Log In / Join Now

Champions of California Zinfandel

The quintessential American wine is poised for a comeback thanks to a group of dedicated winemakers
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: May 29, 2013 12:00pm ET

You've missed a lot if you haven't followed Zinfandel the past few years. A quiet revolution has been going on in California, as a group of Zinfandel firebrands are raising the bar on quality. It's something I've written about as far back as 2009, but it's finally seeing fruition.

I explore the trend more thoroughly in "Zinfandel's Renaissance," part of the cover package for the June 30 issue of Wine Spectator. The cult favorite and distinctly Californian wine just may be poised for a long-deserved mainstream revival.

"It seems like Zinfandel is no longer considered a second-class citizen," said Mike Officer of Carlisle Winery, who along with Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock and Tegan Passalacqua of Turley Wine Cellars is among the trendsetters.

The greatest strides in the past decade have come in the vineyard, not the winery. Since producers were lucky to get $20 a bottle in the past, most growers couldn't afford to give their Zinfandel vineyards the royal treatment. Now that top Zins routinely fetch $40 or $50 a bottle, that's changing. "We're farming them as carefully and lovingly as the finest Pinot or Cabernet vineyard," Officer said. "They're getting the full-tilt boogie."

You'll get all the details in the current issue. I also tell you which 15 California wineries currently have the best track record for Zinfandel, plus I offer my take on the 2010 vintage in my annual report.

Finally, there's a profile of Larry Turley, one of the wine industry's great characters, and a man whose passion and drive made Turley Wine Cellars' powerful yet balanced Zins the stylistic role model for California.

So if you haven't tried Zinfandel in a while, now's the time to give it another chance. You'll be surprised.

John Thomas
Ocean City, Maryland —  May 30, 2013 9:54am ET
Read your article and couldn't agree more. Been lucky to be on the mailing lists of both Bedrock and Carlisle and their wines are my favorite. Would take a great Zin over any Pinot and Cab.
Mark Lyon
Sonoma, California —  May 31, 2013 4:41pm ET
There is no other California varietal with the acreage of Old Vines. As cult Cabernets ever escalating prices get more unreal, it's gratifying that the best in Zinfandel is within reach. Thanks for recognizing and staying tuned to the Reaissance of California Zinfandel. I was seduced by Ridge Zin,s from the 70,s and will continue to be!
Francis Fecteau
Salt Lake City, Utah —  June 4, 2013 1:12am ET
Old Hill Ranch. Old Hill Ranch. I never ever ever see these articles mention the Queen Jewel of all of these heirloom Zin vineyards. It is by far and away the most captivating of them all. Look no further than Will Bucklin's bottlings. Shame on you all for not ever mentioning them.
Kristy Charles
Boonville, CA, USA —  June 8, 2013 5:14pm ET
You have to love a grape that has truly become "ours" as a state. I recommend Joseph Swan's zins - the styles vary a bit depending upon site and vintage, but my favorites come from cooler Russian River sites (Mancini, Ziegler vineyards), fermented with wild yeast, bottled unfined and unfiltered. Mmm...

I'm also a fan of Mendocino Ridges appellation zins. Grown only 1,200 feet and above, vines can be old and make spectacular wines -- just not a lot of wineries making them.
Kc Tucker
San Diego, CA —  June 8, 2013 8:32pm ET
Saucelito Canyon 1880 Zin. 'nuf said.

Jim Kern

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.