On Zin Zazee Doo Dah

By the mid 1900s, zinfandel was undoubtedly my favorite wine type. At the time, my palate was good at identifying flavors so, I know that the combination of full body, fruit, and spice is what I enjoyed the most about zin. Sometime in the last 90s, winemakers began favoring zins with higher alcohol, which actually caused by to venture into other varietals and regions – yet, while keeping zins close to my heart.

Zinfandel is a dark grape with its heritage in Croatia. Yes, in 2001 scientists discovered zin is genetically the same a Croatian grape. The first documented sighting of zin in the US was in the early 1800s (Boston), but the Gold Rush served as the mechanism to move the vines westward.

For a long time, California winemakers commonly used zin for general table/bulk wines, thus not much on its own. Although zin lovers generally dislike white zin with a passion, we recognize that white zinfandel’s popularity may have saved this grape in California.

I think of zinfandel as America’s wine. Cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay may be more popular; one can commonly find these two are commonly in other wine regions throughout the world – but not zinfandel.

Although zin grows in most of California’s major wine regions as Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles (Central Coast), Mendocino, Amador, and Lodi, each region delivers its own unique flavors. For fresh black cherry fruit and pepper, I love the zins from one of my favorite places to visit – the Dry Creek region of Sonoma. Then again, Amador County zins give me a rich flavor or jam and raisins that I adore – which happens to correlate to make affection for port. For value, old vines zins from Lodi are very respectful, thus worth a try.

Zinfandel is a hearty, flavorful red wine that is great with grilled meats and red-sauced pastas. Some of my favorite $10-13 bottles include Ravenswood, Cline, Rosenblum Cuvee (followed by a Roman numeral as XXXIII), and Dancing Bull Winemaker’s Reserve. Marietta makes a delightful zin-based blend that they designate by a Lot number on the label. I even like Plungerhead; and yes, the Kirkland Old Vine Zin (Costco) is a great value!

Take the price up a notch, you can find very good zins from not from those previously list, but also Seghesio, Ridge, Opolo, Sausal, Redwood, Four Vines, Peachy Canyon, Storybook Mountain, Turley, A. Rafanelli, and many others from the previously-mentioned regions. Here’s a list from ZAP.

I am a more daring wine buyer than most – meaning I am not scared to buy something to try. I recommend this because this will help any wine drinker to discover the taste they most enjoy at the price they are willing to pay. A wine distributor recently said the following to me:

Although it is important to like the wine you drink and to drink the wine you like, it is also important to keep an open mind to other fruits from the vine.

Well, that is how I discovered Primitivo from southern Italy, which also happens to be a clone from the same Croatian grape as zinfandel.

Cheers – Zin is wonderful – but also enjoy this short video from the Paso Robles (CA) wine region

On More WestSide Paso Wines

As stated in an earlier post, Paso Robles’ west side offers a bountiful list of tasting rooms to visit. When the Adelaide Inn offered us complimentary tour and tasting at Justin and knowing their reputation, I knew this was something we had to do. Since Justin was a 30-minute drive, we planned this day around this first stop. On the downside, some of the wineries we hoped to see we had to pass because of they were closed on this day.

Justin
JustinCenterJim, our guide and taste leader, was outstanding. Given harvest and production was in progress, we tasted production-ready grapes and 4-day old juice, observed grape sorting, toured the wine cave, and received a clear explanation of the processes used to make Justin one of the finest wines anywhere. We bought here and will consider joining their wine club.

Halter Ranch
Jim (from Justin) recommended the stop. Halter Ranch sells 70% of its grapes, but makes fine wine from what it keeps. Growing 19 varietals allows them to produce both blends and single varietal wines. Very good, but we didn’t purchase.

Opolo
ZinSkySince 3-4 sources recommended Opolo, it was a must stop – and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the tasting barn’s casual ambiance and their zinfandel had the taste I wanted. Buy!

My thoughts of zin grapes falling from the sky must be a dream.

Four Vines
We stopped at Four Vines because they are noted for their big zinfandels. Since they were out of the ones I wanted to try – plus we can get some Four Vines wine at home – we didn’t taste. Besides, they were in the midst of remodeling.

Peachy Canyon
As another noted zinfandel producer, I was looking for another zin that I couldn’t find at home – besides, we were running out of time. Tasting 5 zins and a petite syrah was such a pleasure, I called my friend Bill (at home) just to find out what he was doing at the time. Snow and Especial zins were outstanding! We bought here. By the way, their Incredible Red is a very-reasonably priced daily wine with a wide distribution.

West Side Wineries to Visit Next Time

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On Rustling Paso WestSide Wines

When looking at a map of Paso Robles wineries, it’s easy to notice that there are more wineries in the west than the east. Since many are concentrated on the lower portion of the west side, we spent two days on the west.

WineWranglerOn this day we left the driving to someone else as we decided to “Rustle Up Some Wine” with Wine Wrangler tours. Melinda, our guide, was a delightful and informative host as she took her band of 8 to 5 wineries – all different from our visit the day before, thus the days ahead. For the record, we recommend Wine Wrangler tours.

Castoro
Castoro offers a large selection of wines to consider. The Venti Quattro Anni impressed us, but we forgot to buy. FYI: Jan Kris and Peach Canyon tasting rooms are very close.

Rotta
The historic Rotta winery is the oldest in Paso. Still run by the same family, a very knowledgeable lady poured in the quaint tasting room. Although we didn’t buy, I’ll be on the lookout for their outstanding dessert wine – Black Monukka. Wow!

FreshPinotGrigioJuiceDonati
The wines were good, but we didn’t buy. The highlight was the general manager visiting our group and providing freshly-pressed pinot grigio juice to taste. Interesting!

Norman
Although known for their zinfandels, Norman also offers more wines than I anticipated. I simply wasn’t in the wine-buying mood on this day.

Calcareous
Named after the dominant limestone layer upon which the property sits, these reds were excellent – but they prominently express the property’s mineral foundation. We strongly considered, but didn’t purchase – however, the view here is spectacular – the high vista with a 30+ mile view to the east!

CarcareousView

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On Paso EastSide Wines

While hills and valleys with shaded winding roads dominate the land west of Paso Robles, the east side is more rolling, open, and warmer; thus producing different challenges for wine growers and wine makes. Day 1 of our trip took us to the east side.

Eberle
EberleCaveAs the 5th oldest winery of over 150 in Paso, Eberle is a must stop. If available, take the cave tour. Although located directly off highway 46, the patio provides a good view to the west. October ‘09’s Wine Enthusiast rated 3 Eberle wines in the 90s. Keep in mind that Gary Eberle played for Jo Pa in the 70s! We bought here.

Vina Robles
Maybe the most spectacular wine room, but these wines didn’t bowl me over on this day.

Tobin James
This winery is known for its marketing and the tasting room’s Wild West atmosphere is part of the experience. I can see why they claim to have the largest wine club in the country. We bought here and considering their wine club – besides, Toby is a native Cincinnatian.

Maloy O’Neil
Probably the most pleasant surprise of the trip as the overall quality was outstanding. Although a simple tasting room, Maloy O’Neil is a must stop. Their Lagrein grape is only grown on 50 acres in the whole state! We bought here.

EastSideVineyardPenman Springs
Another simple tasting room with a good view of the east side from the parking lot – plus a selection of many single-varietal wines.  We bought here.

East Side Wineries to Visit in the Future

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On Downtown Paso Robles Wines

Downtown Paso Robles has numerous winery tasting rooms and several tasting bars. Since we went downtown at the end of a tasting day, we were less inclined to attack their offerings – thus much went unexplored.

Pianetta Winery
PianettaTastingRoomAfter accidently meeting Caitlin Pianetta at a Cincinnati tasting in early 2009, I established contact with her and our trip to Paso Robles was on — so when we visited her at the Pianetta tasting room, she was pleased and treated us like family.

We probably sampled everything and the petite syrah, the one she served in Cincinnati, still shined. Paso petites are not as tannic as more northern petites, yet they maintain the unique flavor petite syrah offers. Yes, we purchased here.

I encourage visitors to stop by the Pianetta tasting room and tell Caitlin, “Frank from Cincinnati sent me.”

Anglim Wines
Like Pianetta, Anglim is a small, family-owned winery producing high-quality wines. Although they produce some blends, Anglim features various single-varietal wines. Loved the late-harvest, port-style syrah!

The Anglim tasting room is a few blocks off the square and we were in luck as Steffanie Anglim, the winemaker’s wife and business partner, served us their delightful wines. She was a pleasure and given the wines, another purchase for us.

Asuncion Ridge & Bodegas Paso Robles
These two wineries share the same tasting room. Fortunately for us, Dorothy Schuler (the Bodegas winemaker) was there and shared freshly-picked tempranillo grapes that she uses for her wines made from these Spanish-based grapes.

Asuncion Ridge features pinot noir, which isn’t widely produced in this region (because of the heat), but their vineyards are located in a pinot-suitable location. We didn’t purchase here because the shipping box was full.

Edward Sellers
A server in Los Olivos recommended Edward Sellers (which was around the corner), so we visited their downtown Paso Robles tasting room. Note: The Paso tasting room will be moving to their west-side vineyard location in the future.

Edward Sellers offers good red blends and a tasty syrah – plus have received 90+ scores from Robert Parker – but we didn’t buy because the shipping case was full.

Downtown tasting rooms to visit next time

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Downtown Tasting Bars