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Where Has All The Zinfandel Gone?

By Charles Olken

There are plenty of wineries that will disagree with the argument that Zinfandel is so out of favor that it is getting hard to find. Folks like Ridge, Ravenswood, Rockwall, Seghesio and a dozen or two others have no complaints with the state of the Zinfandel market. Nor should they. They were the leaders years ago and they are the leaders today.

But when I walk down the aisles of stores like K & L, Beverages and More, my local wine merchant who would not carry a wine that you would see at those bigger outlets or in supermarkets, the proof is on the shelves. There are fewer and fewer Zins available. And when I look at the number of Zins that CGCW and other publications are reviewing, the count repeats itself in scope and downward-trending direction.

One thing is for sure. When the number of facing (different wines for sale) decreases in high volume store and small, it means just one thing. Zinfandel is not selling like it used to. We saw this phenomenon in the 1980s when Zinfandel became too ripe, too big, too concentrated to be an easy mate with food. And we see it for the same reason.

But this time, the background is far trickier for Zinfandel. Back in the 1980s, when what was called “White Zinfandel” became a momentary craze, this pale pink efforts save the old vine, coastal Zinfandel from being pulled out. And those old vines eventually became the source of a new wave of rich, ripe Zinfandels.

Then came the anti-ripeness movement, and Zin once again lost headway. And this time, the demand for land in coastal areas for grape growing was so expansive, that very few Zinfandel vines were added to those vineyards with the result that coastal Zinfandel acreage has not grown even though almost every other variety of note has made quantum leaps in acreage. After all, why plant Zin in the most valuable plots when Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are so much more lucrative.

The answer to the question: “Where has all the Zinfandel gone” is not hard to fathom. It has gone to other varieties and to places that are less likely to deliver balanced, fruity, zesty Zinfandel. We have not run out of Zinfandel. We have run out of reasons for it to be planted anew in the best locations for the grape.

But there is hope. There is always hope so long as the leading players continue to make wines that capture the palates of the drinking and collecting public. Will Zin come back in favor? Will folks find new love in the lighter, bouncier versions of the grape that are slowly emerging? It’s possible. We have seen it before. We just need to start drinking more Zinfandel because if we drink it, the wines will come.

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No Subject
by Some Guy
Posted on:7/26/2017 8:50:03 AM

The zin has been...imPrisoned.

by Daavid
Posted on:7/26/2017 9:15:12 AM

Still, when made correctly, my favorite by far.

Liking Good Zin
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:7/26/2017 9:20:39 AM

Daavid--Liking good Zin is easy. There is enough of it to go around, and my hope is that the standing acreage in the coastal areas and the potential in the right locations in Paso Robles and the Sierra Foothills will be the building blocks for a resurgence in Zin popularity.

Mr. Guy--Thank you for your imPassioned respsonse.

by Ray Krause
Posted on:7/26/2017 9:29:35 AM

Charlie, may we please have your shipping address and permission to forward an old school style zin for your organoleptic pleasure?  Thanks,  Ray @ WWF

Keep Those Cards and Letters Coming In
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:7/26/2017 9:36:50 AM

Dear Ray--And send all wines to the CGCW world headquarters.

Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine

651 Tarryton Isle

Alameda, CA 94501


Pretty simple really...
by Stating the obvious
Posted on:7/26/2017 10:45:30 AM

All the Zin on store shelves has moved into all the Red Blends on the store shelves, along with Merlot and Syrah. Same juice, new bottle.

Zin sales = Higher Alch
by Michael
Posted on:7/26/2017 10:07:11 PM

Charlie a stroll past the Zinfandel shelf will show a major reason for its decline -- alcohols start in the high 14's and a significant portion are 15% meaning they have limited uses, apart from getting clobbered. 

Good Zin
by Bob Rossi
Posted on:7/27/2017 6:54:52 AM

My question would be: Where Has All the GOOD Zinfandel Gone?

Zinfandel is basically the only California wine I will drink, and I still see plenty of Zins on the shelves here in the Northeast. But I rarely buy them, because I've been disappointed far too often. Yes, Ridge is still outstanding, but most of their wines are now out of my regular price range. And Ravenswood used to be a favorite 25 years ago, but no longer. There is one producer that makes some great Zins (Three WIne Co.), but the only way to get it is having it shipped by

I feel your pain
by Greg Graziano
Posted on:7/27/2017 7:39:35 AM

Charlie, I feel your pain. I have been a zinfandel producer for 40 years and I have seen this movie before. The big corporate wineries push mediorcore Cabs on the wine drinking public instead of promoting good Zinfandel. Another problem is that Lodi Zin, a style you really like or dislike, turns many folks away from Zin thinking they all taste like that. Mendocino, Sonoma and Napa are a different animal. We keep pushing hard and never give-up. We will have our day in the sun again unless the growers pull it all out, which is starting to happen. 



Very True..
by TomHill
Posted on:7/27/2017 7:56:45 AM

Charlie sez "We just need to start drinking more Zinfandel". To which I would say "amen".

At the wine shops I shop, I have not seen a shrinking of Zins on the shelves. I would guess there's not been a shrinkage in actual sales of Zin, just an increase in other varieties and thus a decline of the % of Zin in the market.

   Certainly there's not a whole lot of interest in planting of new Zin vnyds in Calif. But there are still a goodly supply of Zin grapes out there, I would say.And not a whole lot of interest in new wineries that are starting in moving into the Zin market.

I do see a small trend towards producing lighter/lower alcohol Zins. "Lighter/bouncier" as you term them. And a trend towards reining in the alcohol levels. There are still plenty of Zins up in the 15% and above range, but they seem to be carrying those alcohol levels better than they did 10-20 yrs ago.And those wines work perfectly well w/ food if you don't drink the whole btl and choose the right food to go with.

But, hopefully, we will not see a return to those dreadful "food wine" Zins of the early '80's, which were brought down upon us when some writer (who shall remain annoymous) described those late '70's Zins as "Monster Zins with shabby table manners". I've never forgiven that guy for that!!!  :-)




by TomHill
Posted on:7/27/2017 8:10:27 AM


   I see your point about the impact of Lodi Zin on the Zin market. There are still plenty of those fat/soupy/slight RS/no-structure Lodi Zins out there, the drinking of which is like this big StBernard jumping up on you and slathering your face w/ sloppy/wet kisses.

   But we're also seeing more Lodi Zins that show a more refined/elegant/brighter side of that grape grown there. People like Carlisle/Bedrock/Turley who are embracing many of those old-vine/ancient vnyds there. And in ContraCosta.

   And somewhat of a renewed interest  in many of those old-vine Zin vnyds that you are blessed w/ up in the UkiahVlly. That's definitely a good trend.



My Pain
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:7/27/2017 9:14:59 AM

Hi Greg and Tom and Bob--

It is not that good Zin does not exist. Nor is it that it cannot be made. But, Greg's comment about Zin being pulled out of coastal vineyards and replaced with higher yielding (in cash) grapes is the big worry here.

"White" Zin saved those old vineyards back in the '80s, and while CGCW was among those who found that 15 and 16% ABV Zins to be more about desiccation than about fruit, we never stopped drinking the stuff or appreciatiing the ones that actually tasted like Zin.

Tom, you are right that many higher alc Zins come across as far better balanced and drinkable with food than did the so-called Late Harvest wines of decades past. But, we are also looking at a different picture here in terms of the market's acceptance of high ABV wines.

Had dinner last night with a Sierra Foothills winemaker who proudly announced that his winery was pulling out Zin and planting Barbera and Petite Sirah. I like the Barbera idea because we have seen a batch of very successful wines made in the Sierras. As for PS, well, that surprised me.

Much of this "replacing of Zin" has to do with market forces, and that situation will only be changed if and when the grape's fortunes turn around again.

Beverage and More - and Zins
by Bob Henry
Posted on:7/28/2017 4:12:14 AM

Citing Beverages and More as evidence that there are fewer and fewer Zins available might be a false measure.

BevMo is known for promoting their own 5 ¢ sale "house brands" over regional and national brands -- the latter consequently getting less real estate on its shelves.

There is a lot of Zin at BevMo.  It's found in their offerings of red blends (both regional and national brands and their "house brands").

Where has the Zin gone
by John Kinney
Posted on:7/28/2017 8:39:42 AM

Your mention of your Sierra Foothills friend taking out Zin and planting Petite Sirah is interesting. I make wine in the Livermore Valley, which is represented as region 6 in the annual crush report. Though this includes an area wider than just the Livermore AVA, it does reflect trends in the valley. Since its peak in the 1990s, Zinfandel tonnage in our region has been dropping nearly every year as a percentage of total harvest. Today cabernet is the red wine leader, followed for the first time by Petite Sirah.

If you talk to our local growers, the reasoning is simple. Cabernet commands high prices for the same cost of planting and growing. Some of Livermore’s finest vineyards are now asking upwards of 5K per ton, three times more than the best Zinfandel commands. As for Petite Sirah, its price has risen as well, though not to the height of Cabernet. I can’t help but feel that Petite’s popularity is more a reflection of its use in blended wines, popular with millennials, than any popularity as a single variety.

Great Zin
by Jerry Colton
Posted on:7/31/2017 5:21:47 AM

Great article and for all Zin fans, or those interested in a great experience at a winery or downtown recommendation is Brown Estate - I am not related, however sold their wine years ago and know from experience. Enjoy

Brown Downtown Napa
11-7 daily by appointment, walk-ins subject to availability
1005 Coombs Street (NW corner of First Street, 2nd Floor), Napa CA

Brown Estate Winery
Hours: 11-2 Th-Su, strictly by appointment
3233 Sage Canyon Road, St. Helena CA

Bob Rossi: here's a Zin tip
by Bob Henry
Posted on:8/3/2017 9:11:09 PM

Bob Rossi:

As a "starving college student" in the Bay Area, I was an early convert to Zinfandels.  My enthusiasm carried on after graduation.

One overlooked source of great Zins is the wine auction world: specifically, online sites selling bottles in quantities too small to comprise a lot in a live auction.

And your acquisition cost could be well below contemporary suggested retail selling prices for great, older vintages long forgotten by collectors.

Consider it "wine arbitrage."

A proffered link:

~~ Bob


by Bill Hollister
Posted on:11/2/2017 7:35:30 AM

I recently moved from Sonoma County to Florida. Even though I now live in a wealthy beach community with graet restaurants and many wine stores I cannot find any decent zins on the shelves. Usually there are only 2-3 zins, even in the top wine stores. I rely on my wine club memberships for good zin.

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