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The Wall Street Journal Disses Zinfandel

By Charles Olken

The other day, New York winecritic, Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal, wrote a column in which she smacked Zinfandel up one side of its head and down the other. Now this might be news except for two things. Ms. Teague does not drink Zinfandel, and that she got much of her information about Zin from a friend who lives in the Dry Creek Valley but who does not like Zinfandel. That is akin to living at the North Pole and not liking Santa.

It is no secret that there are wine critics in this world whose palates are less than informed. Nothing new in that. Hell’s bells, there are highly placed critics in local newspapers around here whose tastes are so limited that they don’t know much either. That goes with the territory. It does not take much to be a wine critic. You just appoint yourself. I know. I did some four decades ago. For some of us, there will be folks who listen while others, like Ms. Teague, get their audience from the fora they inhabit (no WSJ platform and no audience).

But, I am not here to diss Ms. Teague. She is entitled to her opinions. The problem is that her opinions are simply way off base.

Frankly, I don’t care if she or anyone else from New York likes Zin or not. I am not a fan of some types of wine either. Much of what Teague says is either silly or uninformed or misleading. I will let most of those half-truths lie there undisturbed.

But, when Teague says that Zinfandel’s problem is that it does not go with food, she is simply spouting utter poppycock.

In the first place, Zinfandel is not made in one, monolithic style. Nor is most of the Zin that readers of the WSJ might drink happen to be grown, as she asserts, in the hot Central Valley and thus can be dismissed out of hand, as she does, on that count alone. Sure, there is plenty of Zin there, but there is a hell of a lot of acreage elsewhere. And who said that all Central Valley Zins taste alike. Even Lodi Zins, often very ripe and chocolaty, are not all overripe and chocolaty.

I have been at this California wine gig for too many years now, and I have grown weary of the lies and innuendos and untruths that the Teagues of this world spout.

Let me simply point out that there is a range of foods with which Zin goes, and that range is pretty broad because Zinfandel comes in a pretty broad range of styles.

Ms. Teague, who does not drink Zinfandel, should treat herself to a bottle of Ridge Lytton Springs with a plate of grilled sausages. Ms. Teague, who does not drink Zinfandel, should rush right out and buy a bottle of Gary Farrell Maffei Vineyard Zin to try with her next Sauerbrauten. Ms. Teague, who does not drink Zinfandel, ought to demand that her supplier find her a bottle of Storybook Mountain Estate Reserve because it has the zip to be at home with Lamb Kebabs, the depth and richness to go with a butterflied leg of lamb hot off the grill and the keen, tight focus to make very nice with her best roast loin of pork. And that does not even begin to take into account the perky Zins that mate up so well with all kinds of red sauced pastas.

But, Ms. Teague will never know because she does not drink any of them.


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by James
Posted on:12/9/2014 12:45:43 PM

Try the 2010 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel- pure heaven, no matter what the grape!

Storybook Mountain
by gabe
Posted on:12/9/2014 1:37:19 PM

I love those wines.  They are hard to find here in Oregon, so I willl usually seek out a bottle when I'm in San Francisco.  As for Lettie Teauge, I am happy she doesn't drink Zin.  Otherwise the schmos who read the WSJ would start collecting Storybook Mountain, and it would all be out of my financial reach, and instead end up in somebody's trophy room.

Teague Cuckoo
by Patrick Frank
Posted on:12/9/2014 1:51:31 PM

Well Charlie, we totally agree on this, but hey: Why not let the baying pack howl at the moon and say that Zin stinks. I don't mind if the east coast market for zin erodes further because of her article. That just leaves more for us yip-yaps, bumpkins, and tooth-stainers.

Love your righteous indignation!
by Blake Gray
Posted on:12/9/2014 9:25:51 PM

But you're right, those East Coasters do occasionally like to say "California wine is all (pejorative here)," when the state is about as big as New York to Florida, and nobody there would dare consider Pennsylvania and South Carolina the same in anything.

Thanks Charlie
by Terry Rooney
Posted on:12/10/2014 1:16:29 PM

Great job, Charlie. It's just sad that people like Ms. Teague will influence some people to not even try Zinfandel. Just leaves more for those of us who like it and drink it.

And we won't have to pay $100 per bottle either.

Terry Rooney, ZinLover since 1980.




by Charlie Olken
Posted on:12/10/2014 1:25:18 PM

Thanks to all who have commented.

Gabe, people do not often include Storybook Mountain in the same sentence as Ridge and Ravenswood, but they should.

Patrick, I never understand the need on the parts of some people to write so dismissively, especially when they have very little knowledge of the subject.

Blake, ditto.

Terry, ditto, and thanks for calling that article to my attention in the first place. It is hard to know what a wine journalist gets out of such a negative and misleading article.

by Nick
Posted on:12/10/2014 2:14:08 PM

Typical uninformed and snooty east coast media person that has a know it all attitude !

Certainly does not help us winemakers sell this uniquely American product! I suppose she'd rather drink Italian wine, personally there is no Ital wine at any price that can compete with a Zinfandel that has provenance!

Zin Diss
by Bill
Posted on:12/10/2014 6:00:27 PM

I think the real question is what caused the estrangement between Lettie Teague and Zinfandel somewhere in the last 13 years.  See the following link from a Food & Wine article published in November of 2001.  I did not see the NYT article, but based on what you're saying, this seems to be a radical turn around.

Zin Diss
by Bill
Posted on:12/10/2014 10:23:32 PM

So, I found the WSJ article, and have to say it wasn't totally hostile to Zinfandel...only mostly.  Still this does represent a significant reversal from the 2001 article.  The current article exhibits occasional faint praise -- and who feels good about faint praise.  I suppose we can't fault her completely because one's tastes do change over time.  In 2001 I hated olives, now I just don't like them.

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:12/10/2014 10:27:30 PM

You made my laugh out loud.

Zin Diss
by Bill
Posted on:12/10/2014 10:33:50 PM

A good laugh is always healthy!

by Jonas
Posted on:12/15/2014 8:16:53 AM

Nick please lighten up on the East Coast hating! There are some good  and knowledgable writers over here. I used to love Zin, especially those Storybook Mountains that Gabe mentions and Ridge's from days of yore.They were made differently back then and the big alcohol versions kind of turned me off later. However, a friend recently brought over a Turley from 95 I think and I was amazed at how fresh and lively it still was given it's high alcohol. I always assumed that hose versions would fall apart early but that was clearly not the case with this bottle. Cheers.

East Coast Fiction
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:12/15/2014 9:33:18 AM


You have just given us all the proof we need to continue to believe that the East Coast is irrationally and uneducatedly tossing CA wine under the bus.

Ridge wines are not made differently. They have virtually the same alcohol levels that they did forty years ago. They remain balanced, varietally specific and reflective of the places where they are grown.

Using the old Turleys as examples of the CA industry is absolute rubbish. Those 17% alc. wines were never illustrative of the CA approach to Zin. Sure, there were, and remain, plenty of high alc Zins. That is not the point.

The point is that there have always been Zins that were made without 16 and 17% alcohol.

And then there is the ageworthy issue. For as long as I remember, and I have been at this stand for four decades, the East Coast cry has been "CA wines won't age". We heard it when the 1970 CA Cabs began to best the 1970 Bordeaux as young wines, "The CA wines win tastings when they are young because they are riper and more open". And then, it turned out the CA Cabs had life spans of thirty to forty years (BV Pri Res is still alive at forty five) and the 70 Bdx did not.

It does not surprise me that some of the Turleys would still have great energy. They may have been too ripe for me and most of us, but they were well-made wines in the first place.

The continued denigration of CA wines by East Coast writers is not in our imaginations. And now that you have discovered that big is not necessarily disastrous, perhaps you would like to look at a long line of more typical CA wines, including Zins, because Ridge is generally less high in alcohol than Storybook Mountain, and even Jon Bonne accepts that Zin does not need to be under 14%. He, of course, is an East Coaster, and claims proudly to have a Euro-palate.

So, Jonas, don't get me wrong. You are on to something here. Keep tasting. You will find that CA wines never went away. They were just tossed under the bus wholesale the way Lettie Teague did.

You seem to know better. Good on 'ya.

Teague is loopy
by francis fecteau
Posted on:12/16/2014 7:37:14 PM

Ms Teague

Old Hill Ranch.  One of the great terroirs in the world.  There I said it.  Tended to by one of the great farmers in the world -- Will Bucklin.  

That is all.  



East Coast
by William Goetz
Posted on:12/17/2014 6:33:01 PM

Charlie, I'm from the east coast, and I like California Zinfandel.  If I didn't, whose Zinfandel could I like, but I stand firm on olives...California's (or anyone else's for that matter)...I'm throwing THEM under the bus.

Zinfandel best with
by Carl W. Hennige
Posted on:1/3/2015 12:33:54 PM

Another vote for Zinfandel.  The Northern California Wine Society has their annual Thanksgiving turkey dinner.  In years past the 30-40 participants would be provided 7-9 different varietal wines and asked to judge the wine best for dinner.  Year after year the winning wine was Zinfandel, going best with the candied jams, cranberry sauce, heavy gravy and of course pumpkin pie.

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