Zinfandel may not be the first grape that comes to mind when you think of California wine, but that doesn’t mean it’s second rate. Its origins in the state date back to the 1840s, making it one of the most historic varieties in the country.
This longstanding tradition has contributed to Zinfandel’s wide-spread reach in California. From Sonoma and Lodi in the north to Paso Robles, the Sierra Foothills and beyond, the grape has found a home across many of the state’s regions and often delivers a range of styles depending on climate and winemaker expression.
From bold, jammy fruit-laden wines to nuanced, earthy pours, the full gamut of the grape can be found in the Golden State. With that in mind, here are 10 recently tasted Zinfandels from across California.
Brady Vineyard 2018 Zinfandel (Paso Robles); $24, 96 points. Dense aromas of black currant, red flowers and charred meat are wrapped in a rocky edge on the nose of this bottling. There is great cohesion to the palate, where rich red fruits are cut by crushed stone flavors, lifted by savory spice and framed by ample acidity and tannins. Editors’ Choice. –Matt Kettmann
Ridge 2018 Pagani Ranch Zinfandel (Sonoma Valley); $40, 96 points. Drenched with ultrarich fruit flavors, this generous, full-bodied and mouthfilling wine is an unabashed, fully ripened wine that exults in Zinfandel’s jammy blackberry and blueberry extravagance. High octane but also supple in texture, this will be a great wine to linger over at the end of a special meal. Best through 2030. Cellar Selection. –Jim Gordon
Robert Biale 2018 Limerick Lane Vineyard Zinfandel (Russian River Valley); $62, 95 points. This is an outstanding representation of the site: leathery, spicy and earthy, with a length of dried herb, cherry and cassis. Exuberantly layered yet lifted, it is structured, complex and memorable. Enjoy from 2028–2035. Cellar Selection. –Virginie Boone
Williams Selyem 2018 Saitone Estate Vineyard Zinfandel (Russian River Valley); $65, 94 points. This is an impressive wine from a historic old-vine site. Brawny leather and red cherry are vibrant and full on the palate, with tremendous underlying structure. Nutmeg, lavender and white pepper accents contribute to the wine’s widespread appeal. –V.B.
Andis 2018 Painted Fields Old Vine Zinfandel (Sierra Foothills); $25, 92 points. This well-balanced, layered and seamless wine offers tons of fresh blackberry and raspberry flavors wrapped in a bracing texture of fine-grained tannins. Good acidity and a great sense of focus add to its charms. Interestingly, it is made from 50% Zinfandel, 30% Primitivo (the Italian strain of Zinfandel), 10% Petite Sirah and 10% Barbera. Editors’ Choice. –J.G.
Four Vines 2018 The Biker Zinfandel (Paso Robles); $18, 92 points. Aromas of fresh berries and crushed rocks make for a tightly wound and focused nose in this bottling. Brisk blackberry-jam and light vanilla flavors converge on the palate, which is structurally impressive, wrapped in taut tannins and solid acidity. –M.K.
Sobon Estate 2018 Rocky Top Zinfandel (Amador County); $18, 92 points. This full-bodied and plushly textured wine starts with wild berry and underbrush aromas followed by ripe blackberry and black-plum flavors. Its concentration and smoothness combine for great sipping. Editors’ Choice. –J.G.
Birichino 2018 Saint Georges Old Vines Zinfandel (Central Coast); $25, 91 points. This bottling, mostly from 1922-planted vines, is a uniquely intellectual spin on Zinfandel, proving unlike most other takes on the grape and somewhat simple, yet constantly calling out for attention. Aromas of red plum, cranberry and light herbs lead into light strawberry, dried meat and more herb tones, as well as a hint of blood. These elements all grow more ethereal with time. –M.K.
Paul Dolan 2019 Made with Organic Grapes Zinfandel (Mendocino); $19, 90 points. Pure, delicious fruit aromas and flavors practically light up this well-balanced, easy-drinking wine. It shows light tannins and a smooth texture that’s nicely tangy, too. A lingering fresh berry character marks the close. –J.G.
Gnarly Head 2019 Old Vine Zinfandel (Lodi); $13, 88 points. Very ripe, late-picked fruit flavors are well matched by generous oak accents of vanilla, nutmeg and maple syrup in this full-bodied, mouthcoating wine. The almost-sweet flavors and low tannins create a plush palate impression. Best Buy. –J.G.