A Rugged Journey, Tasting California Zinfandel


The best Zinfandels from California offer powerful intensity, purity of fruit, supple tannins, and mouthwatering acidity.  Just as Napa Valley is the home of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma is the predominant region for stellar Zinfandel production, especially the Dry Creek Valley. Lodi is also well suited for the grape. The best wines are made from gnarly old vines aging 70-100 years.  Their scarcity and richness makes them sought after by a select following of Zin fanatics, and with good reason.

Thought to have originated in Croatia, you might also find the Zinfandel variety under its Italian moniker, Primitivo.  While the Italian version is inky in color, very tannic, and earthy, the California style is fruit forward, jammy, nuanced, and expressive.

Zinfandel is known as California’s heritage variety.  Many of the old vines were planted in the 19th century by Italian immigrants to California seeking to make the powerful, full-bodied wines from back home in Southern Italy.  The grape thrived in the Mediterranean climate; and these vines lasted through the Prohibition area due to the hard work of dedicated stewards of the land.  These are some of the oldest vines in the United States.

Zinfandel is an ideal red wine for summer, despite it’s sometimes higher alcohol content. The jammy black fruit and notes of licorice and spicy peppery flavors make it an ideal pairing with any meat straight form the grill. This month, explore these outstanding examples of Zinfandel. You’ll find its hedonistic style can stand up to robust flavors, from beef to sausage. Don’t forget to serve it with a with a slight chill at your backyard barbeque and enjoy it with bold cheeses as well.

Top 10 California Zinfandels

  • 2013 Gustafson Family Vineyard Heritage Tree Zinfandel $15.99
    A classic example of Dry Creek Zinfandel. Ripe notes of wild blackberry bramble, sweet nutmeg, spiced cherries, vanilla, and toasted almonds. This wine pairs beautifully with full bodied meat dishes and rich tomato-based pastas.
  • 2017 Venge Scout’s Honor $39.99
    A blend of old vine Zinfandel with a touch of dry-farmed Petite Sirah, old-vine Charbono, and mountain vineyard Syrah, this juicy and powerful red is an all-time favorite of the Schneider’s family.  Made by one of Napa Valley’s top winemakers, Kirk Venge, this stunning red is ready to drink now. Pair with a simple grilled salmon.
  • 2015 Barrique Cellars Zinfandel $19.99
    Our private label Zinfandel displays loads of black raspberry and blackberry fruit intermixed with pepper and spice. Full-bodied, rich, layered and multidimensional, this wine is an incredible value. A perfect match for all sorts of foods, from burritos to steak, burgers, and even the spiciest of sausages.
  • 2016 Opolo Mountain Zinfandel $29.99
    Unapologetically powerful, this beautiful and lush Zinfandel offers aromas of vanilla, blackberry, blueberry jam, and black pepper.  The bold fruit and soft tannins are decadent.
  • 2016 Carol Shelton Monga Zinfandel $22.99
    A special and distinctive Zinfandel, made Carol Shelton, a pioneer in the California wine industry, and one of the first women to break into the male dominated field of viticulture in the 1970s.  Pronounced aromas of pomegranate, plum, and black cherry are balanced by lively acidity.  This is a wine to keep for 10 years in your cellar or enjoy it tonight!
  • 2015 Macauley Old Vine Napa Zinfandel $46.99
    Made from a blend of three old vineyard sites, Moss Creek, Korte Ranch, and Luvisi, this wine is amazingly expressive with a burst of white pepper spice, espresso, cinnamon, clove, black fruits, and grippy tannins.  Fresh off a 5th consecutive year of fantastic vintages, the 2015 might be the best one yet!
  • 2015 Calstar Cellars Za Za Zinfandel $13.99
    Sweet baking spice aromas with hints of dark sweet cherry, lavender, and pepper.  The rich dark fruit flavors are pronounced making this wine an incredible value for the money.
  • 2015 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel $42.99
    Representing one of the top wines from Dry Creek in Sonoma, Lytton Springs boasts 115-year-old vines, from a field blend of Petite Sirah, Carignane, a small amount of Mourvèdre, and Grenache. The 2015 is another great vintage and this wine shows restraint along with its serious complexity.
  • 2017 Turley Dusi Vineyard Zinfandel $77.99
    Zinfandel vines at the Dusi Vineyard were planted in 1945 in Paso Robles. This rich and velvety Zin is powerhouse of bold flavors and aromas of black fruits, luscious baking spices, and succulent tannins. The balance of each bold component is something special.
  • 2016 Biale Black Chicken Zinfandel $52.99
    Made from Zinfandel in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, this lovely wine will delight almost any palate since it’s approachable, yet still pronounced and rich. Black fruit aromas, supple tannins, and spice all meld well on the long lingering finish.


Elyse Genderson is the Vice President of Schneider’s.  Visit her at the flagship store, 300 Massachusetts Ave. NE, to discover wines you’ll love.