2005 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per the winery “Bright, flashy, ripe raspberry, blackberry and vanilla flavors are wrapped around a soft sweet fruit core highlighted by scents of cinnamon”

What I Think:

My quest to find the best $8 Zinfandel led me to this bottle as the final of a trio of contestants. Not quite American Idol but you get the idea. This showed well. On the nose the fruit interlaced nicely with hints of spice. The palate showed dark fruit rounded out with that familiar vanilla/barrel taste. The finish was nice but left you longing for more. That last bit pretty much sums this one up for me. This wine shows promise and tries to deliver but never quite gets there….

With that the final results for the Zinfandel showdown:
1. 2005 Rocking Horse Napa Valley Zinfandel
2. 2005 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel
3. 2006 Cline California Zinfandel

That said should the Rocking Horse not be the one for you, feel free to give this one a go.

Rating: 12th Bottle

2005 Rocking Horse Napa Valley Zinfandel

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Lots of trials and tribulations here. First I tried the winery’s site. Nothing. Next I put them through the ringer as discussed in my post on wine search engines and I was 0-3 with Google, Able Grape, and Scrugy. Next up I expanded the test to include Corkd, Snooth and WineMad. No dice. 0-7. At least I should be assured a good SEO ranking here.

If you don’t want to count solely on me check quaffability’s write up on the 2002 and the 2004.

What I Think:

Thinking about this one brought up loads of cross links in my head before I even pulled the cork out of the bottle. I had the 2002 offering of this one last year and was impressed but it was quickly overshadowed by the Beringer Clear Lake Zinfandel which was ranked #1 in my TJ’s top 10 for 2007. Couple that with my recent experiences with the Sausal which I enjoyed but seemed pricey and Cline which was slightly disappointing I was keen to see where this one slotted in.

In a nutshell if you call the Cline too fruity and the Sausal to mellow this found a happy middle between them with the price on the lower end of that scale. It was a bit tannin filled up front but this tightness gave way to some lush fruits that lingered on through the finish with a spiciness throughout. I’ll definitely be grabbing another bottle of this one but just like last year if the Beringer reappears I’ll drop it like a bad habit.

Rating: Buy It

NV Sausal Cellar Cats Red Zinfandel

Price: $13.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “The Cellar Cats Red is an estate Zinfandel named after Sophie and Gypise the two little black cats that have taken over the winery, literally! Gypsie wandered into the winery one day and captured the hearts of Peachie and Cindy, two of the winery owners, but then quickly disappeared. Unbeknownst to them, she birthed a litter of kittens in the cellar. When they were discovered, they were presumed to be dead, but at the last moment, they realized they were still alive, but just barely. Only one survived, her daughter, later named Sophie. The cats live at the winery here in beautiful Alexander Valley and needless to say, they are spoiled as if they were the heirs to the family fortune, hmmm, what fortune? One day, very near Sophies first birthday, the Demostene family decided to make a wine in honor of the cats, hence, The Cellar Cats Red was born. The popularity of this wine was so great, that it has now become an annual bottling.

This is our lightest, fruitiest Zinfandel. This wine craves a warm night on the porch or by the pool. No need to eat with this one, but it does pair nicely with hamburgers or even cheese and appetizers.”

What I Think:

Many know that I am a member of the Sausal wine club. The winery is located in the Alexander Valley area of Sonoma and known for their old vine Zinfandels. This is one of their latest offerings. It is the bottom of their four rung offering, two of the others have been written up here. Amazingly this one is made from 50-90 year old vines at a very fair cost of $13. Super mellow with loads of dark fruit this one is a winner. If $13 is an everyday drinker for you get a case. In my case I am going to need to do some further evaluation on the field. Stay tuned…I reserve my right to update this one based on my findings.

Rating: Pricey

2006 Cline California Zinfandel

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per wine.com on the 2006 Cline Zinfandel: “As always, the California Zinfandel is a challenging and rewarding wine to produce. Severe selection criteria and master blending show in the final product, which showcases a wide array of dark berry fruit including black cherry and raspberry. Additionally, spice notes and a lasting finish of vanilla from oak aging and firm, supple tannins add complexity to this wine. This wine is ready to drink now and will continue to develop complexity over the next three to four years.”

What I Think:

Oh the history with this wine. I’ve only been at this for ten years or so but I remember the first wine I fell for was a Blackstone Cab. Around 2001 when I moved past that one this Cline Zinfandel was my next love. I had a roommate at the time and if I recall correctly we went through 3 to 4 cases in the year we lived together. Within that kind of nostalgia you can understand that I may have a predisposition to give this one the benefit of the doubt. This one was minty with dark fruit running on overtones of oakish barrel flavors. Nice and flavorful but not what I was hoping for.

Back in the good old days when I started shopping TJ’s wine, Zin was the way to go. My all time favorite was a Pepperwood Grove Zin that could be had for $4 ($1.25 on closeout, bought 6 cases). At the time, the pickings were plentiful. No longer as Zin at favorable prices have been hard to come by. Given the current offerings I’ll take my chances with the current vintage of the Rocking Horse over this as I enjoyed the ’02. This one had 12th bottle potential and you could give a go. Personally at this price point I’ll spend my money elsewhere.

Rating: Skip It

2005 Ridge York Creek Zinfandel

Price: $27.99 @ K&L Wines

What They Said:

Per K&L Wines “Located high on Spring Mountain, overlooking the Napa Valley, York Creek Vineyard has been the source for some of Ridge’s most notable zins. Aged in a combination of new, two and four year old oak allows the vineyard and the varietal’s mountain iterations to shine through. The addition of petite sirah adds richness and structure. Bound to be another Ridge favorite, grab some for your cellar and watch this develop over the next five or six years.”

What I Think:

This is a wine recently given to me by my wife to celebrate a special occasion. I loved the 2003 Ridge, put a half case of the ’04 in the cellar and decided to open this one to celebrate New Year’s. Given the write-up above has no mention of tasting notes it likely should have been an indicator to let it lie a little longer. Of course I didn’t heed the advice. Like the others I had tried the Petite Sirah in this field blend already added a subtleness that you wouldn’t expect in a Zinfandel. Unfortunately the time in the bottle has yet to allow the flavors to shine through. Or perhaps it was the sub-optimal pairing with roasted chicken. Either way this wasn’t the revelation I was hoping for. It doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the offering but should this make it my way again I’ll give it a couple more years in the bottle. I recommend you do the same.

By the way, interestingly I noticed that the blend does change slightly from year to year which I initially did not expect from a field blend, guessing it is based on yields, any other thoughts?

Rating: Pricey

2006 TBD California Zinfandel

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer ““Zinfandel TBD…To Be Determined.” Exactly what was noted when our wine buyer began a quest for a rich, fruity wine that would pair perfectly with a Thanksgiving meal and live up the to character of the holiday – zesty and all American. We went straight to the quintessential Zin region of Lodi and the cool climate regions of Mendocino County to source a vivacious blend of the yet to be named wine. By the time the magic came together – 81% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Sirah, with a dash of Syrah & Carignan for structure (and quite a bit of humor for good spirit) – “Zinfandel TBD” had taken on a life of its own, worthy of being bottled with a label to match. The enticing aromas of raspberry and boysenberry laced with a hint of clove and black pepper will complement the complex flavors of an autumnal feast and the lively spirits of your guests. All that’s left TBD now, is how many bottles you’ll need. We are selling each 750 ml bottle for just $4.99.”

What I Think:

I always start my research by checking the winery. DnA Vineyards doesn’t seem to be in operation yet over in Mendocino so I am guessing whatever grapes came from there are young and were paired with some other bulk bought grapes to come up with this conncoction for Trader Joe’s. It is mostly Zinfandel and Syrah. Couple that with the fact that the only other region mentioned is Lodi and the Syrah must be from DnA’s new estate.

To be honest I didn’t take an notes here and it has been a week or so since I had the bottle but for the price I was impressed by it’s easy drinking style. Big, bold red fruit on the nose and through the initial palate as well before fading to a peppery finish. A smooth wine that doesn’t reek of the manufactured taste you often find in something this price range. This is a bottle well suited for any occasion including Thanksgiving according to the TJ’s Fearless Flyer. I recommend you give it a go.

Rating: Buy It

2002 Sausal Old Vine Family Zinfandel

Price: $18.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “89 points 2002 Sausal “Old Vine Zinfandel” Alexander Valley — Medium-dark purplish ruby; attractive, spicy, cedary, very ripe blackberry fruit aroma with notes of cinnamon, dill, and vanilla; full body; big, forward, rich, jammy, ripe berry and brown sugar flavors; medium-full to full tannin; slightly harsh on the finish; lingering after taste. Highly recommended.”

and from the winery “This wine greets you with a dark ruby color that hints of the fruit to come. The nose is loaded with berries, predominately blackberries highlighted by a touch of cinnamon. There is a heavy richness on the mid-palate with an undertone of vanillin. Blueberries abound in the soft, velvety finish. Whether you drink it now or allow it to mature in your cellar, you will be delighted with this outstanding Zin. The 2002 Family Zinfandel was produced from estate grown grape vines averaging 50 years old. Following fermentation, the wine was aged twenty-two months in a combination of American and French oak barrels, adding complexity. This wine can be aged four to six years from its January 2005 release date.Pairing it with spicy pastas, pork and grilled chicken is recommended.”

What I Think:

Speaking of Tahoe, this was my contribution for the weekend. There were 10 couples and each was to bring a wine, the reason I pulled this one out? Simple! It was the only magnum I had. That said going against the other wines it went over incredibly well. I think we ended up polishing it off in a bit of a stupor but those that paid attention certainly enjoyed it.

This isn’t the huge Zinfandel you may be use to. Given the old vines it must have mellowed over the years. Where you might think bold, this is more rich and savory. The nose borders on blackberry but the typical hint of spices to come is not present. On the mouth it is full of fruit before fading to vanilla accents toward the middle. The end lingers with a nice velvety coating of light fruit. This was a winner. I need to get me some more magnums!

Rating: Wow!

2003 Beringer Clear Lake Zinfandel

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per quaffability “If you’ve spent any time around Napa, particularly “up valley”, you’ll find that many of the locals like to quip about Lake County as some kind of “Deliverance” style backwater, where the all the toothless residents are either crank addicts, mentally disabled, or both. Without commenting about the merits of such jokes or what it says about denizens of either county, I will say that some Napa wineries are seeing greener, or at least cheaper, grass on the other side of the fence, and planting and growing good wines up in Lake County.

Among those is Napa and Knights Valley behemoth Beringer, which has put out this Clear Lake Zin, the first wine I have seen from that appellation.

This wine makes a good first impression, with a nose of peppery, briary fruit, braced with with a beam of toasty oak and a touch of chaparral.

There is true zin fruit in the mouth, medium bodied, ripe but a little drier than you’d expect, leading to a finish marked by firm tannins. Very pleasant, especially at this price”

What I Think:

We opened this one for comparison sake when having steak and drinking the Sausal Century Vine Zinfandel. Given that this is my third bottle of the Clear Lake I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. But, wow, the difference was extraordinary! The boldness here versus the mellowness of the 130 year old Sausal vines was something else. Now this wine is probably bigger than your average Zinfandel but even still.

On opening this one you get scents of sweet, ripe and definitely hot, brambly fruit with that same mint/menthyl aroma lingering in the background. On the nose you get loads of ripe, bursting blueberries that last through the mid-palate before giving way to a dry dusty backbone that leads to a lip smacking finish. Even better than the last, a sure winner! I’m going to have to keep my eye out for some other wines from the Lake County appellation, be nice to see how this compares to something a little closer to home. Granted with the differences so vivid it was hard to do an apple to apples comparison but this surely held its own versus the Sausal offering though that one cost 4 times as much. I am going to have to start going through these bottles more slowly, only six more to go.

Rating: Bulk Buy

2004 Sausal Century Vine Zinfandel

Price: $30.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “The Century Vines Zinfandel is made from estate-grown Zinfandel vines planted along Sausal Creek prior to 1877. These vines are still producing juice Sausal considers as having the truest varietal characteristics of any they have sampled.

The 2004 vintage’s dark, ruby color is soon followed by a rich, full nose of chocolate and cherry aromas with a subtle yet distinct vanilla spice. The full flavor of the wine comes out as soon as it hits the palate; candied cherry and soft hints of spice create a full mouthfeel. Well structured tannins lend themselves to a long finish, contributing greater depth to an already full-flavored, full-bodied wine.

The 2004 Century Vines Zinfandel is definitely great now, but with a few more years in the bottle will offer an even greater reward. Whether now or later, pair this wine with a juicy steak, wild game, or marinated pork tenderloin.”

What I Think:

First and foremost, in the spirit of full disclosure, as mentioned in a previous post, I am a member of the wine club at Sausal. I enjoy all their wines due to their reasonable price to quality ratio. but especially the Zinfandels for which they have built their reputation on. They have four different bottlings. This is the crème de la crème. And is followed by the Family Reserve ($24), Private Reserve ($18) and down to the Cellar Cats ($12). I think all are made from estate fruit with the main difference being the age of the vines from which the grapes for each bottle are harvested.

This was the first time I had this offering outside of the tasting room and boy was it a learning experience. Given that I have had wine from a 130 year old vines about zero times in my life I wasn’t exactly sure how much my expectations should change from that of a typical high class Zinfandel offering, The steaks were marinating on the table, so it seemed like a prime opportunity to find out. I pulled the cork out of this one and was greeted with loads of cherry and plums on the nose, with a mint/methyl aroma lingering in the back ground. In the mouth it has excellent structure as the cherries were again out in force. As the mid-palate began to fade this wine teased you as if some spice were going to appear but nothing but the lightest of tannins were perceptible as the fruit lasted to the end. You could certainly lend credence to the age of the vines. This was a polished, well rounded and perfectly integrated bottle. That said it was not your typical Zinfandel. In a word, it was mellow. The boldness you may have expected on opening this bottle never appeared. Given the high quality of this offering I must credit that affect to the age of the vines. Hopefully my one year old will start to mellow a little earlier!

We tried this one along side the Beringer Clear Lake Zinfandel which gave me some context, but next time I want to do it with the basic Sausal Zin, Cellar Cats, offering. This should offer the best insight. Given that I have another bottle of this one I will get me chance. That said I am going to let it lie for a year or two but given how polished this is I can’t see what there is to be gained by waiting but I’ll defer to the ones that know better for the time being. Maybe later I’ll try to pass judgment. Given that you are unlikely to track down this bottle I would recommend trying a wine that comes from old vines. It is an eye opening experience.

Rating: Wow!

2003 Beringer Clear Lake Zinfandel

Price: $6.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per quaffability “If you’ve spent any time around Napa, particularly “up valley”, you’ll find that many of the locals like to quip about Lake County as some kind of “Deliverance” style backwater, where the all the toothless residents are either crank addicts, mentally disabled, or both. Without commenting about the merits of such jokes or what it says about denizens of either county, I will say that some Napa wineries are seeing greener, or at least cheaper, grass on the other side of the fence, and planting and growing good wines up in Lake County.

Among those is Napa and Knights Valley behemoth Beringer, which has put out this Clear Lake Zin, the first wine I have seen from that appellation.

This wine makes a good first impression, with a nose of peppery, briary fruit, braced with with a beam of toasty oak and a touch of chaparral.

There is true zin fruit in the mouth, medium bodied, ripe but a little drier than you’d expect, leading to a finish marked by firm tannins. Very pleasant, especially at this price”

What I Think:

Well if you follow this blog you know I had a bottle of this Zinfandel a while back and have chronicled the shopping attempts to track this one down. Between my wife and I it took us three TJ’s to track this one down and when she finally found it we grabbed the last eight bottles they had left. Now that is putting my money where my mouth is on the Bulk Buy rating….Wonder if Parker is doing that when he gives wines extraordinary ratings.

On drinking the wine I wasn’t disappointed in our investment. I took more time to enjoy rather than analyze it but here is the blurb that I threw together for it, “Chewy on the palate, brambly, still very good! I am thrilled to have 7 more bottles around. If you like Zinfandel and you see this one make sure you grab it, you won’t regret it…”

Rating: Bulk Buy