- Dave McIntyre The Washington Post
California zinfandel can be exciting, especially old-vine field blends that include other grapes such as petite sirah, mataro (mourvedre) and alicante bouschet. The blend is not always explained on the label, but if a wine is truly "old vines" (and there is no specified definition of old), it most likely is not entirely zinfandel. Here are five zins that stood out in my recent tastings, from around California. There are a variety of price ranges, too. Unfortunately, the top zins have become expensive; that's because of the rarity of these vineyards and the intensity and quality of the wines they produce.
Robert Biale Vineyards Black Chicken Zinfandel 2015
Napa Valley, California, $49
During Prohibition, when customers of the Biale farm ordered produce over the unsecure telephone party line, "black chicken" was code for a jug of zinfandel. Or so says the back label. Biale today makes several vineyard-designate zins that are amazingly expressive and elegant. The Black Chicken is a blend of several Napa Valley vineyards that captures the intensity of zin with a New World, flout-the-conventions flair. Alcohol by volume: 14.8 percent.
Ridge Lytton Springs 2015
Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California, $46
Ridge is one of the foremost zinfandel producers, featuring single-vineyard bottlings since the 1970s that emphasize expression of place. This wine is not labeled as a zinfandel because zin makes up 74 percent of the blend, while varietal labeling requires 75 percent. I've always wondered whether the math could be so precise, or if the winemakers didn't want to feature the vineyard and its blend, which (according to the label) includes 16 percent petite sirah, 8 percent carignane and 2 percent mataro (mourvedre). It is deep and savory, with impeccable balance and a long finish. ABV: 14.5 percent.
Boneshaker Zinfandel 2015
Lodi, California, $20
Lodi is a warm growing climate, so the wines tend to be powerful, even on the already-powerful zinfandel scale. The Boneshaker handles the heft and heat, with loads of spicy cranberry and blackberry fruit, and a nice texture that helps carry the alcohol. ABV: 15 percent.
Carol Shelton Wild Thing Old Vine Zinfandel 2014
Mendocino County, California, $22
This zesty wine is indeed a bit wild and incoherent at first, but its message comes through with a lovely, spicy core of raspberry, cranberry and pepper flavors. ABV: 14.5 percent.
Peachy Canyon Incredible Red Zinfandel 2015
This is an introductory level wine from a top zinfandel producer in Paso Robles. At first taste, it seemed a little green, but within 30 minutes or so it developed nice cherry and boysenberry flavors and a lovely texture that carried across a long, minty finish. The restrained alcohol is a bonus. ABV: 13.8 percent.
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Three stars exceptional, two stars excellent, one star very good
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Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.