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Wednesday Warblings
Zinfandel Makes The Wining World Go Round

By Stephen Eliot and Charles Olken

Zinfandel was one of the first wines that I learned to love. I was aware from the first that Bordeaux was worthy of high respect and dutifully bowed in its direction whenever appropriate, and Burgundy mesmerized like some Gordian knot that I knew would take years to unravel, but it was Zinfandel that fired my earliest vinous passions. I still fondly recall the varied Ridge bottlings from the early 1970s and their lessons in the truth of terroir, the impeccably crafted, remarkably long-lived efforts from Joseph Swan and the sturdy, deeply flavored versions of Amador County that brought first awareness of what old vines could mean.

More significant to my practical wine education, however, was the simple fact that there were plenty of good Zins that fit with minimal discomfort into my otherwise strained graduate-school budget. I could actually afford to drink the stuff, and, happily, familiarity did not breed contempt. It was the beginning of life-long fascination and friendship.

The many years between then and now have seen Zinfandel’s fortunes wax and wane and wax yet again, but, as fellow devoted true-believers well know, there are and have always been very good wines to be had at prices that allow for more than occasional drinking.

As our January issue confirmed once again, Zinfandel still earns a nod for being among the better California red wine values to be had. There are a good many thoroughly satisfying offerings priced near $20.00 and less that will bring smiles to old hands and tyros alike, and, while hardly an exhaustive list of worthy wines, the half-dozen recommendations that follow are among our top picks of those that deliver plenty of pleasurable bang for the buck.

And for those of you in the Bay Area, this is the weekend for ZAP’s annual tasting extravaganza. Go to the ZAP website for details. The Thursday evening event features several dozen wineries pouring their wares alongside matching foods provided by leading restaurants. And Saturday’s grand tasting, with hundreds of wineries, is one of the highlights of the year. Zin lovers should not miss it.

90 NAPA CELLARS Zinfandel Napa Valley 2010 $22.00
With its sights set on beautifully rendered ripe-berry fruit that is enriched by wonderfully sympathetic sweet oak at every stop, this immensely satisfying Zinfandel garners high marks for its focus persistence, and balance, all of which makes it into one of the best current values to be had. It is so well-crafted and polished that it invites early drinking and there would seem to be few reasons for waiting, but further beauty awaits those who can exercise even two or three years of patience. And we suspect, that it will still be rewarding for several years beyond that.

90 SEGHESIO Zinfandel Sonoma County 2011 $24.00
By every report and what we have seen in early tastings, 2011 is an uneven vintage, especially as far as red wines are concerned. This extremely well-made working proves that, as always, very good wines await those willing to search, and it hits the varietal mark smartly. It is precise in its focus on ripe berries and briary spice, and it is particularly well-balanced with fine energy and a long, very firm finish. It is still on the tight side and we would argue against hasty drinking, but it is an easy-odds bet to grow and improve for another three to five years.

88 FIDDLETOWN CELLARS Old Vine Zinfandel Amador County 2010 $19.00
Playing more to Zinfandel's raspberry potential than to the black fruits side of its personality, this full-bodied and balanced wine allows layers of dark soils and briary spice into the picture as it airs. Its supple and slightly fleshy first impressions on the palate are firmed up by a wave of tannin, and the wine promises to serve well both now and over the next half decade or so.

87 EASTON Zinfandel Amador County 2011 $18.00
Here is a solid young Zinfandel that exhibits both the ripeness and spice that we expect from Amador County versions, and, if it makes no pretense to polish, the wine is fleshy and balanced with well-managed heat and a bit of firming tannins for grip. It will do the trick now as a gutsy companion to hearty barbecue fare, but it promises to grow for a bit and should be better yet in a couple of years.

87 THREE Old Vines Zinfandel Contra Costa County 2010 $20.00
The least expensive of the Three Zinfandels collection is, at least in the near term, our pick of the lot. If still geared to ripeness, it sports a little more fruity vitality and extension, and it does not possess quite the same sense of heat. That said, it is far from a delicate wine and has plenty of meat on its ample bones. It can be enjoyed in the near term, but it has enough structure for a few years of rewarding development in the bottle.

85 CLINE Zinfandel California 2011 $10.00
It is far from being a definitive Zin, and it is not a wine of great depth or dimension, but this bottling does show the varietal's specific berryish fruit, and it is far better balanced than the soft and spineless versions that are more often than not found at its price point. It is a bit rough at the edges and will surely smooth with age, but it is not one for lengthy keeping all the same.


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Zin memories
by Ken Musso
Posted on:2/9/2013 9:16:59 AM
Ah, this article brings up wonderful memories of my experiences in the early days at Ridge!Several times a year when a nice Saturday afternoon begged me to wine country that I could visit in 45 minutes I would make the trek up the nasty road to Ridge. I think my earliest visits began in 1974, the early years when you wondered if you might fall through the bathroom floor and Dave Bennion could be found at the tasting table extolling the virtues of a thick and unctuous German Riesling while the rest of us sipped the zins.It was one of these trips that I bought my very first case of wine, the 1972 Ridge Geyeserville Zinfandel.

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