Sultry Zinfandels for Summer

Looking for an American classic to bring to your next cookout? Grab a bottle of Zinfandel.

Zinfandel has long been one of America’s favorite varieties, prized for its fruity berry flavors and spicy notes of pepper, licorice and vanilla. It’s a lot of people’s favorite match with barbecue, making it great for savoring in the summer.

It also doesn’t hurt that Zinfandel provides fistfuls of flavor and intrigue for $50 and under.

So before you finalize your summer gathering plans and start slow roasting or tenderizing, consider including one of these 10 current Zinfandels from Napa and Sonoma to make it a party.

Carlisle 2013 Papera Ranch Russian River Valley Zinfandel; $47, 95 points. Wow. This is an incredible wine, as always, but particularly soft and structured in this fine vintage, which deftly marries pretty aromatics and zippy acidity with darker, stormier elements of ripe fig and wood smoke. There’s so much complexity and life going on, it’ll be hard to wait on this one, though more time in the bottle should make everything that much more settled and complete. Drink now through 2023.

Robert Biale 2013 R.W. Moore Coombsville Zinfandel; $50, 95 points. From a vineyard east of Napa first planted in 1905, Moore is densely structured and deceptively elegant, all while maintaining an intensity of tart cherry and wild blackberry. Spicy in black pepper and a dusting of cinnamon, it remains vibrant on the palate from start to lengthy finish, a knockout among the producer’s consistently high-achieving Zinfandels that should stand the test of time. Cellar through 2023.

 Dry Creek Vineyard 2013 Old Vine Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel; $32, 93 points. From vines averaging 95 years old, this is an impressive effort, in balance between savory, sultry overtones of peppercorn and espresso and a riper, juicier core of blackberry. Supportive acidity provides freshness to the wine, which offers plenty of length and breadth on the finish.

Rock Wall 2013 Monte Rosso Vineyard Sonoma County Zinfandel; $45, 93 points. This is a beautiful wine, fully expressive of the vineyard and vintage. It’s showy in juicy red and black wild berries, with just-right additions of cinnamon and black pepper. Full bodied and concentrated, it remains approachable and an ideal companion to meaty fare.

Sequum 2012 Kidd Ranch Napa Valley Zinfandel; $40, 93 points. A brambly and intense vineyard-designate rich in blackberry and brown sugar, this proffers just intense enough to provoke, but never gets extreme. Soft on the palate, it has a lively undercurrent of dark cherry grenadine and black pepper. This is one to remember, with a cool label to boot.

Dutton-Goldfield 2013 Dutton Ranch Morelli Lane Vineyard Russian River Valley Zinfandel; $50, 92 points. This is such a refreshing take on the variety, still robust and rich in body, yet possessed of firm acidity and a crispness of cherry kirsch and pomegranate. It practically shouts violets and roses on the nose, following through on the palate with a delicacy of power that’s entirely surprising. The finish is a mix of allspice and white pepper.

Gary Farrell 2013 Grist Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel; $50, 92 points. Intensely dense and feral, this wine opens with a thicket of tart cherry and strawberry, followed by leathery black pepper and lavender. Medium in body and acidity, it works for the table, finding balance as it goes, before a rich taste of toffee finishes things off.

Seghesio 2013 Old Vine Sonoma County Zinfandel; $40, 92 points. Grippy in wound-up black fruit and black pepper, this is a ripe, bright and softly layered wine, completely in keeping with its old-vine status in dusty, complex notes. Spicy cinnamon and leathery pepper combine on the lengthy finish. Drink now through 2021. Cellar Selection.

Novy 2013 Carlisle Vineyard Russian River Valley Zinfandel; $34, 91 points. Complex, integrated and soft, this wine from fellow winemaker Mike Officer’s historic site is lightly spiced in cinnamon and pepper. Dollops of vanilla and blackberry make themselves felt on the palate amid the zest.

Ravenswood 2013 Belloni Vineyard Russian River Valley Zinfandel; $37, 91 points. This wine comes from a rare patch of old vines in the appellation, planted to Zin and mixed blacks no less. Belloni consistently impresses in its bringing together of smoky tar and leather around a core of tension and acidity. The finish is dusty and spicy, as it should be.

Published on July 15, 2016
Topics: Wine Ratings
About the Author
Virginie Boone
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from California.

Contributing Editor Virginie Boone has been with Wine Enthusiast since 2010, and reviews the wines of Napa and Sonoma. Boone began her writing career with Lonely Planet travel guides, which eventually led to California-focused wine coverage. She contributes to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and Sonoma Magazine, and is a regular panelist and speaker on wine topics in California and beyond. Email:

The latest wine reviews, trends and recipes plus special offers on wine storage and accessories