California Zinfandel 2020

California Zinfandel - 2020

The Fifty Best California Zinfandel Tasting of 2020


The Tasting:
The Fifty Best held a “blind” tasting of 17 recent release California Zinfandels with 10 members of our wine judging panel. The order of service was established beforehand by lottery. Strict tasting rules were applied. Each of the wines were poured into fresh wine glasses from new sealed bottles and served at room temperature. Only ice water and white peasant bread were available to cleanse the palate.

The judges wrote down their impressions of each wine on score sheets. The scoring was done on a 5-point system, with 5 as the best. Double-Gold, Gold, Silver and Bronze medals are awarded based on a set range of final point scores received from the judges.

The tasting notes that follow are summaries of the judges’ opinions, with all replicated commentary eliminated. The appelations are identified for each brand. Prices indicated do not include tax. Clicking on the brands' names will link to their websites.


J Dusi 2018 Zinfandel
Dante Dusi Vineyard

(Paso Robles) $42

Following harvest and fermentation, this wine was aged in a combination of French oak (80%) and American oak (20%) for 16 months before bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, black cherry, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, black currant, sarsaparilla root, chocolate, tobacco, mild bay leaf, oak.
Palate: Black cherry, blackberry, black currant, cassis, lime, vanilla, licorice, basil, cardamom, clove, baking spices, black pepper, balanced herbaceousness, high minerality, earthy, smoky.
Finish: Plum, cinnamon, wet stone, herb integrated tannins, balanced oak, well balanced, refined, elegant.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

J Dusi Zinfandel Dante Dusi Vineyard


Harney Lane Winery 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel
Lizzy James Vineyard

(Lodi) $36

Produced from Zinfandel grapes grown on a 100+ year-old vineyard in the Makelumme River area, this wine was aged for 20 months in French oak prior to bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, smoky cherry, raspberry, blackberry, rich ripe plums, jammy, black currant, mountain fruit, figs, cocoa, black pepper, earthy, pleasant.
Palate: Cassis, cherry, sour cherry, jammy raspberry, boysenberry, blackberry, black currant, bright citrus, tart apples, spicy, tobacco, smoky, high acid, rich.
Finish: Blackberry, jammy, dried fruit, grass, dried herbs, dusty cocoa, tobacco, nice balance of wood, soft tannins, pleasant.

Double Gold Medal
Double Gold medal

Harney Lane Winery Old Vine Zinfandel Lizzy James Vineyard


Pedroncelli 2018 Mother Clone Zinfandel
(Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County) $17

This wine was made from 90% hand-picked Zinfandel grapes that were fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and then aged for 12 months in American Oak barrels – with the addition of 10% of wine made from Petite Sirah, before bottling.

Aroma: Plum, blackberry, black currants, dried fig, cola, violets, tobacco, leather, limestone, big smoke, wood, complex.
Palate: : Cherry, plum, purple plum, raspberry, blackberry, black currant, cranberry, jammy, licorice, tobacco, earthy, smoky, balanced, complex, rich, bold.
Finish: Ripe cherry, red fruit, cloves, tobacco, wet stone, soft round tannin, rich, beautiful finish.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel

Lorenzi Estate 2016 Zinfandel Reserve
(Temecula Valley) $65

Following harvest, this wine was fermented and aged in French oak barrels (70% new) for 34 months and then bottle aged for one year prior to release.

Aroma: Dark chocolate, dark cherry, fresh young cherry, strawberry, blackberry, appealing bright fruit, rose, violet, mint, menthol, clove, nutmeg, white pepper, light sawdust, wood barrel, cherry smoke.
Palate: Cherry, bramble fruit, black plum, jammy, night-blooming jasmine, eucalyptus, menthol, spice, pepper, tobacco, oak, cedar, lots of tannins, punchy, easy drinking, will age well.
Finish: Deep plum, sweet cherry, cranberry, light berry, juicy, mint, menthol, cloves, licorice, oak, elegant wood notes, full mouthfeel, tannic, rich, complex.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Lorenzi Estate Zinfandel Reserve

Frey Umbra 2015 Zinfandel
(Mendocino County)   Organic   $20

Following harvest the grapes for this wine were fermented in stainless steel tanks and before bottling the wine was aged in stainless steel tanks for 20 months with the addition of toasted oak chips.

Aroma: Black cherry, cranberry, plum, dried plums, cassis, dried fig, dried apricot, orange marmalade, licorice, cloves, spicy, leather, stony, minerality, tannin, smoky, complex.
Palate: Cherry, tart cherry, black currants, concentrated black plums, cranberry, rich fruit, candied dark fruit, raisin, vanilla, cola nut, herbs, cloves, black pepper, tobacco, leather, earthy, nice tannins.
Finish: Lingering cherry, boysenberry, prune, dried fruit, herbaceous, basil, sage, pepper, red earth, earthy, smoky, tannins, acidic, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Frey Umbra Zinfandel


McManis Family Vineyards 2018 Zinfandel
(California)   Certified Sustainable

This wine was made predominantly from Zinfandel grapes grown in Lodi that were fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged for 4-6 months in a combination of new and used French and American oak, with the addition of some wine from Teroldego and Petite Sirah grapes added before bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, plum, ripe boysenberry, cranberry, dark chocolate, vanilla, licorice, leather, tobacco, clover, complex minerality, earthy, smoke, oak, rich.
Palate: Cherry, black cherry, strong deep cherry, raspberry, red currant, cranberry, plum, fig, jammy, vanilla, exotic spice notes, pepper, tobacco, mossy, minerality, smoke, oak.
Finish: Lingering cherry, black fruit, vanilla, spicy, minerality, wet stone, earthy, light smoke, oak barrel, nice tannin, smooth.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

McManis Family Vineyards Zinfandel

Portalupi 2018 Old Vine Zinfandel
Dolinsek Ranch

(Russian River Valley, Sonoma) $90

This wine was made from Zinfandel grapes harvested from vines that were over 100 years-old. Following fermentation, the wine was aged for 18 months in either new French oak barrels (50%) or 1 year-old American oak barrels (50%) before bottling.

Aroma: Dark cherry, sour cherry, boysenberry, blackberry, blueberry, currants, cassis, plum, dried plums, violets, newly mown grass, cloves, smoke.
Palate: Cherry, lean sour cherry, blackberry, juicy berries, cranberry, currants, plum, rose petals, chocolate, tobacco, leather, smoky, refreshingly dry.
Finish: Cherry, lingering blackberry, vanilla, mint, bay leaf, black graphite, smoky, tannins.

Gold Medal
Gold medal

Portalupi Old Vine Zinfandel Dolinsek Ranch


Chacewater 2016 Zinfandel
Sierra Foothills

(Lake County)   Organic   $28

This wine was made from 85% Zinfandel grapes from the Sierra Foothills and 15% Petite Sirah grapes from Lake County. Following fermentation, the wine was aged in new American oak barrels (36%) or 2 year-old French oak barrels (64%) for 14 months before bottling.

Aroma: Red cherry, black cherry, boysenberry, jammy plum, dark chocolate, vanilla, root beer, eucalyptus, mossy, menthol, clove, white pepper, leather, tobacco, woody.
Palate: Cherry, strawberry, cranberry, vanilla cream, vanilla, spice notes, good acidity, big tannins, complex earthy notes, exotic.
Finish: Cherry, tobacco leaf, smoke, high acid, tannins, smooth, elegant.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Chacewater Zinfandel Sierra Foothills

Joullian Vineyards 2015 Estate Zinfandel
(Carmel Valley) $35

This wine was made from a blend of Zinfandel (90%), Primitivo (5%), Petite Sirah (3%) and a small amount of Aleatico, Alicante, Bouschet, Carignane and Black Grenache grapes. Following fermentation, the wine was aged for 18 months in a combination of new and used French oak barrels before bottling.

Aroma: Dark cherry, ripe black cherry, blackberry, plum, cranberry, dried currant, fig, aronia berries, cola nut, cinnamon, spicy, smoky.
Palate: Cherry, black cherry, blackberry, black plum, red currant, raisin, aronia, black pepper, green stems, earthy, light tobacco, very smoky, oaky, heavy tannins.
Finish: Plum, licorice, black pepper, oak, soft tannins, smooth.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Joullian Vineyards Estate Zinfandel

Leonard 2017 Zinfandel Rustridge Vineyard
(Chiles Valley, Napa Valley) $50

Following harvest from a vineyard in the Chiles Valley appellation, the grapes for this wine were fermented and aged in barrels for 16 months.

Aroma: Cherry, black cherry, blueberries, black currants, plum, peach, apple, red licorice, fresh green grass, black pepper, saline.
Palate: Cherry, Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda, smoky cherry, boysenberry, blackberry, blueberry, cranberry, unripe apricot, vanilla, vanilla cream, sweet tobacco, smoke, good minerality, bright, easy drinking.
Finish: Cherry, pleasant citrus, smoky, oak, high acid, nice tannins, nicely balanced, elegant.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Leonard Zinfandel Rustridge Vineyard

Portalupi 2018 Old Vine Zinfandel
(Russian River Valley, Sonoma County) $52

This wine was produced from Zinfandel grapes grown in sandy, loamy soil, that following fermentation, were aged for 16 months in American oak (40% new, 40% 1 year-old, 20% 2 years-old) before bottling.

Aroma: Black cherry, ripe cherry, dried cherry, raspberry, blackberry, fresh fig, dark chocolate, eucalyptus, potpourri, loamy, earthy, a bit of wood, clean, fresh.
Palate: Cherry, tart cherry, cherry juice, strawberry, raspberry, lingonberry, plum, green apple, vanilla, aronia, herbs, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, tobacco, earthy.
Finish: Cherry, dried cherry, mixed berries, balanced acidity, leather, smoky, elegant smoke, rich.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Portalupi Old Vine Zinfandel

Frey 2018 Zinfandel
(Mendocino County)   Organic   $15

This organically processed wine, fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks with a “touch of oak” (imparted by the introduction of oak staves during aging), contains less than 1 ppm of naturally-occurring sulfite.

Aroma: Black cherry, sweet cherry, boysenberry, blackberry, plum, cranberry, black olive, vanilla, leather, tobacco, granite soil, sea salt.
Palate: Cherry, black cherry, cherry juice, dark plum, vanilla, burnt sugar, mint, clove, herbaceous, leather, tobacco, soft, complex.
Finish: Dried cherry, black pepper, cedar box, high tannins, smooth.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Frey Zinfandel

J Dusi 2017 Zinfandel
Paper Street Vineyards

(Paso Robles) $68

Grapes for this 100% Zinfandel hailed from Willow Creek in the Paso Robles region. Following fermentation, the wine was aged in 100% French oak (30% new) for 18 months before bottling.

Aroma: Black cherry, blackberry, blackberry jam, blueberry, raspberry Jello, currant, tart apple, burnt sugar, burnt leather, smoke, oak.
Palate: Cherry, sour cherry, big blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, plum, Mirabel plums, currants, concentrated red fruits, jammy, vanilla, toast, tobacco leaf, acidic.
Finish: Sour cherry, dark fruits, juicy, jammy, raisin, wet stone, medium acidity, medium tannins, smooth.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

J Dusi Zinfandel Paper Street Vineyards

Lorenzi Estate
2017 Catalyst Reserve Zin Blend

(Temecula Valley) $65

This wine was made from a blend of Zinfandel (65%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%), Syrah (10%) Petite Sirah (7%) and Merlot (3%) grapes that following harvest were fermented in French oak barrels (60% new) for 36 months before bottling.

Aroma: Cherry, strawberry, plum, blackberry, currants, mocha, espresso, vanilla, sweet tobacco, clove, wood, a touch of smoke.
Palate: Sour cherry, tart apple, blackberry, herbaceous, cinnamon, licorice, espresso, black pepper, tobacco, freshly turned soil, earthy, nice tannins, lean, savory.
Finish: Lingering strawberry, fresh grass, basil, sage, tobacco, nice tannins.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Lorenzi Estate Catalyst Reserve Zin Blend

Howell Mountain Vineyards
2016 Old Vine Zinfandel

(Howell Mountain, Napa Valley) $45

Made from Zinfandel grapes grown on 100+ year-old vines, this wine was aged in French oak following fermentation.

Aroma: Sour cherry, dried cherry, boysenberry, blackberry, cassis, raisins, nutty, white pepper, loamy terroir, smoke.
Palate: Cherry, sour cherry, raspberry, blueberry, currants, tart apple, cola nut, vanilla, licorice, acidic, nice tannins, smoke, rich, savory.
Finish: Nice tannins, acidic, tart, tangy.

Silver Medal
Silver medal

Howell Mountain Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel


Scott Harvey 2017 Zinfandel
Mountain Selection

(Amador County) $28

Grapes for this wine (81% Zinfandel and 19% Syrah) were sourced from a combination of 3 Amador County Vineyards (Bowman, York and Chapman). Following fermentation, it was aged for 19 months in French oak prior to bottling.

Aroma: Strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, cranberry, dried currant, dried apricot, dark chocolate, leather, mild cinnamon stick, green olives, cut grass, fresh.
Palate: Blackberry, blueberry, red currant, cranberry, light cherry, vanilla, licorice, mushroom, earthy, slate, stone, soft acid, medium tannins.
Finish: Dried cherry, lingering cherry, juicy, herbaceous, tannic, smoke, easy drinking.

Bronze Medal
Bronze medal

Scott Harvey Zinfandel Mountain Selection

Frey 2017 Biodynamic Zinfandel
(Mendocino)   Organic   $20

Following the harvest of Zinfandel grapes from vineyards on the home ranch and Road D vineyards, this wine was fermented and aged in stainless steel, with the introduction of oak staves during the aging process.

Aroma: Fresh young cherry, blackberry, cranberry, prune juice, cassis, dark raisins, green olive, eucalyptus, fascinating basil, earthy tannin, leather.
Palate: Cherry, tart cherry, ripe strawberry, plum, peach, cranberry, dark raisins, prune, violets, herbs, black licorice, allspice, medium tannins, complex.
Finish: Dark cherry, dried cranberry, licorice, exotic spices, pepper, wet stone, tannins, funky, rich.

Bronze Medal
Bronze medal

Frey Biodynamic Zinfandel




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