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Larry Turley, considered by many to be the most prolific winemaker of Zinfandel in California, addresses a Zinfandel Advocates & Producers gathering. Courtesy photo
ColumnsTaste of Wine

Taste of Wine: The radical romance of Zinfandel

This month Zinfandel wineries are celebrating their story in California and urging consumers to try it, you’ll like it. Zin lovers are probably laughing to themselves along with others who know better. This wine has been and is the real stuff: a jammy, briary, mouthwatering, big-fruit wine that you either love like no other, or like some, turn your back on the musclebound, high-alcohol slug of a wine.

Love it or leave it, there is no middle ground with Zinfandel. I mean, even their official association is called ZAP!

Another quirky truism is that the best Zin varietals come from old, beat up, cranky, gnarly, twisted vines with low productivity that winemakers constantly graft on to young puppy Zin vines, to give them some discipline.

Another curious story about Zinfandel is when it came to the rescue of a young winemaker named Dave Phinney, who in the ’90s needed a shot in the arm of his latest dull blend called The Prisoner. That shot was Zinfandel. It became the shot heard round the world and freed The Prisoner for huge profits.

Larry Turley makes 47 wines, almost all are Zinfandels, from over 50 vineyards, mostly in Paso Robles and Amador County. He focuses on old vine vineyards. “All of our wines are either certified organic or in the process,” he pointed out. “We aim to be stewards of some of California’s most historic vineyards, producing distinctive Zins that reflect their heritage.”

Zinfandel would not have had a heritage had it not been for winemaker Mike Grgich, the 90-something Croatian who came to California in 1958 and was made famous when his Chardonnay bested the best of French Chardonnay at the “Judgement of Paris” competition in 1976. He recognized that the vine that winemakers called Zinfandel was really vine cuttings from Croatia named Plavac Mali.

But even he, with over 30 acres of these vines at his Calistoga ranch, still calls his taste-popping alcoholic wine Zinfandel.

Up to the late ’90s Zinfandel was the largest selling “Red” in California before giving way to Cabernet Sauvignon. There has been a resurgence of the grape and nowadays the top wineries include:

  • Carol Shelton, Mendocino County Wild Thing Old Vine Zin, 2018 ($19)
  • Grgich Hills, Rutherford Napa Valley Zin ($36)
  • Opolo Mountain Zin, Paso Robles ($23)
  • Rombauer, St Helena Napa Valley Zin ($35)
  • Seghesio Winery, Sonoma, Dry Creek Valley Cortina Zin ($40)
  • Turley Wine Cellars, Paso Robles, Ueberroth Zin 2017 ($48)

For more, visit

Buy wine by the 6-pack and save big at PAON

For the past four years, Kate Edgecombe took charge of the wine program at PAON, Carlsbad’s upscale restaurant, wine bar and bistro. She grew as she learned, and recently moved on to be the Corporate Buyer for Keg N Bottle, with 10 locations throughout San Diego.

It was a perfect time for PAON Managing Partner Steve Barr and General Manager Dave Thomas to make a major move in the sales of premium wine to their customers. It’s well known that PAON has one of the highest quality ratings from the world’s highest circulated wine magazine, Wine Spectator.

The first thing they did was bring on board Dave Andersson, C.C.S. Certified Sommelier to manage their wholesale wine program, called Peacock Selection Wine of the Week, with fabulous brands offered at wholesale prices purchased by customers in six-packs or by the case.

Call the restaurant and ask for Steve or Dave to receive the weekly emails for each “Peacock” wine selection at 760-729-7377.

Wine bytes

  • Lorimar Winery and Vineyard in Temecula has been on a tear with bright new live music groups. The latest is live music from Those Guys, Friday, Nov. 20 from 6 to 9 p.m. Admission is free and food and wine are available for purchase. Those Guys are a four-piece cover band that plays all kind of genres and will get you singing, dancing and having a great time. For details, visit
  • Thanksgiving traditions are featured at the Westgate Hotel downtown on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26. Seating begins at 11 a.m. for their four-course Prix Fixe Menu for $79 each. A Thanksgiving Family Dinner to-go two-person dinner is $90. Call 619-238-1818 for details.
  • Chandler’s Oceanfront Dining in Carlsbad along the Coast Highway has live music outside on Sundays from 5 to 7 p.m. On Nov. 22 and 29, it’s Alex Elisabeth. Grab some friends for good eats and drinks, at Chandler’s, the Cape Rey Resort. Details at 760-683-5500.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Reach him at [email protected]