Ahhh, zin. Abused and degraded daily by the sons of Sutter Home and their pink, sweet, treacle, yet it still manages to rise above and come through with dignity intact!

Survivor of the madness of Prohibition, when many other thinner-skinned California wine grapes were pulled up, its origins shrouded in mystery, it is in a sense the most American of grapes, having no known old world progenitors. It is only itself, and that is more than enough.

Barefoot Cellars Zinfandel California NV ($6) (Boatloads VIII): Simple raspberry-cherry aromatics, with a touch of VA. Tastes fresh and frooty, like zin nouveau, loose and light, with low acidity and no tannic action whatsoever. Strangely, the lack of backbone doesn't compromise the wine, as there's some almost puckery-tart raspberry flavors to give it lift. Fluffy wine, without substance but very easy to drink. Funny, you don't see a lot of decent nonvintage zinfandel these days. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Six bucks? Sure, why not.] (9/06)

Biale Zinfandel Sonoma Monte Rosso 1996 ($35)(Joao/Kansas): Translucent medium-red color, oddly light considering the lush overripe black cherry-brown sugar nose that is permeating the area around this wine. This is a big raisiny-lush zin creature, with a healthy dose of wood & more brown sugariness, over the top and in big need of spine. Not my kind of zin. Roundly pelted with metaphoric rocks and garbage, but it's not quite that bad. (3/2/00)

Bonny Doon Vineyards Cardinal Zin 1996 ($18): Light black cherry notes with hints of blueberry. Medium garnet, not particularly densely colored. Medium-bodied, fairly crisp, decent concentration. Flavors are simple black-cherry/zinberry, but pleasant. Very light tannins, slight tarriness on the midpalate follows into a short finish, if any at all. Simple and pleasant, but the weird black plastic cork was a little unsettling (I thought we had a TERRIBLE case of seepage). (1/16/99)

Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa 1997 (Trilateral Offline): Rich medium-dark garnet color; candied dark black-raspberry nose, with light black rubber and toasted coconut notes along with a beguiling hint of volatility. Medicinal, slightly sweet and over-pumped, with a finish that veers into a flash of heat and some tarry oakiness and lingers a bit longer than you'd like. More weird and slightly freaky than anything else. (3/14/00)

Buena Vista Zinfandel California 2001 ($7) (Boatloads II): Medium-dark garnet color. Simple raspberry-black cherry nose. Plain black- and redfruit flavors, odd bitter note on the finish. Seems a simple pleasant quaffer up until the streaky sourness emerges. Very unpleasant at first, I wait a few hours for it to fade, and it does, a bit. Odd and disjointed at first, comes together a bit, but still not the easy quaffer I'd expected. Rallies, but still a problem child; odd, may not be a representative bottle, given that I've had some decent simple varietal wines from these guys. Judgment theoretically withheld. [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Oliver Caldwell Cellars Zinfandel Napa Valley Aida Vineyard 1997 ($35) (Baseball Jeebus):It's a medium garnet color and reveals a velvety zinny nose--bright raspberry infused with toasty accents, pepper and smokiness. In the mouth it's got fine balance, is bright and supple, a medium-bodied wine with happy berry fruit and crisp acidity. The only drawback is a slight wood-tannic astringency on the finish, but that's a quibble, as this is a very pleasant, balanced zin. These folks took over the Aida vineyard after Turley Cellars, and this wine actually resembles the '96 Turley Aida, although not as explosively supple and lithe. Still, a very nice effort, and by far the favorite of Cheryl the Token Nongeek, as well as winner of the Thunderbird Prize. (10/24/00)

Caleo Primitivo Salento 2003 ($10) (Boatloads V): Sweetly ripe-smelling--black cherry, vanilla, coconut, tar. Tastes smooth and glossy, quite ripe but with enough structure to get by. Tangy center holds up the fleshy ripeness, sort of borderline blowsy, with some abrasive tannins muscling in at the end, intruding on the party on the finish. There's a rather generic ripe-zin quality here that could be a downer, but the wine has (just barely) enough spine to dodge the no-buy bullet, and is mildly endorsed as a burger wine. [Buy again? Mmmm... okay, maybe one.] (10/05)

Cline Zinfandel California 1996 ($11): Nice poem on the back of the bottle ("...I AM ZINFANDEL"); light but very ripe nose of dark raspberry & light oak with a slightly acrid, gunpowdery note. Brownish purply-red in the glass. Light, tart & darkly fruity. with a cherry juice quality to the light zinberry flavors. Very lightly tannic, but very tart, almost sour quality to the fruit in the midpalate. Not bad for the money, but I like my zins a little riper and more luscious. (1/99)

Cline Cellars Zinfandel California 'Ancient Vines' 2005 ($11) (Boatloads XI): The 'ancient vines' mentioned on the label seem to be more of a philosophical idea than what's actually in the bottle, as they go on to mention other sources of grapes from all over California. Simple ripe black cherry-raspberry aromatics, my first taste impression is 'black cherry cough syrup', which ain't so hot. Then, under the plush fruit, some espresso bitterness. I don't know, I've liked this wine more in past years, it's been a fairly decent well-fruited cheapie, but this isn't doing it for me tonight at all. [Buy again? Nah.] (11/07)

Clos du Val Zinfandel Napa 1995 ($18) seemed big, rough and woody. Peppery, spicy, jammy fruit, bit of a wow, bit of all over the place, although I wasn't entirely sure about the predominance of the oak--a bit less would have been just perfect, but it was like a big stew where it seems bad form to bitch about too much celery. Tasty and mouth-filling, a nice, fun wine. (5/98)

Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 1996 ($20)(Swedes Invade): Medium garnet with some muddy-brown hues creeping in. Light nose, soft black cherry-raspberry and smokiness, I swirl, but I can't get much beyond that. A bit lean, dark and smooth and nicely balanced, an elegant style of zin but leaner than I like. I find the 97 version of this wine more to my tastes, but that's just me. (3/24/00)

Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 1997 ($25): Medium-dark rich red color; sweet oak & smooth plush raspberry cream nose. Sweet forward berryfruit/robitussin fades into tarry, dusty tang; fairly low acidity, round mouthfeel; very light sandy tannins. Medium-bodied, not as dense as the nose would indicate, not a blockbuster, more claret-styled. Missing a bit of backbone in terms of acidity & tannins, but smooth & easy going down. Love the monkey-riding-a-whale label! (3/21/99)

Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 1998 ($22) (Trilateral Offline): Medium-dark garnet; smooth soft nose, a bit quiet, with dark smoky oakiness showing through above the dark silky berry fruit. Smooth and balanced, but the fruit is a little reticent and not giving up much at this point in its young life, and some rough tannins emerge on the finish. (3/14/00)

Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 1999 ($24) (Farewell My Lovely): I find it a nice bounceback from the disjointed 1998, a richly berryish wine with interesting graphite-mineral undertones and judicious wooding, not as silky-smooth and integrated as the '97, but a fine balanced specimen of zinniness. (6/01)

Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Louvau Vineyard Old Vines 2001 (Age-Related Drunkenness): Ripe blackcherry-raspberry aromatics, suffused with dark earth and a black licorice tarriness down deep. Slightly candied, but not quite over-the-top in style. Bit of alcoholic heat, some aggressive tannins, but pillows of warm red fruit smooth out the bumps. A whacking big borderline port-styled Turleyfied zin, slightly startling after the more classically-style Ridges. (9/17/03)

Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Alexander Valley Todd Brothers Ranch 1998 ($25) (Trilateral Offline): Medium-dark garnet; lusher, riper-smelling and more open than the Dry Creek Valley, this is drinking very nicely right now, with lovely rich raspberry-black cherry flavors very well balanced by firm acidity. There's some smoky oak here, too, but it serves to add a nice dark spiciness to the fruit. Elegant and supple, and this wine even makes the cut for the evening's theme of "Wines .sasha Can Put in His Mouth," a true rarity for a California wine. (3/14/00)

Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Alexander Valley Todd Brothers Ranch 2002 ($30) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill III): Ripe candied black cherry-raspberry aromatics, heavily laced with chocolate and smoky-toasty charred wood notes. Ripe and plush, fleshy in the middle with medium-low acidity and lots of burnt toast, which is what lingers longest on the finish, mingling with some rough tannins. The wooding is offputting, but this is powerful, full-throttle zin, Turleyesque without the finesse. There's a lot here, but it's just too much for me, like being whacked on the head with a flaming sock full of cherry pits. I used to mentally categorize Dashe as one of those fabled 'restrained & balanced zin producers'; what the heck happened? (11/06)

De Loach Zinfandel Barbieri Ranch 1996 ($23.50) was simply a knockout. Smooth and charming and full of zippy zin flavors, with wonderful balance, not too much woodiness, not too harsh with the tannins, just deep and elegant and yummy. A medium-bodied style that went very well with lamb chops. Harmonious and velvety. More! (6/98)

De Loach Zinfandel Gambogi Ranch 1996 ($24): Nose of black cherry & cedar--garnet color in the glass--medium bodied, velvety, claret-style zin, not a blockbuster, very elegant & supple, soft oak, well-integrated; firm tannins clamp down on the finish. Bright black cherry notes smoothly integrated with medium dark flavors of earth underneath it. A very nice food zin--smooth, elegant & silky. (12/25/98)

De Loach Vineyards Zinfandel Pelletti Ranch 1996 (McNetta 2002): After the cab I am a little wary of this, but one sniff gives me hope--velvety dark berryfruit, muted and smoky and smooth in the noseholes. The smoky planking that was jarring a few years ago has integrated well and comes across as tarry-spicy accents until the finish, when a little charred wood astringency makes itself known. But that's a quibble, as this is a good example of a zin that has improved with a little age, losing its exuberance but gaining cohesion and balance. Quite nice, and doing much better than the cab--really in a very good place right now. (6/02)

Pedro Domecq Zinfandel X-A Valle de Calafia Baja California 1995 ($9)(Viva Mexico!): Light ruby color. A touch of volatility, just a touch, over light black cherry and earthy brown sugar notes. Light in the gob, clean and earthy, with wan, almost ethereal berry-black cherry notes. Good crispness and balance. Easy and pale, smooth and earthy. (3/01)

Easton Zinfandel Amador County 1997 ($10): Medium garnet, verging towards an almost neon purplish-pink hue at the rim; bright candied cherry/berry nose w/toasty undertones. Black cherry flavors, simple but fairly juicy, crisp acidity, light sandy tannins, decent sweet finish. A pleasant little wine, fruity & friendly, if a bit simple, but with richer, riper flavors than the Cline California in the $10 zin sweepstakes. Perhaps a decent everyday zin quaffer.... (4/9/99)

Edizione Pennino Zinfandel Napa Valley 1994 (Nonoffensive Notes): Medium to medium-dark garnet. A bit of a raisiny quality to the nose, the black cherry fruit is quiet and muted, aromatically this wine is a bit limp & fleshy. Tastes a bit limp as well, flattened-out and somewhat spineless, meaty soft red fruit just lays there and waves its flippers at me. Seems tired and zestless. (3/20/00)

Edmeades Zinfandel Medocino County Ciapusci Vineyard 1997 ($20) (Jason Takes Manhattan): Medium-dark garnet; brown sugar and black cherry on the nose, hint of raisin and nail polish. I know what it is so, I sit back and listen happily to the groans of horror. The first "Turley?" guess rolls in, as I thought it might, followed quickly by "Coturri?" and "Brown?", with people quickly running down their mental lists of volatile, raisiny zins. This one also has a bit of a stalky note that SFJoe points out as an interesting conflation of the worst problems of unevenly-ripening zin--unripe greenness and overripe raisininess in one glass! Whee! The wine has good structure in the sense that there's plenty of decent acidity, followed by some assertive fine tannins, but the flavors are all wacky and all over the place and the Jason reads the back label, with its claims of one ton per acre yields, native yeasts, 100-year-old vines, with a "How can they do everything right and yet go so wrong?" voice. (5/00)

Gary Farrell Zinfandel Collins Vineyard Russian River Valley 1994 ($16) (Loirenatics): Medium ruby-red color; beguilingly complex nose of raspberry, earth and tobacco, slighly muted, but not faded. Tastes muted as well, but that lends the fruit a nice layered impression, soft berry up front, then more of an earthy midpalate, then on the finish it turns darkly berryish again. A nice zin in a good place--drink 'em if you got 'em. (11/99)

Franus Zinfandel Napa Valley 1996 ($10/375 ml.): Big, oaky nose--wood for days. Definitely nice black-cherry & berry fruit underneath, but more oak than I've smelled in a zin since at least the '95 Clos du Val, possibly ever. Dark reddish-purple, very densely colored. On the tongue, first nice zin taste, but swamped quickly by an odd burnt-match taste, which lingers & lingers. Finish is long, but not very pleasant. Also fairly tart, with mouth-drying tannins. Concentrated, but no balance at all--all over the place. The secret word for this wine is "DISJOINTED." Susan pointed out a stalky, vegetal note in the nose--green beans--that I found after clearing aside all the lumber, but which wasn't too bad because of the presence of the ripe redfruit flavors to trump it. Odd for a zin. Not an unpleasant wine, really, just distractingly fractured, with strange, strong tastes hitting you one after the other. (1/99)

Frog's Leap Zinfandel Napa Valley 1995 ($20): Medium purply-red. Nose of light black-cherry & some smoky, meaty notes, along with a hint of raisin; in the mouth bright acidity frames some forward black cherry/Robitussin fruit flavors that jump all over your tongue and then recede, leaving a bit of heat and some smoky echoes on the finish. Light, slightly sandy tannins; midpalate is a bit thin--simple black cherry/zinberry fruit wants a little depth, but nicely crisp and plenty flavorful. After a day in the fridge, this one has smoothed out considerably, the rough edges & slight disjointedness seem for the most part to be gone and the wine is more lush and full-bodied. (7/14/99)

Frog's Leap Zinfandel Napa Valley 2003 (Birthday Engorgement): Um, well, it's chockfull of zinberry goodness. Other than that it's fairly bland, simple black cherry-raspberry fruit, medium bodied and decent, foursquare and unexciting. The kind of wine we knew Kane would fob off on us if we let him. (6/06)

Garage Clark-Scott Zinfandel Central Valley Demisec 2003 ($14) (Boatloads III): Medium-dark garnet color, purpling lightly at the rim. Explosive black cherry/zinberry nose, just bursting with zinberry jamminess. The sweetness is light but insistent, there's a porty quality here, jammy ripe fruit, no noticeable oakiness. Freaky wine, disjointed but oddly compelling, best served as a kind of late-harvest zin port. Don't think too hard, just drink it. [Buy again? NA.] (2/05)

Geyser Peak Zinfandel Cucamonga Valley De Ambrogio Ranch Winemaker's Selection 1997 (Journey to Queens): A typical Andrew Scott favorite, this is too overripe a style of zin for me: Dark saturated color; red raspberry syrup and raisins on the nose; thick, simple and vividly fruity. Actually, it does okay as a substitute port. Some surprising gritty tannins make an appearance after the creamy fruit has gone by. We chide Andrew for being a sucker for a pretty fruitbomb. (10/30/99)

Gnarly Head Cellars Zinfandel Lodi Old Vines 2005 ($13) (Boatloads XI): Smells ripe and chock full of zinberryliciousness--black cherry, raspberry limned with quiet smoke and toast. Tastes soft and squishy, way shy of anything resembling mouthgrab, it's a soft blanket of black cherry redfruit, rich and pleasantly flavorful but veering uncomfortably towards bloppiness. I look around for some Vitamin C tablets to add a bit of vim, but no dice. Gnarly. [Buy again? Nah.] (11/07)

Green & Red Vineyards Zinfandel Chiles Valley Vineyard 1996 ($20): Medium garnet-fairly light for a zin; sweet cherry cough-drop nose, with smoky oak tones as well. Crisp, medium-bodied 'claret' style of zin, not a thick, chewy beast. Medium bright cherry flavors with dark tarry undertones, very little earthiness, dark tang on the finish, light tannins. Decent zin character, but fairly simple bright fruit flavors leave you wanting either more complexity or denser fruit to balance the tarry undertones. Not bad, but you expect more for twenty bucks. (2/15/99)

Hendry Block 7 Zinfandel Napa Valley 1995 ($19) had a bigass nose--we could smell the blackcherry/zinfruit from across the room as soon as the cork was popped. Inside the bottle was a nice, flavorful bottle of juice, with a lot of (almost too much) bracing acidity, good forward fruit and almost no wood. Lighter in style than the Ridge zins, not nearly as creamy. Pretty good QPR--I think Lisa was fonder of it than I. I would put it on a level with the Belvedere--nice and fruity and good daily drinking. After having the Lytton Springs and complaining about the wood in it, I find it lacking now in this wine and miss it. There's no pleasing some people; or, damned if you do, damned if you don't. (9/98)

Had another Hendry Block 7 Zinfandel Napa Valley, this time the 1996 ($21.99), over at Lisa's Grandmother's house with dinner, and, if anything, it showed even better with food. Still the magnificent, opulent nose, the robitussiny, cherry-zinberry aromas leaping out of the glass, and the lighter style and crispness of the stuff made for a very good food wine, even holding up well with fairly hearty food (like Bea's brisket). (10/98)

Kempton Clark Zinfandel California Multiple Appellation Designate (Mad Zin) 2000 ($7) (Boatloads II): Medium dead red color. Warm black cherry and coconut husk notes predominate, then toasted coconut, geez I'm getting homesick here. Friendly spicy black cherry fruit up front, then turns wan and fruitless in the middle and bitter-charcoal-woody on the finish, with abrasive tannins. Was élevage in hollowed-out coconuts? Strange wine, pleasant at first then quickly not, turning squinchy-face sour at the end. Whatever the opposite of 'sustain' is, this wine has it in spades. [Buy again? No.] (11/04)

Kunin Zinfandel Paso Robles Dante Dusi Vineyard 1998 (Robin in the Big City): Medium ruby, strangely full of sediment. Quite ripe nose, slightly Amarone-raisiny over the raspberry-cassis base, with a hint of ketchup. Crisp and tart in the mouth, a big wine with big tannins and dark black cherry flavors. A bit of heat manifests itself on the finish. Another boisterous, slightly wacky zin, quite a decent one if you don't mind the style. (2/7/00)

Laurel Glen 'Reds' California 2001 ($9) (Boatloads I): Tastes like the Marietta Old Vine Red that's been dunked in oak chips. Okay, that's an overstatement, but there is an unintegrated smoky-toasty component that I don't find particularly agreeable. Ripe and berryfruity with a dark grapey streak, it's a low-acid, fleshy style of juicy California wine whose niche has been pretty well filled already at my table. Still, very decent kind of barbeque wine. [Buy again? No.] (8/04)

Popped a Lava Cap Reserve Zinfandel El Dorado 1995 ($20) with high expectations of a blockbuster--muted zinberry nose that dissipated quickly; ruby color with touch of brown around the rim. Round and smooth on the midpalate with a touch of wateriness, dry tannins on the finish. Raspberry and chocolate notes fairly well integrated, touch of heat on the tongue, long finish, blunt, muted flavors. Another sip--dusty flavors in center, loooong finish with a flash of heat, medium concentration, low acidity--almost none. Not quite what I expected, but nice. A day later and twenty degrees cooler, Woof! It has come out of its telephone booth and cast off its mild-mannered exterior. Very concentrated raspberry, blueberry and tobacco/earthy notes, very very round and smooth; exuberant fruit, spread it on toast--is it the temperature? It often seems that these big zins become a little disjointed when at "room" temperature, showing heat from the high alcohol and not revealing themselves. Even seems to have a little more backbone--tannins are subtle but nice, and the threat of flabbiness is forgotten in waves of creamy fruit. Okay, so it hasn't got a lot of structure, but I have a weakness for big, over-the-top zins, and this one is WAAYYY over the top. Would be almost impossible to serve with food (barbequed ribs?), but as a sipper, well... yum. (11/98)

Lava Cap Reserve Zinfandel El Dorado 1995 ($20) : Hadn't had this one in a year, and I fear it's faded a bit. Still nice, but it seems less vibrantly fruity--some good muted zinny flavors, raspberry and black cherry fruit go great with ribs, and there's some smokiness and some vanilla in the nose. Seems as if time has only served to fade the fruit and let the potential disjointedness begin to emerge. Nevertheless, it's a pretty decent zin for the price. Just might not want to hang onto 'em too much longer. (9/99)

Lava Cap Zinfandel Reserve El Dorado 1996 ($27)(Robin in the Big City): Soft in the mouth, black-cherry-chocolate-milkshake in character. Soft, lots of lush black cherry & raspberry-tinged fruit, but a vinous invertebrate, a jellyfish of a zin. (2/7/00)

Lolonis Zinfandel Mendocino County Private Reserve 1995 ($20): Medium-dark garnet; light nose of black cherry & sweet oak, with a hint of raisin in the mix. Nice crispness, little watery in the midpalate, fruit seems a little faded, buttery oak outweighs it in the finish--firm, slightly gritty tannins kick in, too. A fairly rich, decent wine, but hollowness/diluted quality and tired fruit on the midpalate detracts. (7/99)

Lorenza Lake Winery Zinfandel California 'Blockheadia Rignosii' 2000 ($20) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill 2): Rich peppery-raspberry-brickdusty aromatics, smoke and berries, velvety smelling. Tastes a bit more exuberant than it smells, rich zinnish flavors while the nose seems almost Southern Rh™ney. Large but balanced, the finish is a bit raspy-rough, but the wine has good focus and a pleasantly ripe richness. Very nice zin, more towards the elegant side than the blockbusterish, might do well with another few years' rest. (3/06)

Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red Lot 22 California (a 'field blend,' but seems zinnish) ($10): Medium-dark purply-red. Light zinnish nose of thin dark black-cherry & grapiness over dark oaky notes. Medium-bodied, with tangy fruit, crisp acidity & firm, slightly gritty tannins. Smooth & flavorful, sort of like a slightly grapey zin. I hadn't had this perennial good-value cheapie before, but it's going on my list now. Fairly simple, but pleasant & tangy, a nice quaffer to have with a burger on a pretty pre-summer day in New Jersey.

Marietta Cellars California Old Vine Red Lot 42 NV ($12) (Boatloads XI): It's been a couple years since I tried this perennial cheapie favorite, and something seems to have gone awry in the interim. Smells strikingly candy-oaky--raspberry, black cherry with an overall vanilla candle sheen. Still ripe, still fairly rich, but blowsier and hollower than I remember, with jammy pillowy fruit and some astringent tannins on the slightly sour finish. A little disappointing, I've liked this wine for so long and recommended it to so many people as the poster child for what a cheap happy wine from California can be, now to see it like this, it's... well, disappointing. I'll hope it's a fluke in the lot number, which is after all the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything. [Buy again? Not this lot, no.] (11/07)

Martinelli Zinfandel Russian River Valley Jackass Vineyard 1997 ($50) (Fridge): Smells darkly zinny, slightly burnt raspberry-black cherry fruit with a hint of VA, jammy and odd but not unpleasant. A sip, and things go south very quickly. There is an initial warm rush of dark candied berry, but then the train jumps the tracks and plummets into the ravine. Jammy fruit crashes painfully into spiky acidity, a substantial alcohol burn, then bitter burnt notes. As it heads towards what might generously be deemed a finish the sensation that this has been steeped in charcoal briquets becomes persistent, then on top of everything else some puckery-astringent wood tannins kick in. A mess, even worse than the painful 1996 version. An ugly, garish wine. (5/12/02)

Murphy-Goode Zinfandel Sonoma County 'Liar's Dice' 1999 ($17) (Walt Begs for Mercy): Plain black cherry and raspberry aromas. Seems to be a trace of RS here, decently balanced, simple, lightly tannic. Decent, characterless, but would be fine with a burger. (5/01)

Nalle Zinfandel Sonoma County Dry Creek Valley 1993 (Eve of Chenin/Day of Satan): It's alive. Yep, that's about it, it's alive. Actually, it's not showing it's age at all. Still simple and straightforward, black cherry/raspberry flavors, ripe and smooth but fairly muted at this point. Not bad, not particularly good, just decent zin. (12/31/03)

Peachy Canyon Zinfandel Paso Robles Snow Vineyard 1997 ($25)(Premier Cru Jeebus): Medium translucent garnet. Ripe black cherry-raspberry nose, lush although one-noteish. Tastes tangy and tart but turns watery and dilute towards the finish. Not impressive. (9/31/00)

Peppino Colombo Primitivo di Manduria Zinfandel Primo Sole 2003 ($11) (Boatloads VII): Yep, this is zinfanel all right--big black cherry candy aromatics, touch of barnyard, hint of volatility. Ripe cherry-berry fruit, one-dimensional blowsiness, ripe and squishy-soft. I guess if you're looking for simple ripe zin in the Three Thieves mold it's okay, but, I mean, why? [Buy again? Nope.] (4/06)

Peterson Winery Zinfandel Sonoma County Dry Creek Valley 'Zero Manipulation' 2002 ($14) (Boatloads IX): Gently plush black cherry-blackberry aromatics, smells warm and ripe and dark, with just a hint of licorice. Tastes smooth, velvety and chewy-textured, medium acidity, broadshouldered but by no means oversized. Some rough tannins on the finish, but really a rather supple, juicy zinfandel with a sense of restraint and some complexity. Very nice. [Buy again? Yup.] (11/06)

Michael & David Phillips Zinfandel Lodi Old Vine '7 Deadly Zins' 2003 ($14) (Boatloads IV): I've avoided buying this for some time now because of the dopey name, but eventually it's the only zin on the shelves of my local boozeteria that I haven't tried, so here goes... Whee, boisterously ripe black cherry/raspberry aromatics, cherry kirsch mingled with licorice and shoe polish. Big, wacky zin, happily over the top. Creamy-velvety right up front, then broad squishy redfruit washes over my tongue like storm surge. Kind of clumsy, but has a St. Bernardish kind of appeal: if you're fond of goofy zins, this is a winner at a decent price. [Buy again? Yup.] (6/05)

Prospero Winery Zinfandel California 2002 ($10) (Boatloads V): Calm dark black cherry nose, smooth and tarry-dark smelling. Smooth black cherry fruit, simple, lightly creamy and robust, with enough acidity to get by and some slightly rough tannins. Maybe there's a touch of sweetness there, but it has enough goofy charm to let it slide. A wine for barbeque or burgers, a picnic wine. NAKED CHICK ON LABEL! [Buy again? Sure.] (10/05)

R&B Cellars Zinfandel California 'Swingsville Zin' 2003 ($8) (Boatloads IX): Simple rich black cherry/raspberry aromatics, tastes ripe and a bit roughedged, with a bit of heat on the finish. Straightforward, plush zin, delivers the goods, nice burger wine. FAKE CORK! [Buy again? Yup.] (11/06)

Rabbit Ridge Sonoma 1995 ($14): Good for the money, spicy berry taste, not too big, but very fruity and satisfying. I didn't take notes at the time, and it's fading from my taste buds now, but overall seemed fruity and smooth without much wood, but with satisfying amounts of fruit and spice, although far from a blockbuster.

Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel California 'Dancing Bull' 2001 ($8) (Boatloads I): Shy aromatics, some swirling brings out black cherry-plummy hints, light traces of black pepper. Medium acidity, rather slick mouthfeel, like it's been polished. Still, it's clearly zin, there's some friendly red raspberry/black cherry fruit that is cheerful and broad. Decent, if somewhat sterile, cheap zinfandel. [Buy again? Maybe, if I'm racing to a barbeque and there's no good wine shops around, and I don't think I'll ever see the hosts again.] (8/04)

Ravenswood Zinfandel California 'Vintner's Blend' 2004 ($8) (Boatloads IX): Simple black cherry-raspberry aromatics, hints of pepper, actually smells a bit darker and deeper than the more expensive Sierra Series. Tastes round and smoothly slick, perhaps a hint of sweetness? Middling acidity with a similarly spiky character, cherryberry fruit, on the Velveeta side, agreeable but blandly juicy. [Buy again? Nah.] (11/06)

Ravenswood Zinfandel Napa Valley Dickerson Vineyard 1995 ($24) (MoJoe 2004): Showing its age but still enjoyable, earthy black raspberry fruit that's become pleasantly muted, but of hollowness in the middle, uncomplicated and decent enough for late night quafftalking. (7/10/04)

Ravenswood Zinfandel Napa Valley Dickerson Vineyard 1997 ($28) (Swedes Invade): Medium-dark garnet. Fairly generous black cherry-raspberry nose, Robitussin and dark freshly-turned earth. A bit leaner and sharper than the nose would indicate, with some wateriness in the midpalate. Tangy and racy, but a bit thin after the initial fruit wave, with some fine light tannins. Not bad, but not very inspiring. (3/24/00)

Ravenswood Zinfandel Russian River Valley Wood Road Belloni 1994 (Misplaced Weekend II): Trace of acetone hovers above black raspberry and tar aromatics. It's zin, all right. Decent enough, hollow in the middle but a nice earthy finish. I don't know, it's zin, whattaya want? (5/9/04)

Ravenswood Zinfandel Sierra Foothills 'Sierra Series' 2002 ($12) (Boatloads IX): Simple candied black cherry aromatics. Tastes loose, ripe and a bit watery, with a spiky-tart streak poking out of the gently watery redfruit. Juicy in the middle, finishes tarry, but disjointed, bland and forgettable wine, blandly decent. [Buy again? No.] (11/06)

Renwood Zinfandel Amador County "Fiddletown" Vineyard 1995 ($23): Light nose, very bright black cherry and robitussiny flavors, high, somewhat sharp tannins with a long, zingy finish. Nice and flavorful, but a little... sharp, I guess, maybe thin--the wine seemed a bit out of balance, a bit shrill, but overall very nice extraction and fruit flavors. I have a feeling it could have used a little more bottle age. These days I tend to want my zins to have as much fullness and roundness as are in the latest Geyserville, but this was a nice zin on its own terms, and I'd be curious to try it again in a few years to see if the tannins had mellowed into something more complex.

Renwood Zinfandel Amador County Grandmere Vineyard 1994 ($22): Medium garnet, slight browning; medium-ripe black cherry/Robitussin nose w/hints of rainwatery minerality. Blackcherry upfront fruit sugues into tarry tangy aftertaste. Crisp, bright mouthfeel, but a bit shallow, fruit doesn't run deep. Medium-light gritty tannins. Nice & rich, if a bit one-dimensional; good concentration of fruit, but a little monolithic. (11/98)

Ridge Vineyards California Coastal Range 1997 ($17): (43% zin, 30% carignane, 10% PS, 10% sangiovese, 6% mataro, 1% kitchen sink); Medium-dark garnet; sweet simple cherry/grapey nose w/hints of light pepper & smoke. Crisp, with upfront fruity, purply dark raspberry/cherry notes over some darker toastiness. Nice, fairly simple, plush, full-bodied wine, kind of like a grapier Sonoma Station. Medium-crisp, with some fine light tannins & plummy notes coming out on the finish. Not bad, but given the choice I'd probably grab a SS for only a couple bucks more.

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel California Geyserville 1982 (A New Low): Hey, it's alive! Quietly earthy muted cherry, tree bark and old cedar. Soft and muted, tastes of faded berries and brown sugar, no tannin at all, soft and... oops, it's going away... there it goes, oh dear. Seemed lively at first, disintegrates before our very eyes, turning belly-up and expiring quietly in the glass. But for the first ten minutes it was pretty nice. (7/14/03)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel California Geyserville 1984 (Geyservillainy): Interesting clarettish aromatics, leather, old pipe tobacco, faded earthy cassis-berry fruit. A sip, and it's still alive but rather wan, faded and a bit dilute in the midpalate. Rallies somewhat with a quiet tarry-spicy finish, but is on the downslope. (2/17/02)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel California Geyserville 1985 (Geyservillainy): Much less tired than the '84, there is a pleasant earthiness to the muted black cherry-raspberry nose. Aromatically velvety, smoothly red and sweet smelling. Tastes ripe and satiny, sweetly two-dimensional. The fruit has hit a nicely developed stage but is quite uniform in its taste--there isn't any layering to speak of, just a pool of warm red earthy fruit. An agreeably inert wine, supple and easygoing and finishless. Very genial, but drink up, it's going nowhere better from here. (2/17/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1989 (A New Low): No longer a varietal zinfandel, this has studied hard and graduated to the esteemed ranks of proprietary wines. Touch of acetonic volatility hovers over a dark muted blackberry-cassis fruit, suffused with a crushed-brick earthiness. Soft and warm up front, turns silky and earthy in the middle, finishes quietly. Easygoing and fully resolved, not even a flicker of tannin left. This is drinking very nicely, but may be just one or two steps over the crest of the hill. Drink 'em if you got 'em. (7/14/03)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1991 (50% zin, 30% carignane, 20% ps)($20) (VS Eats at Joe's): A deep dark purple color, inky-deep; dark velvety nose of blackberry vanilla, earthy hints & maybe a touch of mint. Dark & rich & dense, with a gentle touch of pruniness in the dark fruit, and some firm & present tannins. I never had this one young, so I wonder at the blackness of the fruit, whether this is a function of only having 50% zin in the blend, or if the usual zin red berry fruit has just faded with some age. (11/7/99)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1991 ($20) (Geyservillainy): This wine has always been an odd duck among its brethren. Perhaps it's the low percentage of zin (somewhere around half) and the extra shot of carignan, but I've always found the dark earthy qualities accented on this wine like on no other Geyserville. Smells wonderful, dark blackberry-raspberry fruit limned with violets and black pepper, a high note of mint. Difficult-to-identify spicy notes flicker, asking to be identified but receding rainbow-like when focused on. Tastes rich and mouthfilling, a dark wash of that same red-black fruit surges at me, staying focused as it opens and striates in the midpalate and turning plummy-espressoed on the finish. A very impressive wine in the peak of life. The oak has integrated completely, the wine is a balanced whole, richly flavored and as long and dark as Judge Thomas's bellweather performer. Two and a half hand-carved mahogany Prongs inlaid with ivory on their bases and set on a green baize cloth-covered table somewhere in the northern half of the Appalachian Trail. (2/17/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1992 ($20) (Geyservillainy): Back to our regularly-scheduled zinnishness, this smells of sweet ripe black cherry-raspberry fruit that has a candied cast to it but is quite luscious. The wood here hasn't been absorbed as completely as in the '91--something like 90%, as there are noticeable if light traces of that spicy toasted-vanilla-coconut woodiness that will become our constant companion tonight as the wines get younger and younger. (2/17/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1993 ($23) (Geyservillainy): Aromatically this seems like a smaller-scale version of the '92--younger, a bit woodier, a bit less well integrated. Tastewise it almost matches the '92 stride for stride until a hint of sourness arises in the midpalate and turns into astringency that mars the finish: an automatic half-point deduction, at least from the Russian judge. Very decent, but doesn't juggle chainsaws and do backflips like the previous two. (2/17/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1994 ($25)(Cape Mayhem): Boisterously fruity and woody in this company, a wash of dark black cherry-berry zinny aromas mixed with toasty vanilla-coconut and smoky hints. Tastes quite rich as well, ripe and warmly fruity, with enough structure to do the trick. Some fairly gritty tannins well up in the finish. Still young, still needs time to settle down and smooth out a bit, but I find its exuberant bigness more charming than others do. (5/27/01)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1995 ($25)(Joao/Kansas): Others were more taken with this one than I was--I found it a little shy, aromatically reticent. Silky, softer than the Lytton and tighter as well, the berry fruit has receded a little more than I'd expected, leaving more tarriness in evidence on the midpalate that turns a bit harsh on the finish. Normally I'm a Geyserville slut, but I'm a little dubious about this bottle. (3/2/00)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1995 ($25) (Geyservillainy): Always a silky, calm wine, this is an exception to the ten-year rule, never seeming to have gone through the open-and-shut phases that have affected the '93, '94 and '96. Sweet-smelling red berry fruit with spicy-toasty-espresso hints, lower in acidity and fleshier than any since the '85 . The slight tarry harshness on the finish that was this wine's only problem has been subsumed over the past couple of years by warm inviting fruit. May not last as long as some of the others, but delicious and easygoing now. There are two bottles of this, and both are pretty much emptied by the end of the evening. (2/17/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1996 ($15/375 ml.), tasted in a half bottle in the Berkshires, was delicious, wonderfully complex and concentrated, smooth juice. Nice, thick flavors of black cherry and blueberry, along with some earthy/peppery notes I couldn't quite place, almost syrupy, with some lovely wood taste and some tannin. Wonderful style that I really enjoy. I was too busy savoring it to focus on taking notes, but I'm glad now that I've got some of this goody tucked away in my cellar.

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1996 ($25) (Geyservillainy): A puzzle; rich and vibrant on release, it snapped shut so definitively about a year afterward that I've been afraid to try any more since. Still closed, sniffing a bit gives me light hints of vanillaed red and black fruit, coconut, sod and pepper. Tastes hard and glossy, dark and tannic, it has rolled up into a ball and is gnawing on its tail, giving nothing away now. Has it closed down for good? Will it emerge from its shell sometime around 2006? Stay tuned. (2/17/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1997 ($30) (Geyservillainy): Plenty of coconut-vanilla-toasty wood here, plenty of rich raspberry-blackberry fruit, plenty of everything. A bumptious wine, young and unrefined and going in several directions at once. The fruit has calmed slightly since release, losing its sheen and acquiring a weighty matte density. Desperately in need of time. Four straw Prongs wrapped in new denim with red bandannas wrapped around their points. (2/17/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1998 ($30) (Super Bowl): A lighter Geyserville than the past few years, more elegant and silkier in its youth, showing a lighter vein of oakiness. The color is surprisingly light and the wine, although not big and dense, has a lot of character and strength. A nimbler than usual young Geyserville, lacking the chunkiness of last year's version or the roughness that sometimes makes this wine difficult as a baby. Very decent, an earlier drinker than I'd normally expect. (1/22/01)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1998 ($30) (Geyservillainy): The quiet, sensitive sibling between two lumberjack brothers, this is not a wine to age but is light and pleasant now. I didn't buy much of this wine, but I always find it charming when it's in front of me. Drink it while your 97s and 99s are sleeping. (2/17/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1999 ($30) (All CNN Wines): Robust nose, peppery dark berry, smoke and vanilla. More robust than the light '98, lacks the suppleness of the '96, more in the mold of the rougher '97, only this is tighter and more closed now, less bumptious. Rich, concentrated core of fruit, overt oak running at right angles to the fruit, needs a few years to calm down and come together. A lot of potential here, flashes of finesse and power wrapped up tight. Hold until mid-May of 2006. (11/11/01)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 1999 ($30) (Geyservillainy): An impressive infant, much like the '97 only more so. Chunky big fruit and big coconut-vanilla wood racing in tandem, holding hands but not getting any more intimate than that at this young age. Impressive concentration and strength come through the roughness, Hercules in his crib. This has a long interesting road ahead of it. (2/17/02)

Ridge Vineyards California Geyserville 2002 ($27) (84% zin, 12 carignane, 4% petite sirah) (Rivers of Liquid Gold I): Medium dark purply-garnet color. Velvety blackcherry-raspberry aromatics, coconut husk, toasted vanilla. Middleweight Geyserville, well composed and zinnier-seeming than in some years, smoother and redder around the edges, generously laced with the usual creamy vanilla-coconut oak 'Draper Aftershave.' Absent the blackfruitiness that I enjoy in some of the less zinny releases, but I can live with that once in awhile. Medium to medium-low acidity, gentle fleshiness mingles with aggressive tannins on the finish. Doesn't seem like one for the cellar, more of a medium-term drinker while I wait for the more studly versions to come around. (11/05)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel California Park-Muscatine 1990 ($20)(Manuel and Josie): Medium-dark purply-garnet color, smells dark and black cherryish, a bit of VA on the nose comes across as a hint of nail polish remover; tastes ripe and full-bodied, but also a bit hot and disjointed, a bit flukey. Not sure what to make of this one, but if I were a betting man I'd put a fin down on "past its prime." (4/23/00)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs 1991 ($18)(Joao/Kansas): Medium red. Smoky black cherry-raspberry nose, velvety and beguiling. The dark, earthy zinberry fruit has taken a step back, but has a nice rich core, and is open and feathering slightly at the edges, turning dark on the lingering finish. Nice crisp acidity buoys the frame of fruit. Drinking nicely, but I wouldn't leave any more too much longer. (3/2/00)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs 1993 (MoJoe): A pour, a sniff, a sip, and it's a Ridge zin all right. Smells darkly fruited, black cherry and raspberry, vanilla, dark earth and cedar toast. There's the rich red fruit, there's a healthy dose of wood, there's a dark underlying earthiness, a bit of zinny heat, all in a rather loosely-knit wine that hasn't got a lot of focus but delivers all the goods you'd expect. Time has been kind to this and it's in a pretty good place right now, but I wouldn't hold on to it much longer. Four rough-hewn Prongs carved out of maple, nailed to a sturdy redwood base that has been dipped in coal dust and extra-virgin olive oil, then set adrift on a man-made lake that has been stocked with brown trout, moonfish and crappies. (9/23/02)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs 1993 (Age-Related Drunkenness): is a bit off form tonight. Odd eggy sulfurous note at first that blows off somewhat but not entirely. Just a bit riper than the '94, just a bit less crisp, ever so slightly pruney. Not actively unpleasant, but not cohesive, a wine slightly at odds with itself; its tie is askew and its shoelaces are untied. Jay: "Every element of the wine seems to have taken one step in the wrong direction." Ayup. (9/17/03)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs 1994 (Age-Related Drunkenness): Dark black-cherry/raspberry laced with shoe polish, vanilla and tar. Smooth and cohesive, a big wine with fine composure. Not all that overtly zinlike: frankly, it has the balance, warmth and solidity of a good middleaged Ch‰teauneuf. Fine stuff, solid and warm and smoothly layered, finishing with a warm berry flourish. (9/17/03)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs 1995 ($20)(Swedes Invade): Medium-dark garnet, with a deep purply-black core. Sweet creamy oak on the nose over dark purply-toasty fruit. The fruit has settled into the background and spread out a bit from when I last had this, gotten dark and muted and taken on kind of a petite sirah purple-black tone compared to the more cherry-raspberry Dashe and Ravenswood, but there's plenty of life here, a strong, earthy-dark wine but a bit oakier than I remember it being. (3/24/00)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs 1999 ($25) (All CNN Wines): Smells more cohesive than the Geyserville, smooth and velvety and smoky-red, the wood better integrated and the red fruit looser and more seductive. A rich, silky Lytton Springs with a deep dark core of fruit, drinking very well now. Delicious, slightly slatternly zin, its lipstick a mess and its stockings all ahoo. (11/11/01)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Lytton Springs 2001 ($27) (Oceans of Overpriced Swill 2): Dark garnet color. Smells ripe and generously wooded, plum and black cherry fruit laced with toasted vanilla and coconut, like the condensed-milk bread you toast at camp. Tastes large and in charge, supple and tritonal--plum, cherry, oak. Not really huge, but a commanding presence. Just a hint of bitterness on the finish, along with some sneaky creeping tannins. Needs time or a big grilled steak or both. (3/06)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Paso Robles 1995 ($18): Medium purply-red, more purple. Peppery, shiraz-like nose, meaty, peppery in the mouth, leaner than most other Ridges, no hint of unctuousness, less overtly ripe, with a slight tarry, pruney tang that carries over into the nice, long finish. More cherry/berry flavors emerge with a little time in the glass. Still nice zin, but a little different than other Ridges I've had lately, certainly less lush than the '96 Geyserville. (2/99)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Paso Robles Late Picked 1997 ($24): Yeek, speaking of zin, the lush zinberry in this one just leaps out of the glass at your nose, plush black cherry, velvety and sweet-smelling, with a hint of raisin & a touch of rubbing alcohol that bothered Lisa more than it did me. Tangy & tart (Lisa: "sour") this wine is a little all over the place, a bit wacky. Big and Robitussiny-rich, good backbone, plenty of acidity but turning slightly bitter on the finish. I'm more ambivalent than when I had this last and it seemed more together. Could it be cracking up a bit this soon? Seems odd. More research is called for. Oh, wait, that was the last bottle. Erph. (2/29/00)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel California Sonoma Station 1996 ($20) was a nicely balanced, full-flavored zin, with nice black cherry tang, a hint of bitterness on the midpalate and a silky tannic background, rich and smooth, very cool and silky but with nice density and flavor. If this is the 'least' of the Ridge zins, good heavens I can't wait to taste the Lytton Springs! Could stand up next to any of the zins I've had (besides the holy Turley) for integration and good, forward fruit. Not bad for only $19.99 (my, how my perspective has changed!). (9/98)

Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel California York Creek 1984 (Geyservillainy): Riper-smelling than its cousin, more black-cherried and less faded. There is an upfront rush of warm tangy red fruit which hasn't got a lot of oomph; it ebbs and spreads diffusely through the midpalate. The acidity is somewhat low but the cherried tang of the fruit helps out in the structure department and gives a bit of a finish. There's life here, but the wine is well past its best. (2/17/02)

Ridge Zinfandel York Creek Late Picked 1999 ($27.50) (Threesomes): Here's a plummy raisined nose, traces of sawdust and that evocative spicy-coconutty 'Draper Wood Regimen,' along with a whiff of acetoney VA. A sip, and there's an odd rush of sweet jammy black cherry fruit, then things get weird. The midpalate turns tart and muddy-thick, with noticeable sugar and an astringent licorice-tar dark streak that rises up and dominates the finish, joining forces with some drying tannins to produces a squinchy-face-making bitterness running parallel with that oddly cloying sweet streak. Look, I'm a diehard Ridgie, but this is a disjointed mess, a carnival of winemaking flaws. I try another bottle, it's identical. I want this out of my house. I don't know what happened here, but this wine shouldn't have been released without a warning label. This is any of several dissolute psycho characters played by Jennifer Jason Leigh --Georgia, Single White Female, take your pick. Don't try to help it by lending it money or giving it a place to crash: run the other way when you see it coming. (12/01)

Rock River Zinfandel California 2004 ($8) (Boatloads IX): Dark black cherry-raspberry aromatics, touch of licorice, touch of pepper, touch of sod. Nice richness, more substantial than either of the Ravenswood wines, chewier texture. Rather fleshy, medium acidity, some heft to the midpalate redfruit, a gentle muddiness wanders through the middle, lingers on a mediumlength finish. Just enough richness, balance and interest to be a nice burger wine. [Buy again? Yup.] (11/06)

Don Sebastiani & Sons/Three Loose Screws Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 'Mia's Playground' 2002 ($13) (Boatloads VI): The label is straight out of Whimsy for Designers 101, but the wine smells raucously zinny--ripe black cherry and raspberry juice swirled with some dark tarry-toastiness and a hint of VA. Big brambly redfruit with a touch of residual sugar, a large-bodied fruitbowl of a wine, with medium acidity and some quiet tannic murmurs amidst the pillowy fruit on the finish. Quite likeably blowsy, the kind of silly zin that gave zin a good name before it got serious and expensive. I could do without the hint of sweetness, but I still like the wine and I have to wrestle it from Lisa so I can have an ounce to ponder. [Buy again? Sure.] (12/05)

Robert Sinskey "Commander Zinskey" Zinfandel 1995 ($20) was a fairly pleasant, smooth & velvety zin, with noticable oak and tannins just floating around banging into each other Pleasant, smooth, but not a big chewy mouthful. Cherries and berries are there, but seem restrained, and aren't backed up too much by pepper and spice. The oak note is simply all by itself, not integrated into the backbone. Pleasant, but nondescript and a little unfocused. (8/98)

Sobon Estate Zinfandel Amador County 'Hillside' 2005 ($8) (Boatloads XI): Medium translucent garnet color. Gently peppery black cherry aromatics, tastes loose and lightish, friendly and ripe. A bit of a throwback zin, on the small, easygoing side. Simple and primary, with a puppyish dark frootiness that has a few low dark spicy notes. Medium-low acidity, gently fleshy wine that relies on lightness of foot and pleasant ripeness to please. A decent quaffing zin. Eight bucks? SCREWCAP! [Buy again? Eight bucks? Screwcap? Yeah, okay.] (11/07)

Rodney Strong Old Vines 1995 ($19). Cross this one off the list, I'm afraid. Simply not enough oomph, not a big, overpowering number. Not bad, nicely balanced and smooth, but too subtle for my tastes right now, and way short on the berry, fruity, spicy taste I want from a big zin (just a bit of that Robitussin/cherry tang snuck in, not a terribly welcome note on its own, for me). Frankly, it seemed a little lifeless, a little hollow, not big and jammy and fun. I had to actually LOOK for flavors instead of being bopped in the face by them. I think I picked this one for its name, expecting "Rodney Strong" to be STRONG, for some reason, and it was, unfortunately, fairly unexciting. (6/98)

Rosenblum Zinfandel California 'Vintner's Cuvˇe XXV' NV ($8) (Boatloads II): Calm black cherry with a whiff of acetone. Crisp and balanced, if a bit loosey-goosey, it's got some nice black cherry-raspberry zinfandello fruitiness, touch of licorice on the finish. Kind of a throwback to when zin was a fun cheap quaffer, pretty decent and flavorful, really. Not at all complex, but balanced and smooth. Not bad at all. [Buy again? I guess.] (11/04)

Rosenblum Zinfandel Paso Robles Sauret Vineyard 1997 ($19)(Robin in the Big City): Medium garnet color. Black cherry & raspberry, another fairly light-styled zin that has good rich berryfruit that turns a bit tarry and dilute in the midpalate going into the finish, doesn't have the follow-through of the Scheutz Oles. Some surprising tannins kick in on the finish. Still, pretty decent and balanced. (2/7/00)

Rosenblum Zinfandel Sonoma County Samsel Vineyard Maggie's Reserve 1994 ($24): Although older than the '95 Lava Cap zin that we drink it with, shows much better to my tastes. Rich and smooth and still fairly vivid, with some interesting baking chocolate notes kicking around in the raspberry/black cherry/zinberry stew; some good, crisp acidity and a long, tangy redfruity finish. (9/17/99)

Rutherford Hill Zinfandel Napa Valley Mead Ranch Atlas Hill 1978 (Geyservillainy): The date on the label is scuffed beyond recognition, but I'm assured it is indeed the 1978. I stick my snout into the glass and holy cats there's a big wallop of bricky cherry-cassis fruitcake-spiced fruit coming right at me. The first rush of fruit is chewy and leathern, then the crushed-brick fruit hardens and darkens in the midpalate, retreating into itself, then flows into a tarry-berry finish with a flash of slightly gritty tannins. Big and chewy, startlingly fresh at first, after an hour it gives a quiet gasp and goes belly up in the glass, turning flat and raisiny. Still, its last strut was a wonder there for a while. (2/17/02)

Sausal Zinfandel Alexander Valley Private Reserve 1992 ($14)(Nonoffensive Notes): Medium garnet. Earthy black-cherry-raspberry nose with a tiny hint of raisin, this zin has spread a bit and gotten a touch diffuse around the edges but still smells fairly rich & velvety. The flavors are slightly muted and more earthy than brightly fruity, but it's a friendly, silky earthiness and the wine is pleasantly crisp and balanced, with good structure. An example of a zin with a bit of bottle age doing something interesting instead of just coming unglued. (3/20/00)

Scheutz Oles Zinfandel Napa Valley Korte Ranch 1996 ($18)(Robin in the Big City): Medium red color. Elegant, nicely balanced style of zin, almost claretlike, reminds me of a Hendry zin. Very light on the nose, but velvety rich light fruit on the palate moves into a long black-cherry finish. Balanced and lovely, for a cult wine. (2/7/00)

Sea Star Zinfandel California 2004 ($6) (Boatloads VIII): One-note black cherry fruit, slight sweetness to the wine. Loose, medium-low acidity, watery, a bit insipid, really. What's up with the sugar in supposedly dry wines? FAKE CORK! [Buy again? No.] (9/06)

Steele Zinfandel Medocino Pacini Vineyard 1995 ($22)(Geekfest '99): Medium-dark garnet; rich black cherry/prune nose with sweet oaky butteriness. Fairly crisp & tangy, but also mouth-dryingly tannic. Lots of oak, sweet black-cherry flavors; rich enough but not terribly interesting. (6/5/99)

Storrs Zinfandel Santa Cruz Mountains 1996 ($24)(Elegant Americans): Deep garnet again; velvety, raisiny/black cherry nose, and the taste follows along, raisiny and also a bit of disjointed alcoholic heat. I, an avowed Turleyphile, accuse this wine of being overripe and hot. Go figure, huh? (9/99)

Three Thieves Zinfandel California 2002 ($10) (Best Wife): Comes in a cute little jug. Simple black cherry and raspberry-jam flavors, friendly and obvious and warmly zinny. No one will mistake it for Pétrus, but it's fruity and fun and, when drunk in the company of the Best Wife, just perfect. (9/03)

Hold on to your horses, kids, here comes the Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Aida Vineyard 1996 ($55): we had this wine with a lovely dinner at Cafe des Artistes on the Upper West Side--the sommelier informed us that they had just received their one allotted case the night before and that we were the first to order it. I was tickled pink because, as a true zinhound I had heard so many things about these Turley zins and had managed to snag a few by blind luck at a local retailer (sitting on the shelf), but had never tasted one, and here it was, ripe for the picking at a very reasonable markup ($65--it cost me $45 in the store; I think the release price was around $35). By the time it actually arrived I was mentally preparing myself for one of those inevitable disappointment that come when expectations are swelled beyond what reality can bear. Susan noticed me cringing a bit when the bottle arrived, took a sniff at it, and passed it to me with a big smile on her face. So here's what I scrawled on a scrap of paper that night: "MY GOD! Flavors of black cherry fighting their way out of the bottle. Impossibly dense and with a syrupy layer of sweetness, yet full of backbone--BOOM! in the mouth with every taste. Dense, balanced and fluid. No tannins to speak of, no overt wood-Malolo Syrup of zins, FRUIT, FRUIT, FRUIT! Beautiful and smooth as glass. Thick. Such a nose was never smelt. Wow. Concentrated essence of zin." So I guess you could say it wasn't bad. Overpowered my hapless entree of Giant Colossal South American Shrimp completely, but I didn't mind a bit. (Oh, and for all you mainlanders, "Malolo Syrup" is a concentrated syrup used to make fruit punch, or, more properly, "froo'punch", the Hawaiian national beverage, at least when I was growing up.) (8/17/98)

Had a chance to sit down tonight with a couple of shell steaks, some candles and a bottle of Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel California Old Vines 1997 ($22): Medium-dark garnet, yadda, yadda; really ripe, sweet spicy nose of round black cherry, pepper & something like buttered-popcorn-flavored-JellyBellys, sweet & opulent, a pleasure to smell. The wine is rich & smooth, with nice dark cherry/zinberry flavors & hints of smokiness. Fairly crisp acidity & very light gritty tannins.

One caveat--served chilly, this one seemed nicely integrated, a good package; as it warmed to room temperature it seemed to come a little unglued; noticeable heat appeared on the finish, and the tannins, which had seemed almost nonexistent at first, put in a cameo appearance for a slight dose of sandy-tongue. Smaller in scale and less concentratedly fruity than some of the single-vineyards, it's probably also more balanced, and a pleasure to those who, like me, enjoy the style. Not an unqualified rave, but still a really tasty glassful. (5/99)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel California Old Vines 1999 ($24) (Jason Takes Manhattan): Medium-dark garnet; light nose of smoky black cherry-raspberry. Tastes plummy-earthy and lean, with some rough strong tannins emerging and choking off the finish. A bit of a letdown for me, as I liked the 96 and 97 versions very much as QPR gems, but this is not up to the past two years. There is no real consensus on this except its much more "correct" than the wackily-made Edmeades, but there's not a whole lot of fruit and the wine is a bit nondescript (there is a guess or two that it's cabernet) and lacks the balanced exuberance and cheerful fruit I've found in the past two vintages. (5/00)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel California Old Vines 1999 ($24) (Walt Begs for Mercy): Smells ripe and candied, raspberry syrup and black cherry juice with smoky tarry hints underneath that emerge a bit more with air. This '99 is the most over-the-top Old Vines since they started doing this bottling, usually one of the more restrained of the stable. The '98 was a bit wan right off the boat (although it picked up with some rest and time), this one is candyfruity, simple and overpowering. (5/01)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel California Old Vines 2003 ($40) (Lou Turns the Worm): I can't believe I brought a Turley zin and everyone's drinking it. What has the New York scene come to in these latter days? Really the only wine on the table that has the guts to match with Kane's flavorful, tender shortribs, and match very well it does. Amazed I am, and know not what to say. We stopped buying in quantity a few years back, so most of the ones we drink now have some age on them, and the youth and fresh berryness of this one is a bit startling. Also, the older bottlings of the Old Vines version used to be more restrained. This one, with its 16-17% alcohol, is bigger and more over the top than the mid-to-late 90s versions. Nice to see they're still out there pushing the envelope. Who better to carry the monster zin flag? (10/05)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Contra Costa County Duarte Vineyard 1996 ($30) (Subdued Festivization): Medium-dark dead red color. First sniffage brings sweet black cherry-raspberry aromatics with a high note of VA and bass notes of tar, earth and leather. The overweening fruitiosity of youth has ebbed, allowing some earthy midtone notes to begin to surface. A sip, and it's rather muted: fleshy mouthfeel, black cherry juice, medium acidity, some slightly rough toastiness on the finish. The calming-down of the huge fruitiness has allowed some cracks in the facade to show, but also some complexity that wasn't evident before. After a day in the fridge the wood has integrated and the whole wine has turned silkier and earthier. Interesting, not as smooth or cohesive as the Black-Sears, but interesting. One to drink sooner rather than later, methinks. (6/13/04)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Howell Mountain Black-Sears Vineyard 1996 ($50) (Subdued Festivization): Deeply colored, the exuberant bright fruitiness of youth has passed, but the mellower and earthier wine that's here now is equally welcome, and probably a better match with the meat. Peppery aromatics, rich raspberry-black cherry fruit with dark undertones. There's a southern-Rhône character to some Turley zins once they've got six or seven years under their belts; they tend to swing towards big, overripe Châteauneufferishness, and that's what's going on here. Muted raspberry-plum flavors laced with licorice and a smoky undercurrent. It's big all right, but it's got a good sense of composure, in a good place to drink right now but could probably go for another year or two just fine. (6/13/04)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Howell Mountain Black-Sears Vineyard 1997 ($60) (Pigfest): Weighing in at a boisterous 17%, this is a whopper of a table wine, more like an odd kind of dry port, but it has a certain quizzical balance all the same; all of its pieces are uniformly outsized. It's lost the zanyfruity quality of its youth and gained a bit of pepperberry calmness. It's still a silly wine, but not so gonzo. Actually, it's aging decently for such a palooka; there even may be a note or two of complexity leaching into the black raspberry wave. After some experimentation I mix two shots of the Druet with one of the Turley, and Presto! we've got ourselves a Kane wine. It turns out Dressner was quite right--heft can be added artificially! (1/06)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Lodi Dogtown Vineyard 1997 ($35) (Loirenatics): Into the Valley of Death rides the Turley, and it gets the usual reaction, shouts of horror and delight. Dressner flinches and calls it 'medicinal.' It's actually a bit warm and not showing too well right off, but it's a good medium-rich example of a Turley zin, slightly denser and more monolithically berryfruity than the Old Vines, not as purply-earthy as the Moore, not as big and rich as the Hayne or Black-Sears, a nice burst of ripe red berry-black cherry fruit tinged with tar right off the bat, a bit Robitussiny at first, but opening and turning earthier with a bit of air. Tangy and big and turning tarry on the finish. I like the style, I like this wine, but in the Turley stable it's stylistically very middle-of-the-road. (11/99)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Lodi Dogtown Vineyard 1998 ($35) (Super Bowl): Ripe smelling and slightly candied, boysenberry-raspberry liqueur laced with dark tarriness. With air the candied quality fades and a plummy-earthy streak comes to the fore. Slightly hot on the finish, with a light astringency, it's quietly mellow and rich, another middle-of-their-road style of Turley zin much along the lines of its 1997 incarnation. Doesn't manage quite the highwire balancing of the past few Haynes or Black Searses, but gives off a warmth and velvety richness that ultimately charms us all, although others are more enthusiastic about it than I. (1/22/01)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Napa Valley Aida Vineyard 1994 ($45): Medium-dark garnet; surprisingly quiet nose--soft black cherry, pepper, earth; in the mouth crisp and bright, brisk acidity, black cherry with some herby notes under it. The only Aida I'd had before was the '96, and it seemed much more of a monster than this one, which surprised me with its balance and crisp, pleasant fruitiness. Some fine, firm tannins kick in on the finish. Tasty. (6/8/99)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Napa Valley Hayne Vineyard 1997 ($75)(Cult Madness): My Turleyphile proclivities are well-known, so, disclaimer out of the way, I will proceed to gush. I've been a little ambivalent about some of the 97 Turley zins, finding problems and lack of purity of fruit in a few of the other bottlings, but this wine reminded me why I love their top zins. Beautiful, explosive pure black-cherry & raspberry zin-essence aromas flood the glass, light and pure and rich, I keep some in my glass for the rest of the night to go back and smell once in awhile. If you'd told me that a dry wine could hold 17.1% alcohol and not show heat I'd have said something about selling me a bridge, but this wine does it ably, with just a tiny touch coming across at the very tail end of the finish. In the mouth it's bright, focused and crisp and has a surprisingly nimble and vivid mouthfeel, beautifully balanced, richly flavored, seamlessly integrated and purely zinny, with a long, long raspberry finish. Wins the Thunderbird Prize in a runaway. (2/8/00)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Napa Valley Moore 'Earthquake' Vineyard 1997 ($32)(Robin in the Big City): Medium-dark garnet. Ooh, it smells rum-raisiny, quite ripe and full of dark black cherry aromas, but choco-raisiny as well with some dark rum-like alcohol hints. What's more, it's somewhat fizzy. What's going on here? Strange and somewhat clumsy, smelling a bit portlike and hot, with some astringent tannins emerging out of the dark tarry finish. Perhaps an off bottle. (2/7/00)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Napa Valley Tofanelli Vineyard 1996 ($35): Seems a bit plummier than some of his brother 97s, with a plum/grapey quality to the lush raspberry and black cherry fruit that marks the Tofanelli zins for me. There's the usual nice smokiness, but this wine seems a bit more together than the 96s did at a similar stage--lush and monolithic, but not at all disjointed, and no trace of heat despite the 15.5% alcohol (compared to the Champ's 11.5%). There seems to be just a hint of sweetness, but it's hard to peg down because of the lush, ripe fruitiness.

These Tofanelli wines (this & last year's) have never had for me the layered quality of some of the other Turley zins, especially right out of the chute, but I love their joyous, unabashed concentration, and there are smiles all around. With a bit of air the bright berry fruit takes more of a smoky turn and the plumminess spreads a bit and turns slightly leathery, but there is none of the light herbiness of the latest Old Vines bottling. Simply a fun wine. We pair it with a chocolate mousse cake, and the bottle empties even more quickly than the first. (10/22/99)

Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Napa Valley Tofanelli Vineyard 1997 ($35) (Party House): Time hasn't been kind to this. Big, black cherry syrup nose laced with grape candy, sweet and Robitussiney-smelling. The plummy quality that marks the Tofanelli bottlings turns towards pruniness in the midpalate, finishes short and hot. With all the stuff they cram into their fat-bottomed bottles the Turley act is always a high-wire one, and this particular bottle seems to be having inner ear trouble, falling heavily to earth with a dull thud. These wines invariably do poorly at tastings when put next to less gonzo wines, but this is not a good specimen. (1/5/02)

T-Vine Zinfandel/Mataro Napa Valley 1994 (65% zin, 35% mourvedre) (Misplaced Weekend I): Smells mildly overripe, hints of prune and muted raspberry laced with an underlying earthiness. Tastes loose and diffuse, but inoffensive and friendly in a slobbery St. Bernard way. Finishes with a dark earthy-leathery hum. Seems to be on the cusp of heading downhill though, I'd drink up sooner rather than later. (5/2/04)

Vigil Zinfandel Beatty Ranch Howell Mountain Napa Valley 1997 (Quiz Show II): Smells velvety and lush, lots of good ol' black cherry-raspberry fruit creeps up my noseholes and mingles there with dark choco-smoky notes. Tastes lush and smooth, a bit on the soft, creamy side and without a great many layers of flavor, but fun and friendly, a very decent comfort zin with no rough edges at all. (4/15/00)

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