California Zinfandel has long been my favorite red wine. There are many reasons it should be yours, too. It can be made in different styles: from bold and jammy with high alcohol to balanced, elegantand nuanced. Expect fresh, succulentfruit, a brash, wild character, moderate tannin, and spicy accents.


It is grown successfully all over the California. And some zinfandel vineyards are among the oldest in the U.S. Thus, the term “Old Vine” has become a badge of honor for producers and a clue to a more concentrated, intense wine.


Zinfandel is the quintessentially American grape, an immigrant that came to California in the early 1800s from Eastern Europe and has succeeded there better than anywhere else. It offers excellent value, considering the overall quality, which can rival the finest wines. Almost all the best are under $50 and there are countless good ones under $30.


Sonoma County (with beauties from the Dry Creek, Russian River, Sonoma and Alexander valleys) is arguably the premier source of superior Zinfandel in the state. Not all the valleys were represented in my tasting but here is ample evidence.


From Dry Creek Valley, the Pedroncelli family offers the zesty, minty, sleek 2015 Mother Clone ($19) from some vines over 100 and the woodsy, spicy, rustic 2016 Bushnell Vineyard ($26).The Dry Creek Vineyard produces its intense, lively, firm 2016 Old Vine ($35) from average 95+ year-old vines.


The cool-climate of the Russian River Valley is better known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But the valley’s Zins similarly are notable for good acidity and elegance. The comparison holds for Dutton Goldfield, who’s zesty, refined, seamless, complex 2015 Dutton Ranch Morelli Lane Vineyard ($50) originates from a 100+ vineyard. And Sidebar offers a rich, heady 2016 Old Vine ($28), a field blend from the pre-1900 Alegria Vineyard.


I also had three good ones carrying a Sonoma County designation. The tight, concentrated 2016 Dry Creek Vineyard “Heritage Vines” ($24), from young vines grafted to pre-Prohibition budwood; rich, juicy 2015 Decoy ($25), the entry-level brand in the Duckhorn portfolio; and one of my favorites from the tasting, the seamless, fruit-filed 2016 Bear Flag ($30).


Though the Napa Valleyis best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, it is surprisingly reliable for Zinfandel. Good examples include: luscious, peppery 2016 Frank Family Napa Valley ($37) and juicy, focused, sleek 2013 Grgich Hills ($36).


For many, Lodi is synonymous with Zinfandel, as it grows an estimated 40 percent of California’s zinfandel grapes. Its hallmark is good value, like these: jammy, smooth 2015 Seven Deadly Zins Old Vine ($16) and the berry compote of 2017 Cline Old Vine ($12).


A couple of other hidden gems: a bright, juicy 2014 Edmeades Mendocino County ($20); and the surprising rich and flavorful for the price 2016 Cline Ancient Vines ($15).


Finally a special feature: Ravenswood was established 1976 by Joel Peterson and both have reached icon status in California wine for an array of single-vineyard Zinfandels. Here are three (2015, $39), each from old vines: the concentrated, minty, luscious Dickerson Vineyard (Napa Valley) is one of the few 100 percent Zinfandel; dense, structured, licorice of Teldeschi Vineyard (Dry Creek Valley); and full-bodied, deep, energetic Belloni Vineyard (Russian River Valley).

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.