The Passion for Zinfandel

October 9, 2017

I’ve been selling wine on the phone all over America for over 30 years now and it is clear that Cabernet Sauvignon is the King of wines and Chardonnay is the Queen, but Zinfandel is definitely the native and favorite son. While people respect Cabernet and Chardonnay and the prices they command, the passion in the voices of the people who buy and love Zinfandel far exceeds both of those pillars of the wine business.


Zin as we call it, was the wine that sent me head over heels in love with wine and it remains my true love to this day. When I started in this business in 1978 I was lucky to find a mentor, who loved wine, and he pointed out that we had one of California’s greatest Zinfandels on the shelf 1974 Sutter Home Zinfandel from the Deaver Vineyard in Amador County. It was very expensive, $10, especially when I was making $3.65 and hour! But the vineyard was planted in 1881 so I just had to taste it. I was blown away at the tremendous fruit! It was so very deep, sweet and seductive, with just a bit of tannin.


At that time I lived in an apartment on Nob Hill in San Francisco and many Saturday nights were spent on the rooftop overlooking the city while cooking on my hibachi and sipping great Zinfandels.


Wines like the 1974 and 1975 Sutter Homes from Deaver, and the 1977 Montevina Special Selection were awesome wines as were the Ridge Zinfandels from Geyserville in Sonoma and their Paso Robles Zin from the Dusi Vineyard. I loved the wines so much that in 1988 I drove 3.5 hours to Paso Robles California for the very first time and my friend took me directly to the Benito Dusi Vineyard so I could walk it.


It was not long after I discovered a Zin from a region of Napa I did not know well; Howell Mountain but I sure liked the Zins made at a place called Lamborn. The Lamborn Zins were different; they featured deep, dark fruit with a more powerful structure and loads of spice and I immediately became a big fan. Those wines were made by Bob Lamborn with the help of the undisputed King of Howell Mountain, Randy Dunn, who almost single handedly made Howell Mountain famous with his Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignons. Little did I know that fate would bring me back to the wines of Lamborn Family some 25 years later. When starting PrimeCellar and looking for clients a customer gave me a tip; check out Lamborn, they are making great wines on Howell Mountain 2000 feet above the valley floor.

As PrimeCellar customers you know that Lamborn Cabernet and Zinfandel are top selling wines for us and that makes perfect sense. Bob’s talented son Mike took over full time in 1996 and he hired a great winemaker, Heidi Barrett of Screaming Eagle fame.


Today the Lamborn Zins still feature the power of the mountain fruit.I tasted these wines side by side. The 2013 Zin is called “The Smile Vintage” reflecting the fantastic weather in 2013 that created one of the greatest vintages ever in California. It is an opulent wine of rich, sweet red fruit but a firm mountain finish. The 2014 is called “The Earthquake Vintage” because of the 6.0 quake that struck on August 24th 2014. The 2014 is very different from the 2013, super high toned, spicy aromatic’s of raspberries and pine trees. Bright and full of zest it is proof that Zinfandel can be powerful and elegant at the same time!


Erik Miller’s wines are always full of ripe, forward fruit and his 2015 Zinfandel from the Dry Creek of Sonoma is a great example of his style.


Absolutely loaded with dark, sweet, silky smooth fruit with flavors of raspberry and blackberry jam. My neighbors next door call it, “love in a glass”.


I taste a few thousand wines a year and many of them are very fine Cabernet Sauvignon blends, but tasting Cabernet is work, tasting Zinfandel is fun! Zinfandel is also one of the world’s most versatile wines and is a natural for spicy dishes, BBQ ribs and sausages, duck and strong cheese.


If you are a big Zinfandel fan like me, treat yourself and come to San Francisco on January 18-20th for the ZAP-Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Tasting Experience. There is also great information on the history of Zin on their website; and remember that November 15th is National Zinfandel Day here in America. Hopefully one day Zin will have its own day in Asia also.


Cheers to you and Zinfandel!



Ralph Sands

Prime Cellar Consultant

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