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Best Zinfandel

A Croatian grape that's been cultivated for hundreds, if not thousands of years, nobody's certain where Zinfandel got its name. What is certain is that this is a robust wine with two distinct faces. Zin grown in cool climates will develop more light berry flavors and an off dry character, while Zin from warmer climates will develop into a bold wine that has darker flavors of blackberry, anise, and pepper.

Originally thought to be a native grape to California, the first Zinfandel was produced in this state in the 1800s. Though genetic testing later revealed this to be false - showing instead that California Zinfandel was genetically identical to Italian Primitivo - California is still the premier vintner of this varietal. Australian and Italian winemakers who make this type of wine usually label it Primitivo, and though the qualities of the wine are similar, there's nothing quite like a good California Zin.

It's important to note that Zinfandel shouldn't be confused with White Zinfandel, which is stylistically an entirely different wine. White Zin, which is in fact made from the Zinfandel grape, is an off-dry to semi-sweet rose wine that gets its deep pink color from spending a little time on the dark skins of the grape during the fermentation process. While White Zinfandel is often looked down upon by self-styled serious wine drinkers, lovers of old vine Zin have this sweet pink wine to thank for their 80 to 100 year old vines. The popularity of white Zin throughout the 1900s led to many viticulturists planting extra Zinfandel vines, vines that they maintained through the decades until the dawn of the Old Vine Zin revolution towards the end of the 20th century.

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Turley Old Vines Zinfandel

Turley Old Vines Zinfandel has earned itself our top spot when it comes to the best Zinfandel. On average, these vines are around 80 years old, so you can expect lots of earthy flavors that get picked up through the long taproots. This wine is one you'll want to enjoy soon as it's already at its peak and won't benefit from any more time in the bottle. It's got a medium-body, in the tradition of cool-weather Zinfandel, and has pronounced notes of red berries, as well as undertones of dark berry and spice on the palate. The nose is also expressive, with lots of juicy fruit alongside crushed flowers and licorice. A little tight at first sip, some breathing time will help this wine open up to its full potential. Turley's Zinfandel has been named some of the best by the San Francisco Gate and is featured as one of the top 100 wines by Wine Spectator.

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Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel

Singled out as one of the best Zins of 2013 by the San Francisco Gate, Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel is one of our best picks. This wine is dusty, spicy, and fruity, since it's sourced from grapes in both cool and warm vineyards. A little on the jammy side, at first taste this wine features a rush of big fruit flavors, including raspberry, black currant, and wild berry. This intense fruitiness is well-balanced by notes of spice, mineral, and herbs. The tannins are quite dusty, giving this wine a nice, dry finish that takes away every hint of fruitiness and leaves you ready for another sip. And this best part about this notable wine is that it retails for just around $25.

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Broc Cellars Vine Starr Zinfandel

Broc Cellars Vine Starr Sonoma County Zinfandel is another of our favorite high-end Zinfandels. If you're a fan of softer wines, such as Pinot Noir, this is the perfect Zin to try. It's soft and supple, with a bouquet that focuses on floral elements, berries, and a little bit of spice. The flavor is jammy and sweet, with lots of bold, red fruit notes that are perfectly complemented by a little bit of white peppercorn spiciness. The tannins are big and bright, and the finish light and acidic, just like you'd get on a good Pinot Noir. This excellent Zinfandel won't cost you an arm and a leg, either; it retails for under $40.

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel

Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel

A Zinfandel like no other, Kenwood Jack London Vineyard Zinfandel is one of our favorites. It's well loved by both professional wine critics and wine enthusiasts, and perfectly balances the fruity side of Zin with its earthy side. The grapes themselves were grown in volcanic soil, and this one of a kind terroir has left its mark on the wine. The nose has notes of cherry, fig, pepper, and vanilla, while the palate packs a big punch of blueberry that's offset by big, spicy tannins. Since this is a non vintage wine, the winemakers at Kenwood are able to choose the best wines from recent years to blend together, creating a dependable Zin that isn't at the mercy of poor growing seasons.

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Fiddletown Old Vine Zinfandel

An inexpensive wine that's won numerous awards, including the Best of Class at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the Gold Medal at the Long Beach Grand Cru in 2013, Fiddletown Old Vine Zinfandel is a great wine. Big, bold, and dark, this wine has pronounced notes of blackberry along with subtle caramel and black current elements. The tannins are quite strong in this wine, giving it a lot of structure and bite. It's also on the acidic side, which helps to cut through the big fruit flavors of the Zinfandel grape, creating a wine that's complex and well-balanced.

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Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel

Brazin (B)Old Vine Zinfandel hails from Lodi, California, a hot appelation that makes bold, spicy Zins. The vines are between 35 and 80 years old, so they've had plenty of time to grow long taproots that extend deep into the sandy earth at the vineyard. This wine is an inky purple in the glass, with lots of legs showing off the relatively high alcohol content. On the nose, you'll notice aromas of mocha and spice. These are well balanced by the plum and chocolate on the palate. The long, tannic finish brings along additional flavors of vanilla and a little bit of earthiness. Since these grapes are grown in warm conditions, the wine doesn't emphasize the berry flavors of Zinfandel, instead focusing on this complex grape's darker notes of chocolate and spice.

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Four Vines Maverick Zinfandel

Grown at an elevation of 1200 feet, in volcanic soil that lends the grapes lots of complex earthy notes, Four Vines Maverick is one of our favorite Zinfandels. Though Zin is the main player in this wine, it is blended with Barbera, Petite Sirah, and Mourvedre for added complexity and structure. This is a huge, jammy wine with lots of blueberry, blackberry, and boysenberry both on the nose and the palate. This wine also shows off aromas of licorice and pepper, and flavors of earth, oak, and cinnamon, providing the perfect counterbalance to the big fruit flavors. Unlike most Zins, this one will also hold up to a few years in the cellar.

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Valley of the Moon Zinfandel

Hailing from the middle of the Sonoma Valley, Valley of the Moon Zinfandel is one of our favorite Zins. This wine has a soft, fruity nose of red currant and raspberry with notes of clove, vanilla, and briar. The flavor is also full of red berry flavors that are backed up by chai, vanilla, and clean earth. The tannins are noticeable in this wine, but soft enough that it's perfectly approachable. A great balance of the soft fruit flavors commonly seen in Zins grown in cooler climates, and the spiciness of Zins grown in warmer climates, this is one of the most versatile wines around. It pairs well with a variety of meals, including BBQ, pasta, and spicy lamb dishes.

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