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Great Zinfandel Vintages Get The Cold Shoulder

By Stephen Eliot

January always sparks a certain optimism in me, a belief that maybe we will start getting things right in the new year. I admit, however, that more often than not, my hopes, like most New Year’s resolutions, start to flag as the months pass, and by the time the holidays return, I find myself adopting the quietly sanguine “wait until next year” philosophy of a Chicago Cubs fan.

I recall that about this time last year, I had high expectations that Zinfandel was poised to emerge from its doldrums. After a couple of difficult vintages, Zin was making a strong showing as the top wines from 2012 were finding their ways to market and winemaker enthusiasm for the upcoming 2013s was universal. Zinfandel was getting good play in the press with plenty of journalistic attention paid to a new generation of serious young vintners who avowed to preserve heritage, old-vine plantings, and the variety seemed poised to get the wider respect that it deserved.

A year later, it turns out that Zinfandel’s fortunes are little changed. Yes, there are a handful of very limited bottlings that are immediately snapped up by in-the-know wine geeks, but Zin’s place in the broader market of so-called “fine wines” actually seems to have diminished. When visiting important Bay Area retailers as we collected new releases for our annual January survey, we were genuinely surprised by the limited shelf space allocated to Zinfandel. And, the circumstance was the same in store after store. In most every instance, there were fewer facings than once was the norm, and, on closer inspection, the selection was even smaller than it first appeared as there were multiple rows of the same bottling.

Now, it is possible that the spectacular rise in winery direct-to-consumer sales might account for its comparatively poor representation in the retail market, but our suspicions that interest in Zinfandel is less than robust was recently confirmed by one of the state’s most capable producers. It is hard not to get the sense that “new” is what drives the consumer and wine-writing world far more than “good”, and perhaps it is the all-consuming need for new in a short-attention-span world that has Zin treading water.

At any rate, dear readers, and especially those of you who are unrepentant fans of the grape, know that these are very good times for Zinfandel, at least when it comes to quality and high achievement, and the number of compelling wines is on the rise. If, like us, you find fewer examples than expected at your favorite wine shop, do not be dismayed and think that something is amiss in the vineyard. While demanding an extra search, new bottlings from a host of accomplished producers like Ravenswood, Ridge, Rockpile, Mauritson, Jeff Cohn, Bella, Beekeeper and Storybook Mountain, to name but a few, will hearten champions of the grape, and are proof enough that fine Zinfandel is here to stay.


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By any other name
by Ray Krause
Posted on:1/21/2016 10:44:54 AM

A few of us are just hiding our Zinfandel light under a Primativo bushel as the TTB has yet to approve their synonyms.

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