California Zinfandel

California Zinfandel

The Fifty Best California Zinfandel Tasting of 2019


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 14 recent release California Zinfandels with 14 members of our wine judging panel. Strict tasting rules were applied. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Each of the wines were poured into fresh glasses from newly opened sealed bottles and served at room temperature. Only ice water and white peasant bread were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each wine on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the highest. Double-Gold, Gold and Silver medals are awarded based on a set range of final point scores received from the judges. There were no Bronze medals awarded for this tasting.

The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. The appelations are identified for each brand. Prices indicated do not include tax.


Portalupi Wine 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel
Dulinsek Ranch

(Russian River Valley, Sonoma) $52

Following fermentation, this wine, made from grapes grown in rich, sandy soil, was aged for 16 months in a combination of new American oak (40%), 1 year-old American oak (40%) and 2 year-old American oak (20%) before bottling.

Aroma: Plum, pluots, roasted plums, raspberry, blackberry, blackberry jam, concentrated fruit, vanilla, avocado, mint, licorice, spice, spicy, pepper, peppery, a little musty, earthy, tar, smoky, oak, rich, bold.
Palate: Dark plum, black cherry, blackberry, raspberry, fresh white cherries, dried cherry, figs, vanilla, lavender, black tea, white pepper, spices, spicy, high acidity, strong tannins, good balance, fresh, tangy, rich.
Finish: Strawberry jam, blueberry, cranberry, lemon zest, oregano, tannins, subtle smoke, wood, big, elegant.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Portalupi Wine Old Vine Zinfandel Dulinsek Ranch


Tres Sabores 2016 Zinfandel Estate
(Rutherford, Napa Valley) $50

This wine was made from hand-harvested certified organic grapes with half the grapes fermented with indigenous yeast and the balance inoculated. Following fermentation, the wine was barrel-aged in 30% new French oak for over 18 months before bottling.

Aroma: Ripe plum, blackberry, blueberry, green apple, hint of lime, burnt sugar, black licorice, mint, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, marjoram, pepper, soft earthiness.
Palate: Black cherry burst, plums, blackberry, ripe blueberry, cranberry, apricot, apple, mild kiwi, vanilla, white chocolate, baking spices, good minerality, mild tannin, good balance, rich depth, light & airy.
Finish: Cherry, burnt apple, lemony, some mint, oolong tea, licorice, pepper tang, sharp minerality.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Tres Sabores Zinfandel Estate

Portalupi 2017 Riserva Old Vine Zinfandel
Dulinsek Ranch

(Russian River Valley, Sonoma) $90

This wine was made from grapes grown in sandy Gold Ridge loam, which following fermentation was aged for 18 months in a combination of new French oak (50%) and 1 year-old American oak barrels.

Aroma: Dark plum, plummy, blackberry, blueberry/blackberry combo, jam, ripe figs, raisin, prune juice, sweet mint, wet stone, earthy, tobacco, rich.
Palate: Black cherry, dark plum, sweet plum, blackberry, sweet berries, banana, super ripe, tart cherry pie, sorbet, vanilla, floral violet, spices, saline, wet granite, light smoke, bright acid, well balanced, rich, great with food.
Finish: Vanilla, pepper, cigar, musty, wood smoke, wood.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Portalupi Riserva Old Vine Zinfandel Dulinsek Ranch

Cline Family Cellars 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel
(Lodi) $10

Following harvest, grapes for this wine (primarily from the Mokalumne River AVA) were fermented in closed stainless steel tanks and aged in oak (35% new French oak) for 8 months before bottling.

Aroma: Black cherry, cherry, ripe plums, strawberry, dried cranberry, pineapple, blueberry jam, Smucker’s grape jelly, subtle licorice, white pepper, subtle leather, subtle tar, smoky, rich, very aromatic.
Palate: Black cherry, ripe red cherry, black currant, lovely lingonberry, raspberry, cranberry juice with a squeeze of lemon, vanilla, mocha, roasted pepper, good balance acid/fruit, earthy, round tannins, bright, soft & silky, smooth, everyday zin.
Finish: Mature berries, mineral, tannic, campfire, smoky note, long oak, pleasant.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Cline Family Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel


Lorenzi Estate 2015 Zinfandel Reserve Estate Vineyard
(Temecula Valley) $65

This wine was fermented and aged for 26 months in French oak (58% new) and bottle-aged for an additional 16 months prior to release.

Aroma: Cherry, plum, blackberry, raspberry spread, cooked fruit, raisin, fruit cake, lemon zest, baking spices, tobacco, leather, mineral water, river rocks, smoky, oak.
Palate: Boysenberry, tart cranberry, dried cranberry, dried dark fruit, jammy, fruit biscuits, mint, clove, cinnamon, spicy, tar, ash, woody, cedar, balanced tannins, good balance.
Finish: Raisin, fig, orange zest, pepper, earthy, fermentation, light smoke, tannic, woody, oak barrel, elegant.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Lorenzi Estate Zinfandel Reserve Estate Vineyard

Fallon Place 2016 Zinfandel
Landa Vineyard

(Chalk Hill, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County) $32

This wine was made from Zinfandel grapes grown on a 40 year-old vineyard, and following fermentation was aged for 18 months in new and neutral French oak barrels.

Aroma: Cherry, black cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, jammy, tart jam, marmalade, orchard apples, bold green herbs, mint, teas, spicy, pepper, early summer, soft.
Palate: Cherry, black cherry, cassis, raspberry, strawberry, berries spring out with citrus, plum, pluots, coconut, vanilla, toffee, licorice, peppery herbs, pepper, black pepper, clove, cinnamon, light spice, baking spices, well balanced, soft undertones.
Finish: Cherry jam, blackberry, red apple, spicy cinnamon, pepper, wood note, cedar, light oak, balanced, soft tannins, buttery, velvety, lots of depth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Fallon Place Zinfandel Landa Vineyard

Lorenzi Estate 2015 Zinfandel Catalyst Reserve
(Temecula Valley) $85

This wine was made from a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah grapes that were fermented and aged in French oak (for 24 months) and bottle-aged for 26 months prior to release.

Aroma: Cherry, dark cherry, strawberry, raspberry, pear, dried fig, stewed fruits, rich dark chocolate, dried fruit, minty, mushroom, funky, leafy, forest rain, minerality, earthy red soil, elegant.
Palate: Cherry, bright black cherry, sour cherry, raspberry, lingonberry, plum, cranberry, grapefruit, vanilla, milk chocolate shavings, lavender, mint, cinnamon, baking spices, spicy, smoke, nice fruit & tannin balance, crisp, pleasant, elegant.
Finish: Cherry, ripe blackberry, light floral, mineral develops, tannins, smoke, oak barrel, oak, velvety, soft.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Lorenzi Estate Zinfandel Catalyst Reserve


Berryessa Gap Winery 2016 Zinfandel
(Winters, Yolo County) $22

Following harvest, grapes for this wine (100% Zinfandel from Coble Ranch Vineyard) were fermented in small lots and aged for 14 months in neutral French oak barrels prior to bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, sour cherry, cherry must, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, ripe plums, baked fruit, beetroot, chocolate, spices, spicy, mineral, earth.
Palate: Cherry, dark cherry, dried cherry, raspberry, strawberry, cranberry, blueberry, plums, prunes, cherry cola, lavender, herbaceous, minty, baking spices, pepper spice, white pepper, good balance.
Finish: Sweet cherry, cassis, burnt fruit, black pepper, good balance, good length.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Berryessa Gap Winery Zinfandel


Leonard Wine Company 2016 Zinfandel
Rustridge Vineyard

(Chiles Valley, Napa Valley) $50

This wine was fashioned from Zinfandel (88%) and Petite Sirah (12%), grown in soil consisting primarily of shale and loam. Following fermentation, it was aged for 16 months, partially in new oak.

Aroma: Red cherry, plum, raspberry, pomegranate, crushed dark fruit, some figs, dried fruit, chicory, peppery, subtle leather, wet stone, gentle earthy, subtle tar, hint of smoke, cedar, subtle oak, bold.
Palate: Cherry, dark cherry, raspberry, plum, blackberry, smoky blackberry, tart cherry, cranberry, peachy, lemony, clove, woody, nice tannin balance, mellow, velvety, everyday zin.
Finish: Green pepper, pimento, peppery, earthy, wood, oak.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Leonard Wine Company Zinfandel Rustridge Vineyard

Grgich Hills Estate 2015 Zinfandel
(Napa Valley) $37

Made from 97% Zinfandel and 3% Petite Syrah certified organic grapes (grown without artificial herbicides or pesticides) this wine was aged for 18 months in neutral French oak barrels after fermentation.

Aroma: Sweet cherry, cherry, sour cherry, strawberry, raspberry, Macoun apple, cranapple juice, vanilla, dried potpourri, grape leaves, whole wheat bread, musty/dusty, earthy, wood fire.
Palate: Cherry, plum, blueberry, blue & black berries, hint of pomegranate, fig, dried figs, jammy, vanilla, pepper, earth, wet earth, mild wood, rich, everyday zin.
Finish: Dried cranberries, dates, vanilla, cocoa, smoke, wood.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Grgich Hills Estate 2015 Zinfandel

Berryessa Gap Winery 2017 Zinfandel
(Winters, Yolo County) $22

Grapes for this 100% Zinfandel wine, were fermented in small lots, followed by 14 months of aging in neutral French oak barrels before bottling.

Aroma: Strawberry, boysenberry, raspberry, light soft raspberry, cranberry, plums, cherry, dried cherry, cherry lollipop, orange zest, tobacco leaf, oaky.
Palate: Dark cherry, cherry, sour cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, cranberry, jammy, light banana, apple, dusty, soft cottony, balanced, oak, zesty.
Finish: Plum, banana bread, licorice, hint of mint, light pepper, tobacco, smoky, soft tannins, minerality, clean, balanced.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Berryessa Gap Winery Zinfandel

Peachy Canyon 2017 Zinfandel
D Block

(Paso Robles) $85

Following fermentation in new French oak barrels, this 100% Zinfandel wine was aged for 18 months in the same barrels in which fermentation took place.

Aroma: Cherry, raspberry, strawberry, gooseberry, pineapple, burnt caramel, herbaceous, mossy, wet earth, funk, smoky.
Palate: Cherry, sweet cherry, tart cherry, cherry pop, ripe plum, cranberry, apricot, dried figs, flaky fruit pie, light caramel, nutmeg, earthy, balanced, everyday zin, bright, silky, elegant.
Finish: Cherry, honey, cigar box.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Peachy Canyon Zinfandel D Block

ZO Wines 2017 Zinfandel
(Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County) $44

This wine was made from a blend of 85% Zinfandel and 15% Petite Syrah grapes, grown in a vineyard 120 feet above sea level. Following fermentation, it was aged for 10 months in new French oak (20%), new American oak (20%) and neutral French oak (60%).

Aroma: Raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, chocolate, marshmallow, vanilla, grape skin, mint, spearmint, spearmint gum, roasted red peppers, grilled eggplant, leathery, attic, musty, earthy, sophisticated.
Palate: Cherry, sweet cherry, plum, blackberry, dark berry undertones, cranberry, lemon, red licorice, spices, white pepper, light smoke, oaky, very drinkable.
Finish: Tart cherry, sour cherry, citrus, vanilla, herbaceous, sage, tobacco, tannic, smoky, clean, soft, elegant.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

ZO Wines Zinfandel




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Fifty Best > Wine > California Zinfandel
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