“Original all American wine!”.  “Pride of California!”.  “Bold and not for the faint hearted…”.  “What are you doing lurking around my website?”

Encouraged by various American correspondents, I promised to try a Californian Zinfandel.  I had only stopped at Sainsbury’s Supermarket for 568ml of milk (remember pints?) but where there’s a wine stand, there’s a wino.

Apart from the ubiquitous Gallo, the only “Zin” I could find was Ravenswood Lodi 2004 Old Vines Zinfandel.  At £8.49 it is one of the most expensive wines at this supermarket but I figured it had to be worth the extra.

Ravenswood “Zin” next to a Lancashire County Cricket Club umbrella (well it is summer!)

When I opened the bottle I nearly gagged.  Blackcurrant jam and bramble jelly to the extreme.  The flavour was heavily oaked, with some plum crumble but mostly just like eating jam - blackcurrant thought I.  When I got my head together I decided the first glass was not too bad.  Far from subtle but fruity, interesting and strong.

But it went downhill from there.  My fear of new world “blockbuster” wines is that they show off too much oak, too much alcohol, too much jam and the subtlety of a brick in the face.  This wine lived up to my every expectation.  One glass wonder.

On this evidence I am forced to conclude that either the Californians keep all the best Zins to themselves, or that the wine does not travel the Atlantic well.  But I refuse to give up.  I tried olives almost every month until I was 38 before I finally found one I liked.  Now I love them all.  So maybe it’s just a matter of time and if at first you don’t suck seed, try the grape again…

9 Responses to “Zin…bad”

  1. Stacy Nelson Says:

    I’m so proud of you. Too bad about that big oak. That really is one of the things I dislike most about our California wines. Seems that the more oak the better which is, well, YUCK!.

    Keep going though. A good Zin should be jammy with a spicy finish, not a log in your teeth. I am proud of our Zinfandels but like anything, not all are created equal. It’s going to be difficult for you to find anything because we do drink it all here. It’s a secret pact that keeps the rest of the world in an ignorant bliss….

  2. Anonymous Says:


    Bathgate takes a jab at California’s lauded grape!…

  3. Joel Says:

    You’re going to take Ravenswood and hold it up as an example of a good CA Zin? RW hasn’t made a good Zin in about 5+ years. I think even if it travelled well you may not be too excited. Another big brand that may be over there is Rosenblum. They specialize in Zin and a couple of specific vineyard are really outstanding (some are just way too hot). a few years ago I would say “get Rosenblum, its the gold standard”, but they’ve since scaled they’re operation up to many thousands of cases so you need to watch the vineyard.

  4. Alastair Bathgate Says:

    Thanks Joel
    I was hoping to provoke a suggestion or two of where to find a good CA Zin (available in the UK of course…..)

  5. winebroad Says:

    People just love that jam-o-rama Zin thing here in California, but it’s just too much for me most of the time. (Try going to the annual ZAP tasting: 3 pavilions of nothing but Zin at 15%-plus alcohol!) I wouldn’t bother with the Rosenblum–yes, it’s highly rated and well loved by many, but it’s also the epitome of that blockbuster jammy style you loathe. (Nice for dessert, but not so great otherwise.) It’s damned difficult to find a more reserved style of Zin, but I’d start with Ridge.

  6. el jefe Says:

    Persevere. Zinfandel has been a real challenge the past few years. Even Ridge has gone astray, but they seem to be coming back. Hopefully the fruity and peppery Zin I fell in love with years ago is returning. In the meantime, get ye some Tempranillo…:)

  7. Ms. Q Says:

    OOch! If I see “Lodi” and “old vine” when it comes to Zins, I generally like ’em. However, I do know what you mean by jammy. The Old Vine Zins are generally heavy and high alcohol and actually good for “beginner” wine drinkers in that they are on the sweet side, sometimes almost a dessert wine!

    The Ravenswood 2003 Lodi Zin won a double gold medal. I have their 2002 Sonoma County Zin – I think that got a good rating somewhere…

    I have tried a Rosenblum and it was super-charged on the alcohol rating and I didn’t like it.

    Another county I like for Zins is Amador. Montevina winery produces some lovely and affordable reds – I love their Barbera. I still have some of their Amador Zins before that became their pricier vineyard. Now their lower-cost Zin is produced out of the Sierra Foothills I think it is.

    Yes, I am a California wine fan but I have heard about over-oaking. I wish I knew the Oregon wines better but feel like I’m just totally guessing.

    Oh, I’ve read that every state in the US produces a wine. If I can, I do try to get a local wine. Just to see. Michigan – PASS. Scary. Texas? I had a decent one. Can’t recall what it was but it was decent.

  8. Confessions of a Wino » Blog Archive » Zin between Says:

    […] You may recall the last time I tried a Zinfandel, it was awful. […]

  9. Golly Says:

    Eeek, that sounds grim. I tend only to drink Zin’s in the US, most wine tastes better close to its home. If I feel yearnings here I opt for an Italian Primitvo, pehaps not fabulous wines, but certainly much more quality for your Sterling than anything shipped from California.

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