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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The ‘R’s of Zinfandel’ Challenge – The Results Are In!

Identifying the "R’s of Zinfandel" has been an entertaining trivia pastime amongst Zinfandel drinkers for quite some time, but on June 5, Napa Valley’s COPIA: The American Center for Wine Food & the Arts, hosted the first competitive tasting of Zinfandels whose producer’s names begin with the letter R. The tasting was part of their Zinfandel Month activities in accordance with COPIA’s new focus on providing educational resources and events for the wine industry and the consumer.


A panel of professional wine judges was assembled to evaluate 46 wines organized into nine flights and the results were intriguing. The flights consisted of Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley, Napa Valley, Sierra Foothills, Lodi and Paso Robles, all of which are known as excellent growing regions for the Zinfandel grape.


The three best known R-named producers of Zinfandel showed their considerable expertise with the varietal and their wines performed well in the tasting. The 2004 Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard ($30) bottling took first place in the Russian River Valley appellation. Ravenswood’s second place finishes went to the 2004 Big River ($30) vineyard in Alexander Valley, the 2004 Teldeschi ($30) vineyard in Dry Creek Valley and the 2005 Lodi ($15) bottling in the Lodi flight.


Rosenblum secured first place finishes for their 2004 Maggie’s Reserve ($45) from Sonoma Valley and the 2004 Lyon’s Reserve ($45) from Napa Valley. Ridge Winery’s star wines included the 2004 Dusi Ranch ($26) from Paso Robles, which scored first place from that region, and their 2004 Three Valleys from Sonoma County ($18) won second place as did the 2004 York Creek ($28) from Napa Valley.


Up and coming Zinfandel specialist Rancho Zabaco Winery, based in Sonoma, took five winning spots, tying with Ravenswood for the overall number of wines that placed. Rancho Zabaco produces Zinfandel from four of the appellations featured in this tasting. Their 2004 Toreador ($50) and the 2004 Monte Rosso ($35) took the 2nd and 3rd place spots in the Sonoma Valley flight. Renwood, an established Amador County producer, swept the Sierra Foothills flight, with their 2004 Fiddletown ($25), 2004 Grandmere ($35) and 2004 Grandpere ($40) taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd place respectively.


The tasting brought several newcomers to the R collection of Zinfandel producers. The Alexander Valley’s first place winner was the Rusina 2004 Alexander Valley Zinfandel ($26). Rusina is a family owned winery and just 264 cases of this wine were produced. The Dry Creek Valley’s first place went to Reverence Wine Cellar’s 2004 Carreras Ranch Zinfandel ($28). Reverence is owned by Mike Trotta, who is also the winemaker at Elyse Winery in Napa Valley.


Roshambo Winery submitted two wines, 2004 The Reverend ($22), which took first place in the Sonoma County appellation and their 2004 Taylor Vineyard Zinfandel ($35), which tied for third place in the Dry Creek Valley flight. Other small producers whose wines placed in the top three of their flights included 2004 Robert Rue’s Wood Road Reserve from Russian River Valley ($32, 2nd place) and 2005 R& B Cellars Swingville from Lodi ($10, 1st place). In the Paso Robles flight, Rotta Winery’s 2004 Giubbini Estate ($27) took 2nd place while the 2004 Red Head Ranch ($27) and the 2004 Paso Robles Zinfandel ($17) from Sonoma-based Rabbit Ridge tied for third place.


The tasting panel thoroughly enjoyed the experience and commented that tasting the wines by appellation was key and the wines did in fact show the characteristics and flavors that one would expect from each of these distinct growing regions, thereby reinforcing the importance of appellation source in comparing Zinfandel. Overall, their favorite appellations for these wines were Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Valley. When asked what their advice would be for choosing Zinfandel, the general consensus was that consumers should experiment, because the stylistic variations are so wide, and find the style they prefer and then support the wineries that produce the best of that style. Zinfandel is not a one-trick pony and "it has probably changed in its history more than any other varietal." said Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast.


The panel included Peter Marks, Master of Wine and Senior Director of Wine & Food at COPIA; Steve Pitcher, freelance writer for The Wine News and San Francisco Chronicle; Steve Heimoff, West Coast Editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine; Wilfred Wong, Cellarmaster at Beverages & More, Alan Boehmer, Editor of Suite 101’s New World Wine, Wolfgang Weber, Senior Editor at Wine & Spirits magazine, Charles Olken, The Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine and Tannis Reinhertz, Management Instructor at the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Studies Department of City College of San Francisco.


Zinfandel’s current popularity grew after a small band of "Zinfandel Advocates & Producers" got together to promote Zinfandel. They formed an educational, non-profit organization known as ZAP. Coincidentally, three of the most notable producers of Zinfandel at that time had names beginning with R: Ridge, Rosenblum and Ravenswood, spawning the phenomenon of the letter R indicating a safe choice for consumers when choosing Zinfandel and coining the term "R’s of Zinfandel."


Today, the "R’s of Zinfandel" may have grown beyond the original three as evidenced by the results of this tasting and there are many excellent choices for consumers who are fans of what is now considered America’s Heritage grape.



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