Zinfandel may not be the first grape variety that comes to mind when we think of California wine, but that doesn’t mean it’s a secondary grape variety. Its origins in the state date back to the 1840s, making it one of the most historic races in the country.

This long tradition has helped make Zinfandel widely available in California. From Sonoma and Lodi in the north to Paso Robles, the foothills of the Sierra and beyond, the grape has found its place in many parts of the state, often with a range of styles depending on climate and wine expression.

From fat and jammy fruit wines to nuanced drops of earth, you’ll find the full range of grapes in the Golden State. With that in mind, here are 10 Zinfandels that were recently tasted throughout California.

Brady Vineyard 2018 Zinfandel (Paso Robles); $24, 96 points. On the nose of this bottle, dense aromas of black currants, red flowers and charred flesh are enveloped by a stony edge. The palate shows great consistency, crushing rich red fruit, flavored by tasty spice and framed by ample acidity and tannins. Editor’s Choice. -Matt Kettmann

Ridge 2018 Pagan Ranch Zinfandel (Sonoma Valley); $40, 96 points. Bursting with ultra-rich fruit flavors is this generous, full-bodied, ripe wine that revels in the extravagance of Zinfandel with blackberry and blueberry jam. With high octane but also a supple texture, this would be an excellent wine to linger on at the end of a special meal. At least until 2030. Basement selection. -Jim Gordon

Robert Biale 2018 Limerick Lane Vineyard Zinfandel (Russian River Valley); 62, 95 points. It is an excellent representation of the site: leathery, spicy and earthy, with dried grass, cherry and blackcurrant length. It is very layered, yet sublime, structured, complex and memorable. Take advantage of the 2028-2035 period. Basement selection. -Virginie Boone


Williams Selyem 2018 Saytone Estate Vineyard Zinfandel (Russian River Valley); $65, 94 points. This is an impressive wine from an old historic vineyard. The musky leather and red cherry are glossy and rich on the palate, with a great underlying structure. Accents of nutmeg, lavender and white pepper contribute to the great popularity of this wine. -WATER CLOSET

Andis 2018 painted the fields of the old Zinfandel vine (Sierra Foothills); $25, 92 points. This balanced, layered, homogeneous wine offers tons of fresh blackberry and raspberry aromas wrapped in an invigorating texture of fine-grained tannins. Good acidity and an excellent sense of concentration contribute to its charm. Interestingly, it is composed of 50% Zinfandel, 30% Primitivo (Italian variety of Zinfandel), 10% Petite Sirah and 10% Barbera. Editor’s Choice. -J.G.G.

Four Vines 2018 Biker Zinfandel (Paso Robles); $18, 92 points. Aromas of fresh berries and crushed rocks create a tight, concentrated nose in this bottle. Blackberry jam and light vanilla flavors come together on a structurally impressive palate, enveloped by tight tannins and firm acidity. -M.K.

Sobon Estate 2018 Rocky Top Zinfandel (Amador County); $18, 92 points. Rich and soft in texture, this wine begins with aromas of wild berries and brushwood, followed by flavors of blackberries and black plums. Its concentration and softness make it an excellent drinking experience. Editor’s Choice. -J.G.G.

Birichino 2018 St. Georges Old Vines Zinfandel (Central Coast); $25, 91 points. Made largely from vines planted in 1922, this bottling is a smart and unique variation on Zinfandel that stands out from most other grape varieties and is overall quite simple but striking. Aromas of red plum, cranberry and light spice lead into light strawberry, dried fruit, more spice notes and a hint of blood. All of these elements become more ethereal over time. -M.K.

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Paul Dolan 2019 Made from organic Zinfandel (Mendocino) grapes; 19.90 points. Clean and delicious fruit aromas and flavors make this balanced and easy-to-drink wine practically light. It has light tannins and a soft texture that is also pleasant to the touch. A very seductive character of fresh berries marks the end. -J.G.G.

Gnarly Head 2019 Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi); $13, 88 points. Very ripe, late fruit flavors are combined with generous touches of oak, vanilla, nutmeg and maple syrup in this rich and delicious wine. Nearly sweet aromas and low tannins make for a pleasant taste experience. Best buy. -J.G.G.

Published on the 19th. February 2021

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