By Rick Riozza
When it comes to die-hard wine enthusiasts, the “Zinners” of California may well be the most vocal group. I know the Petite Sirah supporters can chime in as well, for both wines can offer lip-smacking intensity and concentration of expressive dark fruits that can meet up with any pepper steak, rack of grilled and charred meats, barbecues lathered with the richest of sweet & spicy sauces, not to mention the most garlicky slew of snails and all type of sausages. But this article is on the Zin-ful life.
A few years ago, we wrote in these pages: “California really has its mark on its own “native” red wine. The low-key arrival of the Zinfandel vine from the Croatia area back in the 1820s/30s was cultivated up in Northern Cal, and soon became a popular table & wine grape. Zinfandel then made its way west when the Gold Rush affected national history. It was the wine of the pioneers and millions of gallons were being stored in San Francisco for bottling.
By the close of the 19th century, Zinfandel grapes were being planted all over California. I still hear Zinners make their claim when they query: “Isn’t the Golden Bear on our state flag caught trouncing upon Zinfandel grapes?”
Some of these “old vines” still exist today and choice wineries are still producing wine from the ancient vines that can readily be found in most stores right now. Zinfandel wine, vintage or young, exudes ripe, red and black fruits including raspberries, blackberries jammy black & red cherries, strawberries, cranberries, red plums—fresh and dry, and raisins.
But we’re not stopping at just the fruits. Delicious and complex Zinfandels include other flavors such as cedar, chocolate, black & white pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coffee, flowers (especially roses and violets), herbs, licorice, mint, nuts, smoke, spices, tar, and toast.
The Lord looks kindly upon us “Zinners”—and even though we will continually complain about this style of Zin or that, this winemaking technique or that, the terroir on the eastern hills or near the coast, through it all, we are blessed to enjoy the entire spectrum of what our beloved Zinfandel grape provides. And there’s a real following among us Californians and other worldly inhabitants who just go crazy over this stuff!
And there you go—just as we just previously wrote on the stunning 2018 vintage for Napa/Sonoma Cabernet Sauvingnon, here comes the 2019 California Zinfandel vintage, which everyone claims is one of the best in the state’s history.
Wine Spectator Magazine (WS) just can’t hold back on the news, and has most recently written, “It’s that rare Zin vintage that achieves harmony and balance. The 2019s don’t fit into the typical buzz phrases. The wines are fruit-forward but not fruit bombs. They’re ripe but not decadent or burdened with the heat of alcohol. They’re briary but not rustic. The best of them have a complexity that’s almost too easy to overlook.
“Winemakers have the 2019 growing season to thank, in part. It was a rainy late winter and spring, with flooding in Sonoma County and beyond. There were periods of heat in late summer—as high as 106°F—which Zin producers don’t mind if it doesn’t linger for days. When the Kincade Fire ignited in northern Sonoma in late October, Zin regions such as Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River valleys dealt with smoke, but the growing season was warm enough that most Zinfandel was off the vine by then.”
And now, some delicious 2019 Zins available at your local store. And do remember, any red Zin can use a brief chill during the summer months.
2019 Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Sonoma County Heritage Vines ($22). This Sonoma vineyard region produces some of the best Zins around, and this wine is a great deal for such quality. WS writes, “A briary old-school Zin, with lively blackberry, licorice and toasty underbrush flavors that zip along toward the snappy finish. Drink now through 2029.”
2019 Ridge Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley East Bench ($30). Ridge Zinfandel for the past 50 years or so is California wine history in a bottle. Any new wine enthusiast must enjoy a bottle to round off their understanding of the vine. “A gutsy Zin appealingly rustic, with accents of briar patch, cherry and grilled fennel that build tension toward medium-grained tannins. Best from 2022 through 2030.”
2019 Rombauer Zinfandel California ($35). Rombauer has so many fans around town, we’d be amiss not to include the latest wine review: “Plump and ripe, showing fruit-forward cherry pie, dried sage and pepper flavors that finish with snappy tannins. Drink now through 2028.”
2019 St. Francis Zinfandel Sonoma County Old Vines ($18). Another great buy from a venerable vineyard that everyone recognizes and loves: “Zesty, bold and fruity, offering raspberry and spice flavors, with a hint of mint as this finishes on a plump and briary accent. Drink now through 2029.”
2019 Carlisle Zinfandel Russian River Valley Montafi Ranch ($54) I thought we’d finish up the reviews with one of the highest scoring Zins on the market today. If one wishes to treat themselves to a great California wine at only fifty-four dollars, that’s the story. “A knockout Zin, with vivid aromatics and a silky texture, this captures your attention immediately with savory blackberry and blueberry flavors, which draw in accents of mint and spice and linger toward polished tannins.”
Wine Maker Mike Carlisle states: “We are a small, family-owned Sonoma County winery specializing in the production of old-vine, vineyard designated Zinfandels… While we like our wines to be bold and intensely flavored, each reflecting its vintage and vineyard, we also strive to create wines of balance, complexity, and nuance. Our goal is always the same: grow and source the finest fruit, do as little as possible to it, and bottle outstanding, pleasurable wine at the fairest price possible.” Cheers to the Zin-ful Life!