Blessed are the wine tasters who just want to head directly to the best Sonoma County wineries for Zinfandel, for they are in the right place.
Zinfandel has been called “America’s heritage grape,” and Sonoma County is where it all began — sort of. The story of Zin in America is a long and tangled one, but suffice it to say that many of Zinfandel’s top producers and historic vineyards can be found in Sonoma County. Find them in these key regions:
Zinfandel Roots: Sonoma Valley
Zinfandel was one of the first higher-quality grapes to supplant the old Spanish Mission grape in California, and it was praised as making a fine “claret” in the mid-nineteenth century.
Founder Agoston Haraszthy was once called the father of Zinfandel — more on account of his son’s lobbying efforts than fact. Nevertheless, this historic Sonoma winery is a fine place to start. It offers several locally sourced Zinfandels, and the current winemaker has a deft hand with the varietal. 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, 707-926-1266
No Zinfandel tour is complete without a drop-in at the new church of Zin. New, because Ravenswood spearheaded a movement to reclaim Zinfandel’s status as fine wine, albeit a fun wine, after its reputation slumped in the mid-twentieth century. Tucked into the hills just north of the City of Sonoma, around the corner from Sebastiani, the tasting room is a fun spot with good energy, and many of the winery’s single-vineyard classics like Old Hill are still on offer. 18701 Gehricke Road, Sonoma, 707-933-2332
In Glen Ellen, this winery is worth a look for its proximity to historic Zin vineyards like Bedrock, and because it is surrounded by old vines that contribute to an old-vine estate Zinfandel. 777 Madrone Road, Sonoma, 707-939-4500
Further up valley, Kenwood’s St. Francis always offers a few Zinfandels, and is a stalwart in the category—besides offering a very fancy wine and food pairing experience.
100 Pythian Road, Santa Rosa, 888-675-9463
Zinfandel: The Original Russian River Valley Wine
Vineyard-planting booms of the 1880s and early twentieth century ended with Zinfandel covering many acres in the middle of Sonoma County, where Pinot Noir would later become popular. The surviving old vines, as well as a few newer plantings, demonstrate that the enthusiasm was warranted.
Olivet Road Cluster
Apropos, DeLoach offers a “Forgotten Vines” Zinfandel made from old-vine Sonoma County grapes. This Burgundian-oriented Russian River Valley winery, located on a sort of benchland area above the Laguna de Santa Rosa, retains a commendable commitment to the old vines of this rare “sweet spot” for Zin. 1791 Olivet Road, Santa Rosa, 707-755-3300
There are those who complain that Zinfandel is too “jammy,” too high in alcohol and too brash — send them to this little family-owned winery, just down Olivet Road from DeLoach. Here the emphasis is on Zin’s subtle, floral, sweetly fruity expressions without the extra heat, alcohol, or residual sugar. That being said — iconoclastic winemaker Randy Pitts says a new “monster Zin” version is on the way. 2192 Olivet Road, Santa Rosa, 707-573-8711
Russian River Area
Better known for their Pinot Noir, Swan has stuck with their original wine, Zinfandel, first released with the 1968 vintage. This is another “pilgrimage” spot for Zin fans: Ravenswood winemaker Joel Peterson got his start here. 2916 Laguna Road, Forestville, 707-573-3747
This gracious Jackson family-owned estate on Martinelli Road, which makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, may seem off the beaten path of Zin, but is worth a look for serious Zin fans. They make old-vine Zinfandels that score highly with the critics, from vineyards in the aforementioned “sweet spot” for Zin. 8075 Martinelli Road, Forestville, 707-887-8011
Intensity is the word at this well-known, family-owned winery, from the folks that supply a lot of top Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to other wineries, as well. Their Jackass Hill Zinfandel is legendary, and estate “Vigneto di Evo” is an unapologetic fruit bomb. 3360 River Road, Windsor, 707-525-0570
Zinfandel Zentral: Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley
Many visitors associate Dry Creek Valley with Zinfandel. Yet at one time, the grape competed with prunes for a grower’s bottom line. Today, there are new vineyards planted in the old fashion in Dry Creek Valley and to the north, in warm Alexander Valley.
Located on a leafy street in the city of Healdsburg, Seghesio is known by diners around Sonoma County as a reliable producer of well-rounded, food-friendly Zinfandel. They’ve also got a Monte Rosso Zin—from Sonoma Valley! 700 Grove St., Healdsburg, 707-433-3579
Known for their trio of “Temptation,” “Sin Zin,” and “Redemption” wines, the family-owned AVV also offers a sweet, late-harvest Zin called “Salvation.” 8644 Highway 128, Healdsburg, 707-433-7209
Also try these Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley wineries for classic examples of the area’s Zinfandel:
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.