I have trouble keeping track if zinfandel is terribly uncool or totally hip again, and honestly, it doesn't really matter that much either way. It's a wine that many folks reach for when Thanksgiving comes around, and a good juicy zin can be delicious alongside turkey with the works. We tasted through a wide range of zinfandels to choose a dozen winners for your holiday table.
Before we get to those, though, a few recommendations from taste-tests past. A few zinfandels won spaces in the Serious Eats Budget Red Wine Hall of Fame (which is a list worth looking at again if you're hosting a big group this year.) For $13, it's hard to beat Sobon Estate 2010 Old Vines Zinfandel Amador County. Our wine columnist Seema Gunda also rounded up a few affordable favorites over here.
But if you're a guest this Thanksgiving and you're looking for a really nice bottle to bring to your Zinfandel-loving host, read on below.
We've long been fans of the zinfandels from biodynamic Quivira Vineyards & Winery. Their 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel sells for $22 and offers nicely balanced tart cranberry fruit, spiced lightly with oak. (They mix the zin with 14% Carignane, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Syrah, and 1% Petite Sirah.) It tastes delightfully of juicy raspberries, brambles, and cinnamon sticks. It's fresh and drinkable, with a festive side that had us reaching for another serving of sage-spiced stuffing. Their single-vineyard 2010 Flight Zinfandel is 100% zinfandel, fermented with native yeast. The wine is focused and lovely, with layers of earth and velvety plums, spiced with hints of anise and displaying fine, dusty tannins. If you've never seen Zinfandel's elegant side, this is a wine that will show you, but it's pricey at $38.
Dashe Cellars makes a few different Zinfandels so you can explore the possible range of styles. 2010 Dashe Cellars Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($24) bursts with fresh black cherries, brightened with nice tart acidity. It's mushroom, herb, and dark-meat friendly. We also always enjoy Dashe's earthier 'Les Enfants Terribles' bottling, which we wrote about a few years back.
MYV Minassian Young Vineyard Estate Zinfandel 2010, from the west side of Paso Robles, California, 15.4% ABV. This dry-farmed zin shows rich blueberry-juice flavors propped up with gently sweet new French oak. The baked blueberry-pie quality would be lovely with mushroom-studded stuffing. Do you roast a goose instead of a turkey? Even better. MYV also makes a smaller production '1000 Vines Zinfandel' that's partially aged in Hungarian oak. It has brighter, fresher fruit—more black cherry than blueberry—and a bit more focus—if you can find it, buy a few bottles for Thanksgiving and save some for a seared duck breast dinner. Both wines are $25.
J. Lohr's 2009 Gesture Zinfandel retains very nice tart acids, which brighten the fruit, bringing out a cranberry-raspberry relish side that feels fresh, especially when served with a slight chill. (It's fine without it if you don't have room in the fridge.) It sells for $25.
Eberle 2009 Paso Robles Zinfandel ($26) offers a generous portion of pepper with its full glass of raspberries and blueberries. This juicy wine comes across friendly and plush, spiced with vanilla and cinnamon but brightened with acid and grounded with chewy tannin. There's nothing shy about this wine, but it's likely to keep nearly everyone happy.
Ranchita Canyon 2008 Zinfandel ($28) from Paso Robles is a big wine, for sure, at 14.8% ABV, but it drew us in with its deep cranberry and currant-jelly flavor, which is emphasized with a slight chill. There's a lot of new oak on the finish—think chomping on cinnamon sticks—but the silky fruit won us over. If 'jammy' is a good thing to you, this one will please.
Thacher 2009 Zinfandel, also from Paso Robles, has a lovely peppery, pencil-lead side, like blackberry seeds and graphite alongside the fresh red currant and cherry fruit. This wine will cut through the richness of gravy and mashed potatoes—throw some fried shallots on top and you're golden. (This would also be lovely with a pork loin, if you skew non-traditional.) Thacher also makes a Triumvirate Reserve Zin selected from Bailey Ranch, Je T'aime Vineyard and Will's Hills Vineyards on the west side of Paso that has more generous, full fruit and a rich silky texture. The jammier wine sells for around $35, while the 2009 Zinfandel is $29.
Our final zinfandel choice isn't completely zin, but it is completely good for the Thanksgiving meal. Owen Roe 2011 Abbot's Table is 45% Zinfandel, mixed with Sangiovese, Blaufränkisch, plus a little Merlot and Malbec, all from Yakima Valley fruit. It's dry and bright, just 13% alcohol and full of pepper-sprinkled strawberry flavors. Pick up a bottle for around $24.
Do you have a zinfandel you're planning to pour this Thanksgiving? Favorite bottles to recommend? Let us know in the comments below.
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All wines were provided as samples for review consideration.