My Love Affair with Zinfandel…

May 1, 2015

Where do you start when describing a love affair that started almost 40 years ago and changed your life forever; I suppose at the beginning. The year was 1978 and I was 23 staring at the wine selection at K&L Liquors in Millbrae California which at this time was 3 by 5 feet in size and today features over 4000 wines to choose from. The previous week one of the employees and I decided that we would explore this “wine thing” and that we would buy one bottle every Friday night and taste it in the parking lot.

Wine was definitely not the rage back then and most wines were consumed in huge 4.0 liter bottles we called jug wines. Our venture into wines bottled in .750ml started with white wines like Wente Grey Riesling and Charles Krug Chenin Blanc and they were interesting but we soon moved to the King of Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted now legendary wines like 1974 & 1975 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet and 1974 & 1975 Sterling Vineyards Cabernet and they were great wines that went into our newly founded, little wine collections; of which mine now includes over 2000 bottles. Just when we thought wine could not possibly get any better; K&L owner Clyde Beffa pointed to a wine with a black label and said be sure to try this Zinfandel. 

The wine was 1974 Sutter Home Zinfandel and I was just blown away and it became the wine that completely hooked me on wine forever. I could not believe how much sweet, deeply flavored, ripe, masculine fruit was in this wine that actually was not sweet and finished dry! I knew right away that I liked it far more than Cabernet Sauvignon. Spending $10 for a bottle of wine was huge money in those days but I could not stay away and I had to have a Zinfandel every Friday night with my BBQ ribs that I cooked on a small hibachi grill on the rooftop of my apartment building on Nob Hill in San Francisco. The BBQ on the roof was surely not legal, but the marriage of the ribs and the Zinfandel was out of this world!

I was soon crazy for Zinfandel and was collecting and drinking all the best, wines like Ridge and Ravenswood who sourced grapes from old vineyards planted by Italian families in Sonoma, ancient vines as well as Bob Lamborn’s Zinfandel planted 1600 feet above the Napa Valley floor.

I am extremely proud to tell you that when PrimeCellar was just starting, I told the owner that I was absolutely sure that the very best red wine to complement Asian cuisine was indeed Zinfandel.  This was not music to her ears; I wanted her to by Zinfandel and she, rightfully so said we have to get people drinking Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay first. I gently pressed on, telling her that it would take some time for our customers to understand the greatness of Zinfandel, but in the end the wine always speaks volumes and I was sure our customers would come to love Zinfandel. Lucky for me she had some faith in me and bought some Zinfandels that are now some of our top selling wines.

Kokomo Winery is located in the Dry Creek Valley which is famous for its many old vine Zinfandel producers and vineyards, some over 100 years old. Winemaker Eric Miller’s Zinfandel is loaded with bright raspberry fruit, nice spice, and great freshness and sells out every year!

Mike Kumellis winemaker at Mantra Vineyards makes his Zinfandel in the Alexander Valley about 10 miles east where the weather is a bit warmer and a bit farther away from the coastal influence. Mike’s old vine  Zin’s are a deeper bolder expression with lots of silky , black cherry fruit and just delicious! Mike also makes Mobius, a Zinfandel that is made in an easy-fruity, drink me right now style, perfect for large events!

The #1 reason for Lamborn Vineyards being in our PrimeCellar portfolio came from a customer at my day job asking me asking me if we carried the wine, I said we did not but they sure as heck made great Zinfandel in 1980’s!! He told me Lamborn was making very good wine again; I went up Howell Mountain to check them out and visit Mike (Bob’s son) and Terry Lamborn and the rest is history!


The world famous winemaker Heidi Barrett makes the Lamborn wines and it screams of mountain fruit. Great aromas and freshness from the red volcanic soil lead to a much firmer-tighter-stronger expression of Zinfandel, with striking aromas of zesty red cherry fruit. This wine can stand up to any rich or spicy dish!

The tremendous versatility of Zinfandel with food and overall great taste has made Zinfandel some of our top selling wines. I am still very much in love with Zinfandel today and I hope you will be too!

Cheers to you and Zinfandel !


Ralph Sands

Prime Cellar Consultant

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