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Favorite Sonoma Zinfandels?

We just moved to the Sonoma Valley. I'd like to drink local-- and try as many Sonoma wines as I can while I'm here. I'd love any recommendations from good value to once in a lifetime. Let's start with Zin.

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  1. In Sonoma the best area for Zins is Dry Creek. Ridge Lytton Creek would
    be the first winery I would recommend. They have 3 or 4 different types of zins,
    all excellent. The second, Unti, is nearby in Dry Crek. It has a reasonably
    good zin, but it is great for all Italian and Souther France varieties: barbera,
    sangiovese, montepulciano, syrah, grenache, and various Cote-du rhone
    and Chateauneuf du pape blends. The founding family is Italian-American,
    but the winemaker, Sebastien Pochan is French. An appointment is
    needed but most of the time you can get one with 15 minutes notice.
    They are extremely friendly, and their wines are excellent at a good QPR.

    1. I agree about Ridge, both the Geyserville and Lytton Springs bottlings. Carlisle is another favorite of mine but they can be hard to find.
      Joseph Swan makes some tasty zn. So does Unti.
      A hot new winemaker is Morgan Twain-Peterson and his Bedrock wine. He's the son of Ravenswood winemaker Joel Peterson. Great wine and good value.

      1. I love Sonoma zins. I wish I still lived up that way, but only make it up twice a year now. Current favorites are Mauritson, Wilson and Passalaqua. Love Dry Creek!

        3 Replies
        1. re: ChrisG

          More recs here:
          "Need help (Red Zinfandel)"

          Also, Mazzocco, any Rockpile region Zin (another great region like Dry Creek), Carol Shelton, Ridge, Rosenblum. Disappointed lately in Ravenswood except for a couple of their vineyard-designated Zins.

          Good buys: SinZin (Alexander Valley Vineyards), Francis Old Vines Zinfandel (make sure label says exactly that).

          1. re: maria lorraine

            +1 for Rosenblum. i also like The Zin from Cosentino.

          2. re: ChrisG

            +1 for Mauritson family wines- they are the largest landowners in the Rockpile region (having owned the land for 6 generations as sheep farmers) and therefore have some of the best prices b/c their (quite expensive) land has been long paid off.

          3. i pretty much gave up on zins as they got bigger and bigger no thanks to RMP.

            my favorite was rafanelli. are they still around? ridge and swan were the next best especially in the 70s and early 80s.

            12 Replies
            1. re: jock

              Nalle does a good job at restraining alcohol levels. Their zins hover around 13-13.5.

              1. re: ernie in berkeley

                forgot about doug nalle. his are frequently very good

                1. re: jock

                  Third for Nalle, def. my favorite!

              2. re: jock

                Also, a couple of Ridge Jimsomare zins from the early 1970s were around 16.7 percent. So it's not like high alcohol zins are new.
                This is back when about the only people looking at the alcohol percentage were the tax collectors.

                1. re: SteveTimko

                  believe it or not i had the 1970. at the time i thought it was wonderful. do not know what i would think of it now.

                  again, not sure what i would say if i had it today but my all time favorite ridge was the 1973 geyserville. do not recall the alcohol but suspect it was pretty high. as in many things, wine in particular, balance is the key. i recall paul telling me on more than one occasion in the 1980s the the 1973 geyserville was his favorite also.

                  1. re: SteveTimko

                    Hmmmm . . . I don't recall any Ridge Jimsomare (which is in the Santa Cruz Mtns., not Sonoma, for anyone who doesn't know) being over 16, but I'm looking at the label of the 1970 Jimsomare (Jim, Sophie, Mary) and it *was* 15.8% abv. In my memory, that was one of the highest levels for a Ridge Zin, exceeded only by the 1973 Occidental bottlings. But that's only my memory, and it's admittedly hazy when it comes to alcohol levels of 30-40 year old Zins . . .

                    This, by the way, is in contrast to the 1970 Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet, which IIRC came in between 12.5-13.0 . . .

                  2. re: jock

                    Rafanelli are definitely still around, and among the few Zinfandels that I'm familiar with (Ridge being another that I think is just great). I still have 4 bottles of the 2007 Raf Zin, and it just keeps getting better.

                    And I love the drive on Dry Creek/West Dry Creek Rd. Among the loveliest spots in all of North America.

                    1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                      Love that drive, you can hit all the great Zin wineries in a day and finish up with a snack and glass of wine at Dry Creek General Store!

                      1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                        The Rafanelli's are, indeed, still around along with their rather startling attitude about the mailing list they use. I don't know if there's still a waiting list for it but a few years ago we had been buying at the winery once or twice a year so didn't pay much attention to the mailing when it came. When we stopped receiving it I called and was rather curtly informed that we must have forgotten to return it with a checked box saying we wanted to keep receiving it. So........... To the back of the line for us!!!! I really like their wine but decided I'd had enough at that point.

                        Actually their daughter makes a really good Merlot for them. And that's saying something given my normal aversion to Merlot.

                        1. re: Midlife

                          I sent Rafanelli an order once, which was promptly returned to me without any note or comment of any kind. So I called and actually got Patty Rafanelli on the phone. She said my order was returned because I had missed the deadline. When I pointed out that there were still 10 more days until the deadline, she just hung up on me. But, their wines are really good.

                          1. re: pinotho

                            Ah yes! I intentionally didn't include the name of the person I spoke with, but you've nailed it. Lovely lady! I wonder if their business is still good enough for that attitude. So many wineries are being a lot more 'liberal' these days that you've got to wonder a bit. We've been to the winery maybe 10 or 12 times (until that episode in our 'relationship') and Dave was usually the family member there. Never met his wife in person.

                            1. re: Midlife

                              I think Dave Rafanelli is a nice guy and a really talented winemaker. The feedback I receive is that, currently, many of the premium wineries have managed to loose that annoying "attitude".

                    2. Woodenhead and Radio Coteau.....both are outstanding, with Woodenhead being marginally better. Enjoy.

                      1. So I know you're in Sonoma, and there are a lot of good zins there, as many have already pointed out. But since you're new to the area, you may not know that you are close to another wine region that has some really good zins. It's Amador County, located about an hour and a half south east of Sonoma. Some good zin producers I would recommend there include Renwood, Story, Toogood, Runquist, Deaver, Young's, Miller Vineyards and Granite Springs. These are all small wineries (with the possible exception of Renwood) and most of the wines are found only at the winery. Also, unlike Sonoma, when you visit most of these places you will meet the owners, winemakers and the growers (sometimes all the same person), not salespeople.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ed1066

                          Thanks ED1066-- right up my alley! err, I mean just the kind of thing I'm after. I'll definitely head to Amador and let you know. . .

                        2. One of the best Sonoma Zins I can recall was a Rosenblum Monte Rosso Vineyard from maybe 2004. I believe this vineyard is owned by Louis Martini (therefor by Gallo) and they no longer sell fruit to Rosenblum, or to Ravenswood either. I believe Stryker still makes one though. Any input on 'reasonably priced' Monte Rosso Zin appreciated.

                          I also really like Zin from Alegria VIneyard (Acorn Winery) and have recently discovered Talty Vineyards' great Zins with fruit from their own estate as well as Felice Connolly and Dwight Family vineyards.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Midlife

                            Will second Passalaqua and look for Bella

                          2. Sausal Private Reserve Zinfandel: 90 year old vines, delicious and a good value at $24 from the winery. Really nice people as well.

                            1. I have always been a big fan of Cline Wine Cellars. I believe Matt Cline is no longer with that winery and has opened his own but they turn out a luscious zin called Cashmere which I have enjoyed a gret deal. Nice place to picnic a well.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Hughlipton

                                I believe Cashmere is a Grenache Syrah Mourvedre blend. Cline has a
                                Live Oak Zinfandel and a Big Break Zinfandel which are pretty good,
                                but at around $30 they represent only fair value.

                                In reply to BigWoodenSpoon, you are absolutely right! I visited Sausal
                                last Friday with several friends and relatives, and found their 90 years
                                old vine 2007 Private Reserve rather impressive at $24. They have also a
                                130 year old vines bottling for $40 which appears to match well with food,
                                but the price is not as compelling as the $24 zin. I was quite surprised since
                                I did not have such a favorable impression of Sausal zins tasted in years
                                past (maybe it was the ordinary Sausal zin?)

                                1. re: bclevy

                                  I was fortunate enough to be in my local wine bar when one of the Sausal family brought their wines to the owner to try and let me taste along. The "regular" Zin was pretty nice and the 130 yr. old Zin was tasty, but I just loved the layers of flavors of the 90 yr. old vines. What an awesome gift for the Zin lover on your list. Hey Santa, put me down for a bottle ; )

                                  1. re: BigWoodenSpoon

                                    Santa may not have to break the bank to get you the 2007
                                    Sausal Private Reserve zin. It's on sale for $17.99 at the
                                    Cost Plus World Market In Davis CA, so if there is a Cost Plus
                                    near you, you might be able to get the same deal.

                              2. At the tasting room, Teldeschi will usually sell you 10+ year-old bottles of Zinfandel for about what they charge for new bottles of Zinfandel (which isn't all that much). It's also worth visiting the place just to see them pour wine into progressively smaller bottles as they're serving it.

                                1. If you can find them, the Benovia Zins are favorites of ours, even though we also love the Zins from other AVA's, like Turley and Biale. Benovia: http://www.benoviawinery.com/benovia-...



                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    I'll second that.....the Benovia zins are delicious.

                                  2. An addition would be the Hook & Ladder Zins. Going back some years, Cecil De Loach bought some Zin vineyards, and on a handshake deal, promised the owners that he'd never rip out the old Zin vines. He produced from those vineyards, and vines, some years later, when Zin became popular. The De Loach name was sold, but his son, Michael, is producing wines from some of those truly ancient vines, under the Hook & Ladder label, as his father was an SF fireman. Hook & Ladder: http://www.hookandladderwinery.com/



                                    1. What a treasure trove of suggestions! I truly believe you wine-chowsers are the best part of the boards. I'm going to go through and write down the suggestions. Some are familiar to me-- including the Nalle from the recent Asimov NYT piece on Sonoma Zins and I've seen it retail locally-- and others are not. Please continue, and if there are other Sonoma varietals besides Zin, toss 'em in the hat, Please! (Great suggestion about the Dry Creek drive. My next day off.)

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: pickypicky

                                        Oh, one more thing. I picked a 2008 Leonardht Dry Creek Reserve Zinfandel for my brother as a gift after a Crew Tasting at TJ's last week . Quite a number of crew members have been raving about it and I found it smooth, dark & delicious. The original suggested retail was $48, the closest comparable according to the Fact Sheet was $24.99 and I bought it for $9.99.
                                        It's definitely not as fun as doing the Dry Creek Drive, but it could tide you over until get there ; )

                                      2. A big +1 for marialorraine's rec of Carol Shelton. She makes wonderful Zins with fruit from lots of sources around the state and is pretty reasonably priced. If you visit her you might also stop by my buddy Jon Phillips' Inspiration Vineyards space in the same business park. He makes very good Zins out of Dry Creek and Alexander Valley.

                                        1. Got one more addition. On a rec. from a Zin-head, I picked up the Valdez Simoncini Vineyard, 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zin, and it is excellent. It is telling me, that it needs a bit more time to really open up, but I trust the wine, and will give it a bit more time - unless my wife tells me that it is "bedtime." Ulises Valdez seems to really know his Zins.


                                          1. What a very good thread! I'll add to it the Albini 2007 Zinfandel I had at the Sebastopol location of Sonoma Wine Shop/La Bodega earlier this month. It quickly went to the top level of my list of wines. It's from Albini Family Vineyards in Windsor, which produces about 500 cases total per year. http://albinifamilyvineyards.com

                                            1. As someone who lives in San Jose. I get up to Sonoma maybe twice a year. Healdsburg has a great casual restaurant called Zin which has as you might guess, a Zin- focused wine list. When ever I stop, I ask some new recommendations and always get a good tip. And the food is wonderful!

                                              1. There are lots. Carlisle is one of my favorites, any of their RRV or Sonoma Valleys, especially their single vineyards.

                                                The Novy Sonoma Valley zins are good.

                                                I'm a big fan of anything by Radio-Coteau, including their Zins.

                                                1. Christmas and jobhunting got in the way, but when I finally checked back here-- WOW! I've a great list written down, and I loved seeing comments from some of the Elder Statesmen/women of Chow WINE. This is truly the best wine resource for a wine dilettante like me. Thank you all, and I will report back.

                                                  1. On Thursday friends and I went tasting zins at Carol Shelton and Woodenhead. (They were up for the very rainy day from SF, and we decided to save Dry Creek for another visit.) I must say, it was a free course in Sonoma Zinfandel 101 to taste through both collections. Zinfandel blends and single vineyards. Old Vine and New. Our pourer at Carol Shelton was fun but new and not as knowledgeable as the gentleman at Woodenhead. (I wanted to know all about American oak, which Shelton uses.) I bought two bottles, CS Wild Thing and a Woodenhead Mendocino Zin to blind taste later at home. A side trip, we stopped by Radio Coteau after a phone call and picked up some County Line Pinot and Syrah to boot. I wish I'd reread the thread to know that Radio Coteau has zin as well. I would have considered a bottle of that. Finally, another Chow thread -- on Trader Joe's wines-- mentions a Woodenhead Mendosoma Zinfandel 2008, which must be an exclusive Woodenhead bottling for TJ's.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: pickypicky

                                                      Did you miss Inspiration Vineyards.......... in the same little business park? Jon has some nice Zins too. Also makes a really good Chardonnay and a new Viognier. Catch him if you get another chance.

                                                      1. re: pickypicky

                                                        I'm glad you stopped at Radio Coteau, they make excellent wines. Their PNs are what they are best know for, but they make wonderful Zins and Syrahs, as well as a great Chard. Their Savoy Vineyard (both the PN and the Chard) are some of my favorite wines of all time.

                                                      2. An interesting article by Jay McInery, WSJ on Zins (many from Sonoma) :