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Wine

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 Primativo, California is still the premier vintner of this varietal. Australian and Italian winemakers who make this type of wine usually label it Primativo, 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.

Fiddletown Old Vine Zinfandel '11

Fiddletown Old Vine Zinfandel '11

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 '11 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.

Twisted Old Vine Zinfandel '11

Twisted Old Vine Zinfandel '11

Whether you're on a tight budget or you just like a good deal, Twisted Old Vine Zinfandel '11 is a great choice. Retailing for less than $10 a bottle, this is an incredibly inexpensive wine that offers plenty of big berry flavors and luscious tannins. The nose of this wine shows off red currant, black cherry, and blackberry notes, with just a hint of the peppery spice that Zinfandel is known for. On the palate, you'll find ripe blackberry and black pepper that make this a jammy, spicy wine. The finish is long, with enough acidity to balance out the fruitiness.

Brazin (B)Old Vine Zinfandel '11

Brazin (B)Old Vine Zinfandel '11

Brazin (B)Old Vine Zinfandel '11 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.

Four Vines Maverick '10

Four Vines Maverick '10

Grown at an elevation of 1200 feet, in volcanic soil that lends the grapes lots of complex earthy notes, Four Vines Maverick '10 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 and will still be at the top of its game until 2016.

Valley of the Moon Zinfandel '10

Valley of the Moon Zinfandel '10

Hailing from the middle of the Sonoma Valley, Valley of the Moon Zinfandel '10 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.

Turley Old Vines Zinfandel '11

Turley Old Vines Zinfandel '11

Turley Old Vines Zinfandel '11 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 of 2013 by Wine Spectator.

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel '12

Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel '12

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. The 2012, which is the winery's current release, is an excellent wine that comes from a near-perfect year. 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.

Broc Cellars Vine Starr Sonoma County Zinfandel '12

Broc Cellars Vine Starr Sonoma County Zinfandel '12

Broc Cellars Vine Starr Sonoma County Zinfandel '12 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 $30.

Hobo Branham Vineyard Rockpile Sonoma Zinfandel '11

Hobo Branham Vineyard Rockpile Sonoma Zinfandel '11

2011 was a challenging year for wine growers in Northern California, but fortunately early-ripening grapes, such as Zinfandel, didn't suffer complete losses. Yields were low in 2011 but the grapes that did grow were small and intensely flavorful, leading to some of the best wines in recent years. Hobo Branham Vineyard Rockpile Sonoma Zinfandel '11 is a stunning wine that packs a punch. Starting with the complex bouquet, this wine shows off aromas of black raspberry jam, smokey minerals, incense, and candied lavender. Once you take a sip, you'll be hit with a rush of big fruit flavors, especially black raspberry and blueberry, though you'll also notice hints of licorice and floral pastilles. The finish is clean and ends on a mineral note, which is the perfect end to this bold, complex wine.

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.

Crystal Beran
Crystal Beran has spent the past 10 years immersed in the exciting and delicious world of food and drink. She has honed her cooking skills as a baker, a caterer, and a personal chef, and currently spends a good deal of her time training the next generation of young chefs. Her work as a wine steward has helped her to develop a discerning palate and a love of excellent wines from all over the world. Over the years, she has had the good fortune to visit wineries in Northern California, Tanzania, France, and Italy. In her spare time, she brews beer and invents delectable dishes to share with friends, family, and students.
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