has hints of licorice and sage. Great balance of tannins and acidity make this a sure thing for a variety of pairings. But nothing beats a classic pairing like some low and slow smoked maple barbecue ribs.
Three cheers for field-blends and old vines! The J. Rickards Winery 2019 Old Vine Zinfandel from the 1908 Brignole Vineyard in Alexander Valley is another great example of how even tiny quantities of a varietal can add to the overall shape, tone and texture of a wine. Add to the mix the immeasurable value of gnarly old vines, and you have all the makings of a mythic wine. The grapes in the blend are 80% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane, 4% Mataro and a 1% Alicante Boushet, Muscat Canelli and Golden Chasselas. On the nose, notes of strawberry, red cherry, blueberry and spicy carnation. Full bodied with flavors of red and black currant, and secondary notes of mocha and vanilla. The spicy finish rings long and clear to the end with notes of strawberry and rhubarb.
The Kelley & Young 2017 Zinfandel from the Robert Young Vineyard in Alexander Valley is comprised of 96% Zinfandel and 4% Peitie Sirah. It’s multi-faceted with a rich fruit and balanced tannins. On the nose, scents of chocolate covered blueberries and raspberries with a spot of black licorice and black pepper. On the palate it’s opulent and sultry with notes of blueberry, butterscotch, and spiced peaches. The vibrant finish sallies forward with of notes of tart cherry, sage and blackberry. It’s a meaty meal of a wine that would pair beautifully with a roasted leg of lamb.
The Limerick Lane 2021 Zinfandel from Russian River Valley is both feisty and profound. And you gotta love a wine that quotes Aristotle right on the label — “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” This wine is marvelous indeed, with a perfumed nose of hibiscus, blackberry, cedar incense, sweet tobacco, boysenberry and wet gravel. Notes of chalk and dusty cocoa are present as well. On the palate, punchy flavors of tart cranberry, thyme, blackberry, and red plum. Fine balance of acid and tannin bring a fruity freshness and vitality to this varietal with a minty snap of spice on the long lingering finish.
The Tadddei Wines 2021 Zinfandel from the Ioonnatti Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley is a wine of grace and structure. The nose is a potpourri of strawberry, raspberry, clove and a subtle touch of nutmeg and sweet tobacco. On the palate, soft tannins with an abundance of red and black fruits and plump chocolate covered raisins, aka Raisinets—an old-school theater favorite. It’s rich and supple with a fresh minty-herbal note on the finish. Pair with good friends and deep conversation.
The Woodenhead 2019 Zinfandel, from Alexander Valley is another fine example of a dazzling field-blend with great depth and nuance. The wine is one-of-a-kind, the product of a confluence of circumstances that led the winemaker to acquire the old vine grapes before the vineyard was sold to a new owner. On the nose, ripe boysenberry and black plum with a touch of sweet briar, sage and rooibos tea. The palate is full with flavors of just picked strawberry, blueberry, rhubarb and grounding notes of mocha and nutmeg. The long taut finish recalls the herbal qualities first detected on the nose and rounds out with a gingery note of cardamom. Unfined and unfiltered it’s an honest expression of the varietal with no pretense. The “just right” tannins leave you thirsting for the next sip.