Classic zinfandel is a bomb of flavor

September 13, 1992|By Michael Dresser

The following California zinfandels were tasted in recent weeks. They are listed by vintage in rough order of preference.


* Ravenswood, Cooke Vineyard, Sonoma Valley ($20). This is a staggering wine, one of the most concentrated, gripping wines you could imagine -- a flavor bomb exploding on the palate. This is not a wine for delicate Euro-palates. It's a full-bore wine with lavish raspberry-blackberry fruit and tones of herbs, black pepper, chocolate and coffee. The alcohol is high (14.6 percent), but the fruit is even bigger. A classic.

* Cline, Contra Costa County ($9.49). Check out this price. For a zinfandel that is a dead ringer for a fine Chateauneuf-du-Pape, it's a steal. Smooth texture doesn't conceal explosive raspberry, blackberry and mineral flavors. Sensational value.

* A. Rafanelli, Dry Creek Valley ($17.75). A smooth wine with appealing black, cherry and blackberry fruit and good complexity.

* Karly "Pokerville," Amador County ($8). A high-impact zinfandel with port-like intensity. It's a rip-roaring, hell-for-leather, succulent wine that might be unstable, but will be a delight until it cracks. If you insist on elegance, it's a busted flush; if flavor's your game, it's a full house.

* Quivira, Dry Creek Valley ($13). A very harmonious, classy wine that is full-bodied but not immense. A kind of elegant, toned-down version of the Ravenswood above, but no wimp. It has lots of raspberry-blackberry fruit and should get better with age.

* DeLoach, Barbieri Ranch, Russian River Valley ($5). A spicy, medium-to-full-bodied wine in an elegant, food-friendly style.

* Caymus, Napa Valley ($11.49). An elegant, claret-like zinfandel BTC with plenty of spice and fruit from a top-notch producer whose style is consistent and whose zinfandel prices are sound.

* Ravenswood Vintner's Blend, North Coast ($10.49). A full, ripe, intense wine with ripe blackberry-raspberry fruit and a hint of chocolate. A good wine at a fair price.

* Canterbury ($7). A medium-bodied, smooth wine with plenty of sweet-tasting fruit and no obvious flaws. Good value.

* Robert Mondavi Woodbridge ($7.89). A fruity, appealing, medium-bodied wine with good varietal character and a lot of charm. Drink it over the next year. Widely available, often at a lower price than I paid.

* Sutter Home ($5.79). So commonplace you'd think it had to be awful, but Bob Trinchero delivers good value for the masses. Not much finish, but appealing flavors in a medium-bodied wine.

* Bel Arbors Founders Selection ($6). Finally a poor 1990. The cardboard nose overwhelms the light, one-dimensional fruit. Better than the 1989 Montelena though.


* Ridge "Lytton Springs" ($15.99). Not as expansive or gripping as other vintages of this magnificent zinfandel, but a fine performance in a weak vintage. A peppery, blackberry-flavored wine with hints of coffee, chocolate, rosemary and thyme.

* Sobon Estate, Sierra Foothills ($11.45). This peppery, rustic wine has an appealing touch of blueberry and a completeness found in few 1989s from the North Coast. Medium weight, but good intensity.

* Dry Creek, Dry Creek Valley, Old Vines ($14). Smooth, elegant, flavorful but lacks grip. Good for the vintage but overpriced.

* Buehler, Napa Valley ($11.49). The 1986 from this winery was a sheer delight but it's gone downhill since. The 1989 is a pleasant wine with lots of body and fruit but little grip or length. It tails off fast.

* Pedroncelli, Dry Creek ($8). Even at this modest price, this soft, diffuse zinfandel is a disappointment.

* Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley ($16.39). A rough, mean, short, tannic wine that a fine estate like Montelena should have declassified. The price is absurd.

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