best zinfandel wine

America’s quintessential grape variety, with over 1,400 vineyards producing Zinfandel in California. That’s because The Golden State’s hot sunny climate ripens the grapes to bursting with a strong fruity, as well as spicy, flavor. Zinfandels are a great choice, although not limited, to drink with spicy food.

The Zinfandel grape originally hails from Europe. Croatia to be precise. But while the grapes of other California’s signature wine, Pinot Noir are grown worldwide, many of the very best Zinfandels are only easily available within the state. 

It is grown across the state, and styles vary between regions, with those with the hottest climates still, yielding bolder wines with greater strength and depth.

Although it can also be vinified into rosé wines, in California this black grape is more renowned for producing red wines lush with a rich texture and good viscosity. The flavors of red fruits, like blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, along with plum, cranberry, and licorice, unsurprisingly make for a wine that’s on the sweeter side.  

As such, Zinfandel has suffered from a rocky reputation for decades. People can still talk about it in overly broad terms: ‘super-ripe’, ‘overtly fruity’, ‘syrupy’, ‘sickly sweet’, and ‘high octane’ alcohol content.  

Sure, there are plenty of Zins out there that fit that description, but today California Zinfandel is far more approachable. The selection is now broader than that, with wines of significant complexity, nuance, and stylistic variation.

It’s exactly because it can be grown throughout the wine regions of California, that Zinfandel displays a wide range of versatility. While those from Mendocino County often display distinct raspberry-cherry character, with Amador Zinfandels it might be anise and black pepper.

There has been a return to balance in Zinfandel winemaking over the last decade. And while the alcohol content of 14-17% can still be higher than usual for an unfortified wine, many are now produced in a way that highlights, rather than exaggerates, the best of the Californian grape. Not overly jammy, and with a nice spice and just the right acid balance. 

In our lucky and enviable position of being able to taste many to write this article (Yes! It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!), we were struck by the diversity of styles, their balance, and liveliness at a wide range of alcohol percentages, and their excellent value. 

Comparison Table

PRODUCT FEATURES LATEST PRICE
1. Bedrock Heritage Proprietary Red 2017
Bedrock Heritage Proprietary Red 2017
  • Variety: 55% Zinfandel, 15% Carignane, 10% Mataro, and 20% Syrah, Alicante, Trousseau Noir, Mission, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Sonoma, North Coast, California
  • Winery: Bedrock
  • Alcohol: 14.6%
  • Bottle Size: 750 ml
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2. Whiplash Zinfandel 2018
Whiplash Zinfandel 2018
  • Variety: Zinfandel, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Lodi, Napa Valley
  • Winery: Jamieson Ranch
  • Alcohol: 14.5%
  • Bottle: 750 ml
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3. Reata Versada Zinfandel 2016
Reata Versada Zinfandel 2016
  • Variety: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Napa Valley, California
  • Winery: Reata
  • Alcohol: 14.6%
  • Bottle Size: 750 ml
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4. Rodney Strong Upshot Red Blend 2016
Rodney Strong Upshot Red Blend 2016
  • Variety: 44% Zinfandel, 29% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Riesling, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Sonoma County, California
  • Winery: Rodney Strong
  • Alcohol: 14.5%
  • Bottle Size: 750 ml
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5. Dueling Pistols Dry Creek Valley Red Blend 2016
Dueling Pistols Dry Creek Valley Red Blend 2016
  • Variety: 50% Syrah, 50% Zinfandel, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Dry Creek Valley, California
  • Winery: Dueling Pistols
  • Alcohol: 15%
  • Bottle Size: 750 ml
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6. Z Alexander Brown Uncaged Red Blend 2017
Z. Alexander Brown Uncaged Red Blend 2017
  • Variety: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Napa Valley, California
  • Winery: Jamieson Ranch Vineyards
  • Alcohol: 14.5%
  • Bottle Size: 750 ml
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7. Limerick Lane Russian River Valley Zinfandel 2016
Limerick Lane Russian River Valley Zinfandel 2016
  • Variety: Zinfandel, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Sonoma, North Coast
  • Winery: Limerick Lane
  • Alcohol: 14.8%
  • Bottle: 750 ml
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Here’s our selection of the best Zinfandels, as well as blends, currently available and where to buy them…

Our Best Zinfandel Wine Reviews and Comparisons

1. Whiplash Zinfandel 2018

Whiplash Zinfandel 2018

Product Highlights

Whiplash is named after the stallion whose statue you see both at the entrance of the Jamieson Ranch Winery. It proves to be an apt moniker for this bold and feisty 2018 Zinfandel, capturing the grace, power, and spirit of such a beautiful animal. 

Vivino rated the previous 2012 vintage as among the top 7% of all wines in the world, so it’s clear that the winery knows what it’s doing. 

Features 

  • Variety: Zinfandel, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Lodi, Napa Valley 
  • Winery: Jamieson Ranch
  • Alcohol: 14.5%
  • Bottle: 750 ml 

What We Like About Whiplash Zinfandel 2018

Berries and cherries abound on the nose, but give way to oak, cardamom, and other spices on the palate. It provides just enough elegance with the wildness the Zinfandel grapes from their Napa Valley vineyards are known for. 

Pair Whiplash Zinfandel 2018 with meat-based dishes, and you’ll find it an excellent accompaniment to spicy Asian, zesty Mexican, and luscious rich Italian dishes. A true all-rounder!

What We Don’t Like About Whiplash Zinfandel 2018

Californian Zins tend to be sweeter and smokier than their Italian counterparts. Just bear that in mind if you’re a lover of the Italian variety. 

You may also find it too high in alcohol, so take some care if you’re not used to it.

PROS

  • Wonderful brown sugar taste
  • Awesome for Chinese food
  • Not too fruity with a good finish

CONS

  • Too big. High alcohol. A little out of balance
  • No really earthy elements

2. Reata Versada Zinfandel 2016

Reata Versada Zinfandel 2016

Product Highlights

Also from Jamieson Ranch Vineyards is this 2016 Versada Zinfandel from their Reata vineyards.  

It’s another excellent example of the slightly unorthodox flavors that the Napa Valley’s Zinfandel grapes are known for. And we say that as no bad thing!

What isn’t so unorthodox is that it’s a great pairing for spicy and barbecue foods.

Features 

  • Variety: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Napa Valley, California
  • Winery: Reata
  • Alcohol: 14.6%
  • Bottle Size: 750 ml 

What We Like About Reata Versada Zinfandel 2016

The most dominant aromas and flavors are derived from the colorful fruits of ripe blackberry, black cherry, purple plum, and red cherry. These are complemented by the spice of cinnamon and pepper that cuts through.  

Full-on the mouth, Reata Versada Zinfandel 2016 has a good balance of acidity and luxury for a tasteful and lingering finish. 

What We Don’t Like About Reata Versada Zinfandel 2016

The 2016 harvest was sweeter than previous years’, so prepare your senses for a big punch of fruit.  

If that’s for you then you’ll find its sweetness lush and plush. If not, it might be too luxurious and lacking the body to support it.

PROS

  • Smooth and easy to drink
  • A very versatile wine
  • For the money, a good value varietal Zin

CONS

  • Metallic aftertaste
  • Quite acidic and not enough depth

3. Bedrock Heritage Proprietary Red 2017

Bedrock Heritage Proprietary Red 2017

Product Highlights

Only 750 cases were made of this powerful 55% Zinfandel blend, at the still family-owned Bedrock vineyard. Aged in French oak casks, 40% of which were new, you wouldn’t describe this as a delicate red. For sure, it’s one to hold onto or a few years so that its dark and earthy characteristics can mature and integrate.  

When the finally arrives, in 5 or 6 years, pair with barbecued hamburgers, steaks, pork loins, or perhaps with some spicy Mexican. But, more than anything, enjoy. It would’ve been worth the wait!

Features 

  • Variety: 55% Zinfandel, 15% Carignane, 10% Mataro, and 20% Syrah, Alicante, Trousseau Noir, Mission, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Sonoma, North Coast, California
  • Winery: Bedrock
  • Alcohol: 14.6%
  • Bottle Size: 750 ml 

What We Like About Bedrock Heritage Proprietary Red 2017

A truly great blend. Rich and smooth, it transitions from fruit to spice with an extremely long finish.

Not just powerful, there’s more than adequate finesse there too. As well as big and bold blackberry and other dark and red fruits, we detected the zest of citrus, the cream of vanilla, the spice of black pepper, and the smoke of tobacco. 

Opaque dark red in the glass. Super long and dense on the palate. The tannins are dense yet still soft. And with a very very long aftertaste. It’s a Zinfandel to rave about. 

What We Don’t Like About Bedrock Heritage Proprietary Red 2017

Don’t forget that it’s a bottle of field blend so it contains more tannic than that of varietal Zin. Lighter than you may expect too. 

It’s a wine that you have to time right for how long to hold and when to drink. And that’s never easy. 

PROS

  • 95 points Wine Spectator 
  • Has some great notes on the nose
  • Eye-opening. Don’t miss it!

CONS

  • Too many varieties of grape in the blend 
  • A vague, tasty mid-palate, but not a lot else going on

4. Rodney Strong Upshot Red Blend 2016

Rodney Strong Upshot Red Blend 2016

Product Highlights

This is an unusual but still delicious blend of five different varietals. It’s no surprise that Rodney Strong is a past winner of Wine Enthusiast’s American Winery of the Year and that Vivino rates the 2017 vintage as among the top 3% of wines in the World.

With an impressive body of luscious dark fruit, bright tannins, and a lively balance, it goes wonderfully with spaghetti and meatballs, or other rich and meaty ragu and pasta. Also with grilled lamb chops and burgers.

Features 

  • Variety: 44% Zinfandel, 29% Merlot, 15% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Riesling, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Sonoma County, California
  • Winery: Rodney Strong
  • Alcohol: 14.5%
  • Bottle Size: 750 ml 

What We Like About Rodney Strong Upshot Red Blend 2016

With grapes exclusively from vineyards in Sonoma County, mainly Alexander Valley and Knights Valley, this blends flavorful yet diverse grapes for a nuanced and unique red. 

Rich but still agile, it’s packed with blackberry and dark cherries, hints of vanilla and tobacco, and of course the oakiness of its casks. This is by rounded tannins, lush and luxurious, that lead to a nice lingering finish.

The Zinfandel foundation is softened by Merlot, deepened by Malbec, complicated by Petite Verdot, and buoyed by floral Riesling. It’s a celebration of the growing season and winemaking process. 

What We Don’t Like About Rodney Strong Upshot Red Blend 2016

This blend won’t be for all, however, and some may find it too bitter for a Zin blend.

Really, it depends if you also like Merlot and Malbec.

PROS

  • A lovely blend that goes with a variety of food
  • Light on the fruit for a Zin, but altogether still wonderful 
  • Surprisingly splendid, full-bodied Cali red blend of Zin, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Riesling!?

CONS

  • Don’t believe the hype of this one on the price!
  • Vastly overrated

5. Dueling Pistols Dry Creek Valley Red Blend 2016

Dueling Pistols Dry Creek Valley Red Blend 2016

Product Highlights

Dueling Pistols Wines include two wines from two Californian appellations, Dry Creek Valley and Paso Robles, for unique 50/50 blends that represent their regions.

The name comes from the suggestion from the winemaker that “since dueling is no longer socially acceptable, we suggest solving problems over a glass of this ‘duel of dual’ Zinfandel and Syrah. The result matches this combination of the serious and the playful.

Aged 15 months in 20% new American and Hungarian oak cask barrels, for a mature wine with bright jammy aromas, big dark fruit flavors, balanced by pinches of spice and effervescent acidity.

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Features 

  • Variety: 50% Syrah, 50% Zinfandel, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Dry Creek Valley, California
  • Winery: Dueling Pistols
  • Alcohol: 15%
  • Bottle Size: 750 ml 

What We Like About Dueling Pistols Dry Creek Valley Red Blend 2016

Dry, medium-full body. The dark maroon color has the legs for a long finish. Blackberry, cherry, blackcurrant, mushroom, black pepper, and cedar on the nose.

The juicy entrance leads to a density of middling. Sublime tannins that are elegantly integrated. Complex black fruit flavors led by blackberry, ripe black plum, with a hint of the red of raspberry, and then developing clove, smokey tobacco & oak, and a spicy chocolate vanilla finish. 

The finish is long, balanced, and filled with mouth-coating. Simply fantastic!

What We Don’t Like About Dueling Pistols Dry Creek Valley Red Blend 2016

Not too much! What’s there not to like? As we’re reviewing Zins, maybe, it’s a touch too dry. But that’s pretty much it.

PROS

  • Fruit forward, great balance, unbelievable value
  • Fabulous Dry Creek Valley red blend
  • Deep rich color and plenty of spice

CONS

  • Too much vanilla
  • Burns a little going down from the smokiness 

6. Z Alexander Brown Uncaged Red Blend 2017

Z. Alexander Brown Uncaged Red Blend 2017

Product Highlights

We love the story behind this offering from the winery of GRAMMY Award-winning artist Zac Brown. His move into wine-making is an extension of his creative freedom, and passion to bring people together; originally through music, and now through food and wine. 

He chose the owl that decorates the bottle as it’s considered to be a guardian of the vine, with a lifelong connection to the land, which it is said only flies free when the grapes are harvested. It provides a powerful symbol, of the tradition and stewardship of the vines, with the flight to somewhere new, that this palate-provoking wine rooted in the heart of California wine country evokes.

Features 

  • Variety: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Napa Valley, California
  • Winery: Jamieson Ranch Vineyards
  • Alcohol: 14.5%
  • Bottle Size: 750 ml 

What We Like About Z Alexander Brown Uncaged Red Blend 2017

With a dark garnet color in the glass, blueberry, caramel, and toasted oak aromas succumb to the concentrated layers of taste. We detected dark fruit, black cherry, clove, smoky charcoal, and milky chocolate filling the palate.  Full-bodied, strong and complex, with moderate tannins, its ample mid-palate leads to a smoother and rounder finish for a lasting impression. 

An Editors’ Choice of Wine Enthusiast, with 90 points, it’s also been named among the top 2% of all wines in the world by Vivino. 

What We Don’t Like About Z Alexander Brown Uncaged Red Blend 2017

That finish has provoked debate amongst wine lovers, with some considering it too rough. 

Others have commented that overall, it’s dry and chalky, with not enough fruit but too much licorice coming through.

PROS

  • Bold and rich
  • Everything that a great Zin blend should be 
  • Paired very well with pasta and meat sauce

CONS

  • Too sweet, as if jam had been added to it 
  • Overly acidic

7. Limerick Lane Russian River Valley Zinfandel 2016

Limerick Lane Russian River Valley Zinfandel 2016

Product Highlights

The Napa Valley is producing decreasing varietal Zinfandels, and it seems like much of its very best are only easily available within The Golden State. 

Limerick Lane winery’s Russian River Valley vineyards have an especially small output. So, you’ll feel like an early prospector who’s struck gold if you can get your hands on, your nose over, and your mouth full of this 2016 Limerick Lane. Less than 1000 bottles were produced. 

Features 

  • Variety: Zinfandel, Californian Red
  • Appellation: Sonoma, North Coast
  • Winery: Limerick Lane
  • Alcohol: 14.8%
  • Bottle: 750 ml 

What We Like About Limerick Lane Russian River Valley Zinfandel 2016

If you are lucky enough to get your hands on one, you’ll find a Zinfandel bursting with the thick and powerful fruit that these vineyards are known for. It’s a beautiful and complex wine. Serious and brooding, yet also with no little finesse. 

It’ll be hard but resist the temptation to drink it now. Try to put it away, in the correct conditions of course, until at least 2022. Then it should be in its prime to enjoy with sticky baby back ribs, tangy duck, minted lamb, or flame-grilled steak.

Read Related Topic: Best Montepulciano Wine

What We Don’t Like About Limerick Lane Russian River Valley Zinfandel 2016

Compared to Sonoma’s Cabernet, this Zinfandel is perhaps a little overly tart and spicy. 

Also, lacking some of the depth, dimensions, and thickness in the mouth of that other local varietal. 

PROS

  • Dark fruit, licorice, and a lingering flavor
  • A Friday date night special!
  • An incredible example for the money, it offers amazing value

CONS

  • Very disappointing
  • Nothing to write home about

FINAL VERDICT 

As we discovered, and we’ve shown, today’s Californian Zinfandel wine is incomparable to that of old. If you were previously put off, why not try again?

You’ll find both varietal wines, and blends, that are still fruity and sweet, but with added spice and smokiness. An offering of sometimes unorthodox and often different flavors. Complex yet accessible wines, with versatility for a range of foods and occasions, that provide good value for money. 

To make a call on which we believe to be the best is extremely tough, but if we could only drink one for the rest of our lives it would have to be  Bedrock Heritage Proprietary Red 2017.

But for sure consider all of the above and make your own judgment. We believe that you’ll be suitably rewarded.

Best Zinfandel Wine for 2021 [Our Reviews and Comparisons]

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