Great Value California Zinfandel Finds
Who is making the best California Zinfandel wine? Can you find a great Zinfandel under $25? I set out to answer these questions.
Finding a good value in wine is always a goal. But with value, we also want quality and character. Fortunately, all three can be found in Zinfandel, California’s grape! Sure, Zinfandel may have lost its popularity awhile back. The wines had become known more for their over-ripeness, high alcohol levels and notes of prunes and stewed fruit.
But the pendulum has swung back and it is time to think about Zinfandel as a balanced wine. I am here to share some Zinfandel finds that hit all the points – quality, character, and value.
Winemaker Randle Johnson started Artezin wines in 2002 to honor the art of making California Zinfandel, a grape he has been working with for 30 years and says is “a lot of work for a great reward.” He considers making Zinfandel an art in many ways because it is a challenging grape. It is almost as difficult to grow as Pinot Noir, it has a tendency to over-crop and has a propensity for residual sugar. Zinfandel “should not taste like Smucker’s Jam or root beer,” expressed Johnson who focuses making the wine varietally correct. With red fruit aromas of pomegranate, cherry and boysenberry, as well as sweet brown spices. This Mendocino Zinfandel is soft and round on the palate with bright acidity and fine tannins.
Easton Amador County Zinfandel 2014 ($22) AND Easton “E” Fiddletown Zinfandel 2012 ($25)
Located in the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County in the Sierra Nevada, Easton Wines was founded by winemaker Bill Easton in 1986. The area is a historic Zinfandel area with vines planted since 1850. Granite and rocky soils, dry-farming and head-pruned California Zinfandel vines, as well as the proximity to the Sierra Nevada Mountains which allows the fruit to retain acidity results in balanced wines that are not overly-ripe and do not have residual sugar.
The grapes for the Easton Amador County Zinfandel 2014 average 50 years old and the wine is fruit forward and bright with spiciness on the finish. The Easton “E” Fiddletown Zinfandel is made with grapes from the oldest vineyard in the region, planted during the Civil War and with the average age of vines being 100 years old. The wine is very elegant with a nose of perfume, dark cherry, and lavender.
Named for its red and green soils, Green & Red Vineyard is located in the eastern hills of Napa Valley in the Chiles Valley District. Planted in 1972, the vineyards of Green & Red are three separate mountain vineyards located at different elevations and exposures. The Green & Red Chiles Canyon Vineyards Zinfandel is a blend of the three mountain vineyards. The wine has a nose of dark cherry and raspberry as well as cloves and on the palate, it is bright and zesty.
Located in Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, Quivira, the Spanish name of a mythical place, focuses on sustainability and producing wines that are fresh and balanced. Winemaker Hugh Chappelle was making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay before joining Quivira more than seven years ago. The Quivira Dry Creek Zinfandel is a red Zinfandel made by a Pinot Noir winemaker. The wine is not austere but is restrained with aromas of dark red fruit, such as blackberry, raspberry, cherry and plum, and sweet baking spices. On the palate, the wine is rich but also tart and spicy.
Located in Amador County in the Shenandoah Valley, Bella Grace was started in 2006 by Michael and Charlie Havill and launched publicly in 2009. Named after their grandmothers, Bella and Grace, Bella Grace Vineyards grows 20 acres of grapes through sustainable vineyard practices. They grow nine different grapes, including Zinfandel of which they have four blocks on 6.75 acres. The Estate Zinfandel has notes of dark red fruit and medium acidity and tannins. It is bright on the palate and a very easy-to-drink wine.
Located in Paso Robles, Peachy Canyon was founded by Doug and Nancy Beckett in 1988. While they produce Rhone and Bordeaux varieties, Zinfandel has always been one of their flagship varietals. Drawn to San Louis Obispo County, winemaker Robert Henson joined the family winery three years ago. Henson also made a move from Pinot Noir to Zinfandel and he loves how Zinfandel really shows a sense of place. The Westside Zinfandel has aromas of dark fruit on the nose and strawberry and huckleberry on the palate. Rich baking spices, such as allspice, cloves and nutmeg, can also be found in this bold, lush wine.
Also located in Paso Robles, Chronic Cellars was started by Josh and Jake Beckett, the sons of Doug and Nancy Beckett of Peachy Canyon. With colorful labels and creative names, it might be easy to not take these wines seriously, but the wines are about using the best grapes to make good wine while having fun. The Dead Nuts Zinfandel is named as a tribute to the almonds and walnuts that were planted before the vineyards. The wine has aromas of bright blue fruit, boysenberry, and pomegranate. On the palate, it has powerful acidity that lingers.
About the authors of 7 Great California Zinfandel Wines
Allison Levine is the owner of Please The Palate, a boutique marketing and event-planning agency. Allison is Level 3 WSET Certified from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, so she knows about way more than just wine tasting Santa Barbara. Allison is certified as an Italian Wine Specialist from the North American Sommelier Association and has a Master's Degree in International Communications with a focus on cross-cultural training from the American University School of International Service. As a freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world.