In Praise of 2019 California Zinfandels

Early returns suggest this is one of the most enjoyable vintages in years

In Praise of 2019 California Zinfandels
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By Tim Fish
Feb 17, 2022

“Yummy” is a great word, but you rarely read it in a tasting note. I hesitate to use it. It seems, I don’t know, amateurish. Yet, in the case of the 2019 California Zinfandels, it’s perfect.

I’ve been tasting a lot of 2019s and I can’t recall a vintage that’s more fun to drink. It’s that rare Zin year that achieves harmony and balance. The 2019s don’t fit into the typical buzz phrases. The wines are fruit-forward but not fruit bombs. They’re ripe but not decadent or burdened with the heat of alcohol. They’re briary but not rustic. The best have a complexity that’s almost too easy to overlook because they’re so, well, yummy!

Winemakers have the 2019 growing season to thank, in part. It was a rainy late winter and spring, with flooding in Sonoma County and beyond. There were periods of heat in late summer—as high as 106° F—which Zin producers don’t mind in short bursts. Most of the Zinfandel was off the vine by the time the Kincade fire started in Northern California in late October.

My first indication that the 2019s were impressive came last summer when I tasted the Bedrock Zins. Morgan Twain-Peterson is typically first out the gate for the leading players. The 2019 Bedrock Pagani Ranch Heritage Sonoma Valley ($50) earned 95 points, with four others—Old Hill, Papera Ranch, Carlisle and his own Bedrock Vineyard—scoring 94.

For anyone who follows Zinfandel, most of your favorite producers thrived in 2019. Seghesio winemaker Andy Robinson is keeping up the Seghesio family tradition of top-notch Zins with the Rockpile and Pagani bottlings (94 points each, $55 and $50, respectively).

Two other Zinfandel veterans made some of their best in years. Ridge harvests Zin from Geyserville to Paso Robles; watch for my soon-to-be-published reviews of the winery’s Lytton Springs and Rockpile bottlings. Nalle, a longtime boutique producer in Dry Creek Valley, has upped its game as second-generation winemaker Andrew Nalle stretches his wings.

My most recent Zinfandel tasting featured three top Sonoma County producers: Limerick Lane, Carlisle and Hartford Family. They represent the cream of the crop, with five bottlings earning classic scores of 95 points; check out the Feb. 9 edition of Insider Weekly for my scores and tasting notes.

The Hartford Family Russian River Valley Hartford Vineyard ($60) is briary and handsome, with cherry and blueberry flavors. Carlisle’s Mancini Ranch and Papera Ranch bottlings ($50 each), also from Russian River Valley, are structured and compelling. Jake Bilbro and his team at Limerick Lane tamed the rustic flavors of old vines into refined wines, particularly with the Carlisle Vineyard ($62) and Rocky Knoll ($65) bottlings.

Sure, the top players make excellent Zinfandels every year, but better news is that the 2019s are enjoyable across the board, no matter the region, producer or price point. Yet, as tasty as they are now, Zin lovers might want to stock up and hang onto a few: Wildfires marred the 2020 vintage in Northern California, and winemakers are still assessing the fires’ impact on Zinfandel and other red wines.

Follow Tim Fish on Instagram at @tim_fish1, and on Twitter at @TimFishWine.