Tasting T3.20 USA Zinfandel

To be clear the wines we are tasting are Red Zinfandel. Not to be confused with the semi-sweet (blush-style) wine called white Zinfandel that is a large production wine type in USA.

Red Zinfandel makes wines that in cooler areas have red berry fruit flavours. For example, raspberry, whereas in warmer areas blackberry, anise and pepper notes are more usual.

Zinfandel was long thought to be America’s own grape variety but in 1967, Professor Austin Goheen whilst visiting Italy from the University of California, Davis (UCD) noticed how wines made from Primitivo reminded him of Zinfandel. He wasn’t alone in noticing this. In 1968 Primitivo was brought to California and finally in 1972 ampelographers (we’ve met them before) declared it as identical to Zinfandel.

Later Croatian-born Californian winemaker Mike Grgich, amongst others, spent time analysing the history and entomology of both grape varieties and discovered they were one parent of Plavac Mali a Croatian grape. Further research led to a vineyard where nine vines of Crljenak Kastelanski, (amongst thousands of others), appeared to be a genetic divergence of Primitivo/Zinfandel. Still further research (had they nothing else to do?) eventually led to a single 90-year old vine in an elderly ladies garden in Spilt Croatia known as Tribidrag. This is the original Zinfandel.

Two clones, Crljenak Kastelanski and Pribidrag (Tribidrag), found on the Dalmatian coast are now being propagated under the aegis of Ridge Vineyards. One of our vineyards tasted this evening.

Zinfandel has been planted in California since the late 19th Century. As such there are many vineyards claiming to be old vines. Old vine Zinfandel and wines from the ‘New World’ in general do not have an accepted and regulated level of age for the ‘old’ in old vines. Therefore it is best when looking for an old vine wine to head in the direction of vineyards/wineries who let you know what they mean by it and with whom there is a level of quality and trust.

Many old vine vineyards in California are field blends, that is a mixture of different grape varieties all planted together in the same vineyard. 

Field blends often came about as early winemakers did not have large estates. Therefore could not experiment with planting various varieties in different locations, with different soils or exposures to make blends. They often did their “winemaking” in the vineyards themselves. Primarily this consisted of planting the majority of their site to one main variety (i.e. Zinfandel) then planting a few rows of various other grapes to use as a “spice rack” of sorts. These made up very small percentages of the final blend, serving primarily to “season” the main variety.

The wineries are,

Turley Wine Cellars

Larry Turley (an ER doctor) met John Williams in the late 70’s and together they started Frog’s Leap Winery in 1981. They enjoyed quick success yet Larry wanted to pursue a smaller more focused project with Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. He sold his half to John and in 1993 started Turley’s Wine Cellars

Ridge Vineyards

The vineyards date back to 1885 and the first Monte bello wine was crafted in 1892. In the 1940’s the abandoned winery and vineyard were purchased and replanted with new owners acquiring the property in the early 1960’s. Ridge Vineyards was founded in 1962 (as was Kim) when it made its first Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon, its first Zinfandel followed in 1964. The first Geyserville was made in 1966.

Seghesio Family Vineyards

Edoardo Seghesio an Italian immigrant family first planted Zinfandel in Alexander Valley, Sonoma back in 1895. 125 vintages and 5 generations later they are a pre-eminent name in Zinfandel and Sangiovese maintaining some of the oldest blocks (vineyards) of both varieties in North America.

Fog Monster

Named after the strong and often dominant influence the fog off the Pacific Ocean has on the terroir of Coastal Californian vineyards. Here Andrea Mullineux and her husband Chris make site specific, single vineyard wines. These come from great sites well-farmed by a select number of grower who follow sustained, reasoned farm practises.

Tonight’s wines will be tasted by David, Harry, Kim, Jen and Luke.

To the wines...

Turley – Kirschenmann Vineyard 2018

This vineyard is owned and farmed by Turley’s winemaker Tegan Passalacqua. The ungrafted vines were planted in 1915 in the silica-rich sandy soils of the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA. Thanks to the river’s cool waters and delta breezes, these head-trained, dry-farmed vines are constantly protected from the heat. In the grand tradition of old-vine field blends, the vineyard has small amounts of Mondeuse, Cinsault, and Carignan.

Nose: Medium red colour on first viewing. Strawberries, cherries and eucalyptus. Beautiful aromas! Spices and plum coming through as well.

Palate: Fresh fruit on the palate, gorgeous eucalyptus and spice mixing perfectly together. Low – medium body with a full acidity, some moderate tannin and moderate finish. A really lovely wine and perfect to start with.

Turley – Old Vines 2018

This important cuvee was begun in 2000. Composed of a variety of small old sites where the vines are aged between 41 and 129 years old (average 89 years). It is 95% Zinfandel, with Mataro (Mourvedre), Alicante, Bouschet, Petite Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault for the remaining 5%.

Nose: Medium – deep red colour on first viewing. Dark and intense black fruit with hints of leather coming through as well.

Palate: Gorgeous notes of eucalyptus coming through with leather. Brambles everywhere! Lovely notes of blackberries with bramble notes as well. Slight vegetation. Medium bodied with full acidity, moderate – full tannin and a moderate finish. A cracking wine. Really excellent.

Ridge – East Bench 2018

Ridge has made the East bench as a single vineyard since 2006. It is one of the few Ridge wines that is 100% Zinfandel. The vineyard sits high atop the bench land that overlooks Dry Creek Valley from the east.

Nose: Medium red colour on first viewing. Dark fruits, blackcurrants, cherries and plums all flowing nicely. Aromas of leather and eucalyptus coming through as well with a perfect balance.

Palate: Sour cherries on the palate, hints of leather and eucalyptus coming through. Honestly this was a tad of a let-down. The nose promised a lot and unfortunately the taste did not deliver. Even after leaving it for an extra 3-4 hours it was lacklustre which was unfortunate. However, full bodied with full acidity, full tannin and a moderate finish. This would suggest this wine is perhaps made to be aged and I would attempt to drink it again in a good few years’ time.

Ridge – Geyserville 2018

The 53rd consecutive vintage of this wine for Ridge. The grapes are grown in three adjoining vineyards on a single soil type, deposited by an ancient washout of the Russian River that carried river stone and gravel. It is 69% Zinfandel, 20% Carignan, 8% Petite Syrah, 2% Alicante Bouschet and 1% Mataro.

Nose: Medium – deep red colour on first viewing. This is like a bomb on the nose. More specifically a cherry bomb. Beautiful cherry aromas with blackcurrants and leather coming through as well.

Palate: Bomb on the palate too! Thank God! A beautiful wine with cherries and black fruits really powerful. Fantastic balance of fruit and tannin, medium bodied with full acidity, full tannin and a medium finish. This will get much better. Trust me!

Seghesio Old Vine 2017

Their old vine has an average age of 75 years. Composed of 86% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Syrah, 3% Carignane and 3% mixed other black grapes.

Nose: Medium red colour on first viewing. Aromas of chocolate, dark fruits, plums and blackberry leaf. A beautiful well-rounded scent on this.

Palate: Smooth and gorgeous! Beautiful notes of dark fruits and chocolate coming through. Almond and bramble notes as well. A cracking wine. Medium – full bodied with full acidity moderate tannin and a medium length finish. This will continue to get better and I highly recommend!

Fog Monster – Bedrock Red 2016

A blend of 27 varieties planted back in 1888 in the Bedrock Vineyard in Sonoma. Roughly 55% Zinfandel, 15% Carignan, 10% Mataro plus everything else.

Nose: Medium red colour on first viewing. Intense aromas of stewed fruits, leather, spice and pepper. A real mix of tertiary characteristics. Lovely bouquet.

Palate: Again beautifully smooth. Stewed fruits, spice and leather blending nicely. Medium bodied wine with full acidity, integrated tannins and a medium length finish. A lovely wine to end on.


This was definitely a tasting where I did not know what to expect. I was extremely surprised and welcomed every wine. A grape variety that I have not tasted often but would 100% purchase in the future. I would highly recommend any of these wineries to anyone as they all have very good quality control. The wines themselves were also extremely good and all of them were different in their own ways.

The scores:

Kirschenmann 2018 – 90 Points

Old Vines (Turley) 2018 – 91 Points

East Bench 2018 – 89 Points

Geyserville 2018 – 92 Points

Old Vines (Seghesio) 2017 – 94 Points

Bedrock Red 2016 – 93 Points

As you can see a very good selection of wines. Overall a really good tasting with some great scores at the end. I would definitely recommend seeking out any of these wines. Especially the Old Vines from Seghesio, our ‘winner’.

Thank you very much for reading again!

David & Harry

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  • Claire

    Hi all,

    really enjoyed the history of the vines and the tracking down. Looking forward to trying some of these in particular the BedRock Red 2016.. Thank you all for tasting and sharing the results.

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