2004 Sausal Old Vine Family Zinfandel

Price: $18.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “The youngest of our Old Vine Zins from vines 50 to 60 years old, this wine distinguishes itself with aromas of blackberry, cherry and nutmeg. With fruit forward flavors that pair nicely with creamy cheese pastas.”

What I Think:

Talk about starting behind the 8 ball. We opened this one the same night we opened the Ridge. In hindsight it would have been more intelligent to base line that wine (and later this one too) against a more moderately priced Zinfandel, say the old faithful Cline from TJ’s. That being said this was a very good wine, it certainly came into its own towards the end of the bottle. It was very full bodied with deep, dark fruit and well integrated tannins. The structure was round and polished in the mouth. Had I been more intelligent I would have saved myself a glass or more to taste sans the Ridge. Don’t have many specifics for you but this was a very good, not spectacular or remarkable in comparison. In the interest of full disclosure I am a member of the Wine Club at Sausal . They are known for their old vine Zinfandels and find me as a fan due to their reasonable pricing. This is the second to last tier on their later. The make a low cost, Cellar Cats ($12), followed by this one before the Family Reserve ($24) and the Ancient Vines ($30). I have enjoyed all of this and it is a great place to taste if you find yourself in Sonoma. On an interesting side note, I wasn’t aware that this wine was available retail until I randomly saw it on the shelf at the Bell Market near my house on the 24th Street. I would prefer not to rate this based on the lack of attention I paid to it, forced to I say, Wow! Why did I open it again! Disappointed in myself there.

Rating: Wow!

2003 Ridge York Creek Zinfandel

Price: $30.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “2003 Zinfandel, York Creek, bottled May 2005
84% zinfandel, 16% petite sirah

Since 1999, this dry-farmed Spring Mountain vineyard has produced a series of opulent, late-picked wines. In this vintage, weather conditions and close attention to varying ripeness within each block have resulted in a zinfandel reminiscent of the seventies and eighties, more in the style of a fine table wine. The eight parcels fermented separately on their natural yeasts, and were pressed at eight days; a natural malolactic finished in four weeks. The firm structure of this classic York Creek required extended barrel aging. Beautifully balanced and approachable now, it will benefit from a year or two in bottle, and develop fully over the next ten years. PD/EB (2/05)”

What I Think:

I can count the number of times that I have paid more than $25 for a bottle of wine on one hand. Before finding this one the amount that I thought were worth it didn’t even require a hand to count on. This was my second, yes I bought two at once, and last bottle of this wine. I had it for the first time a few years back at their tasting room in Sonoma. Shortly before visiting I had read a story about “field blended” wines, which are quite hard to find and usually pricey, and the difference from the normal blends you see on the shelf at the store. A normal blend, to me, is almost scientific. Each grape in the blend is grown individually in different vineyards (or at least separate parcels at the same one), harvested individually and barreled individually until it becomes time to put it in the bottle. At this time, we begin playing science. Let’s try a bit of this, a bit of that until we get it right then voila! We have our blend. This is obviously a laymen’s impression of how this works, I am sure it is much more difficult and requires much more attention than indicated here but I obviously have a bias here. The field blends on the other hand were planted that way. When you get out in the vineyard they are all mixed up, no separate parcels here. You have them all growing intermixed, they are all harvested together, barreled together, aged together until they find their way to the bottle. In this case it seems you get what you get!

And with this wine you sure do get it! In a word, Awesome! This is likely the best bottle of wine I have ever had. I enjoyed it so much I didn’t even really want to take the time to analyze why I was doing so. The nose is full of dark fruit and very inviting. The structure is round, rich, plush any good word you can think of. This wine is perfectly balanced and integrated, showing layers upon layers of varying flavors and complexity. The finished is smooth, long and lasting. I had the wine a week ago and I can almost still taste it. My friend, whom we had over to dinner that night, remarked that it was better than most of the $100 bottles he had and he has had plenty! A few days later we went to the store and split a case of the 2004! It is going to take a lot of restraint to leave those alone! I would have loved to see what this wine is like in a few more years. The winery still has the ’03 available, maybe I will swing by. If you want to splurge, this is money well spent.

Rating: Cellar It

2005 Zynthesis Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel

Price: $7.52 @ BevMo  (retails at $14.99 a bottle)

What They Said:

Per BevMo “Close to saturation, the generous ’05 Zynthesis Old Vine Zinfandel delivers fully ripened flavors that approach the nuances of sun-dried raisins; excellent with savory stews.”

What I Think:

This is the second half of a nickel sale pair that we opened on short notice as the Shiraz we opened couldn’t stand up to the acidity in the pasta. It’s twin received the highest rating out of the 7 bottles I bought during this sale. Boy was this one a different animal. This one started with perhaps musty garden smells. At one point it almost reminded of cleaning fish, that scaly metallic kind of smell. I was a bit worried that this one had gone bad, certainly a different bottle than the other half of the duo. Previously I remembered identifying the syrah portion of the blend straight off the nose. No such worries tonight. The odors were actually so strong that my wife could not bring herself to drink though after you let it get some air for a few minutes it was a drinkable wine. Once in the mouth it didn’t seem as bad as the smell had been, certainly different but perhaps interesting. It was very musty, with smoky overtones complimented by dark fruit running along the palate. The more air it got the better it tasted. By the end the inkiness I remembered had begun to show its way through. All that being said I think some kind of taint must have been in play and I certainly wouldn’t recommend a bottle that opened smelling like that unless there was a very compelling reason, which this one did not provide. Thus it slips two rungs down the rating scale, warranting a skip.

Rating: Skip It

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:

Wow! This wine is listed at $14 on the winery website. Once quaffability gave this one the thumbs up I had to get a bottle. Never knew Clear Lake had an appellation, did you? I guess most people just use the Lake County designation. On popping the cork this seems like a big time winner, a real big nose of dark, brambly fruit mixed with spicy notes. On the tongue it delivers as promised, the structure is nice and rounded. The wine seems almost velvet-like in the mouth with nice, deep fruit flavors once again being front and center. These last through to the end before mixing with peppery undertones to give you a nice smooth finish. I can’t quite call this complex but it sure was a joy to drink.

Just a week ago the Rocking Horse was the best Zin available at TJ’s, no more. This one clearly tasks the throne. It’s wines like these that I feel I need a red alert functionality. That way my “readers” can get to these before they disappear. Hopefully it hasn’t yet cause I sure would like to grab a case!

Rating: Bulk Buy

2003 Eos Zinfandel

Price: $7.02 @ BevMo (retails at $13.99 a bottle)

What They Said:

Per the winery “Aromas of earth, cedar and black cherries backed up by soft, smoky notes of leather lead to rich smoke on the pallet with bright fruit flavors of black cherries and plumbs, and hints of raspberries. The wine finishes with lingering tannin, earthiness and spice.”

What I Think:

Must not have been expecting much as I opened it when I knew my taste buds were pretty much shot. That sentiment pretty much carried over to the next day as well. Thank goodness I didn’t pay retail. This was drinkable but don’t think this label will find its way into my house anytime soon. All that said, this wine hardly had a fair or impartial showing this time around. I could see doing a blind tasting and pulling this out of the bag with a very different opinion. Then again maybe not…

 On a side note I am going to watch Paso Robles a little more, don’t think I have had a Zinfandel from that area that I cared for much.  Wonder if my research over time will prove that out.  Hold a sec…yeah scratch that.  I’ve had some nice Rosenblum efforts out of that area.

Rating: Skip It

2005 Rosenblum Richard Sauret Vineyard Zinfandel

Price: $25.00 direct from the winery

What They Said:

Per the winery “This is a rich and exotic fruit-packed Zinfandel. A bouquet of ripe black currant and blackberry with creamy ripe cherry essences is followed by flavors of currant and vanilla with hints of briary spice and cracked black pepper. We expect it to age gracefully for 5-7 years, but the opportunity to enjoy it in its youth shouldn’t be missed. Pair it with steak Diane in chive sauce, or a chicken liver pilaf with cherry tomatoes and mushrooms.”

What I Think:

The final blend includes 75 percent Zinfandel and 25 percent Petite Sirah. Not sure that is significant here but it does remind me of my love for field blends but we can cover that some other time. Received this one as part of my most recent wine club shipment. This starts with loads of dark fruit on the nose seemingly fading to blueberries, a real nice bouquet. Makes you look forward to your first sip. On the mouth it is full and rich and packed with fruit flavors that last before slowly fading and letting a brambly, spicy and peppering finish linger. This bottle was worthy of drinking now but it seems that with as much as it had in the bottle now it would be best served with some time to meld it all together. I would recommend laying this one down for at least 4 years to get to the wineries period of aging gracefully.

Rating: Wow!

2002 Rocking Horse Zinfandel

Price: $7.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Per quaffability “Here is the second of three offerings from this winery currently featured at Trader Joe’s.

This zin jumps out of the glass with a big blast of oak, peppery Zinfandel spice, and superripe, autumn blackberries.

There’s more oak in the mouth, a sense of heat, and ripe, spicy, brambly blackberry curd. The combination of heat, ripe fruit and spice reminds me of a rough-hewn ruby port. This wine is a bit over the top — check that — way over the top, but it’s also a whole lot of wine for the money, so try a bottle if you like this style.”

What I Think:

I didn’t check til after I finished the bottle, but the same stuff directly from the winery…$19! Amazing! This wine is 65% Napa Valley, 35% Sonoma and is a big one. All wood when first opened with some aggressive swirling it opened slightly and showed some raspberry mingling with darker fruit battling with the tannins. The dark fruits again appear on the palate before fading to a peppery, brambly big fruity finish. This wine has lots of character, it kind of reminds me of the loud kid in class that you couldn’t missed if you tried. Even if you don’t like it guessing you would have to do a double take to see what the heck it is.

Rating: Buy It

2005 Napa River Zinfandel

Price: $4.99 @ Trader Joe’s

What They Said:

Looks like the Zin must be a newer effort by the Bronco team because I couldn’t find anything on this one…

What I Think:

I do know that this is a Bronco Winery, aka the maker of 2 buck Chuck release. This is a textbook example of what a $5 wine should be. It tastes like a wine that is manufactured to taste like just about every other red wine on the market. Ever had a word is your jead that you are not exactly sure what it means. I am thinking “plonk” not sure what it means, but pretty sure this is it. That being said, there are many worse $5 wines out there but I would prefer to keep digging in hopes of finding a gem.

Rating: Skip It

2005 Zynthesis Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel

Price: $7.52 @ BevMo (retails at $14.99 a bottle)

What They Said:

Per BevMo “Close to saturation, the generous ’05 Zynthesis Old Vine Zinfandel delivers fully ripened flavors that approach the nuances of sun-dried raisins; excellent with savory stews.”

What I Think:

Again this was part of the 5c sale and at retail price this isn’t a pleasant discussion as for me the difference between $15 and $7.50 is quite monstrous in terms of expecations.  The first thing I remember about this was sensing syrah.  Sure enough turned around the bottle and found that there was both syrah and petite syrah blended into this.  It claimed to be from 100 year old vines which seems difficult to believe at this price.  I have another bottle waiting in the wings and if it matches the effort of this one I would be happy to grab a few more bottles at this price point.

Rating: Buy It (the 2nd bottle could put it on the Bulk Buy list)

2003 Eos Zinfandel

Price: $7.02 @ BevMo (retails at $13.99 a bottle)

What They Said:

Per BevMo “An almost elegant effort, the smooth yet flavorful ’03 EOS Zinfandel offers rustic, ripe fruit flavors that play well on the palate; a good choice with grilled pork chops.”

What I Think:

Got this as part of the 5c sale, so list is 13.99 which would make this a completely different write up (in a bad way).  Remember this being drinkable but not memorable.  As it was part of the 5c sale we have another bottle nearby, we’ll go for some more details then.  Post again soon.

 Rating: Skip It