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The Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings

Welcome to the 3rd, annual installment, of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings. The intent behind the list was to rank wineries based on the buzz and excitement they create in the wine collecting crowd. The rankings are entirely subjective based on my observations on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Wine Spectator, Wine Berserkers and Cellartracker.

I’ve ranked the wineries below and indicated whether they’ve moved up the list or down. I’ve also highlighted wineries new to the list and those that have been dropped from the list. For the first time I have also included my bubble wineries. The bubble wineries might find a spot on the list in the years to come.

Without further ado here is the 2014 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.

  1. Screaming Eagle – I have no idea who drinks this wine. I do know that the wine is released for $750 per bottle and can easily be resold for $1500 per bottle. Until that paradigm changes this wine will stay at the top of my list. Demand for the 2012, to be released next Spring, will be off the charts. No change from 2013.
  2. Sine Qua Non – The mailing list is virtually impenetrable and yours truly has a stack of post cards to prove it. The wines are exquisite. Even their “second label” Next of Kyn commands a premium on the aftermarket. To my surprise, not even the recession could dampen demand for these wines. No change from 2013.
  3. Carlisle – The waiting list for a spot on the mailing list continues to grow at Carlisle. Great wines, prices and customer service drive the demand. Second-to-none grape sources, including the new Limerick Lane Zinfandel, should not be overlooked. No change from 2013.
  4. Rivers-Marie – Thomas Rivers Brown is without question one of most acclaimed winemakers in California. Great fruit sources, pricing and customer service are the hallmark at Rivers Marie. The wine lineup is expanding on all fronts with new Cabernet, Pinot and Chardonnay additions this year alone. Up 1 spot from 2013.
  5. Saxum – The winery recently announced a price increase from $89 to $98 per bottle. I have little doubt that the current release will sell through in a heart beat but the $100 price point is a line in the sand for many consumers. Yours truly will be keeping a close eye on future purchases. Down 1 spot from 2013.
  6. Bedrock – I don’t know how Morgan does it but he makes upwards of 20 different wines, all of which are exceptional, and he also launched the Under the Wire sparking wine label. The dedication to the historic vineyards of Northern California should not be overlooked. Once again, a big winner this year, up 3 spots from 2013.
  7. Cayuse – Christophe Baron continues to produce breath taking wines at Cayuse and also launched the Horsepower label earlier this year. Even at a $110 price point collectors lined up to get a Horsepower allocation. If you are on the Cayuse list you owe it to yourself to visit Walla Walla on Cayuse release weekend in early April. Down 1 spot from 2013.
  8. Schrader – The demand for the 2012 Schrader lineup, released last Winter, was strong. On top of that allocations were increased. Even at $175 a bottle this is one of the best values in all of Napa Valley. The team from Schrader also launched the long awaited Boars’ View Pinot Noir. Down 1 spot from 2013.
  9. Scarecrow – The 2012 M. Etain and Scarecrow will both be released in the next 9 months and collectors will be falling all other themselves to get an allocation. Scores are up, demand is up, but Scarecrow would be well served to hold the line on pricing. The big winner this year. Up 7 spots from 2013.
  10. Kosta Browne – Kosta Browne has a vocal group of detractors but the waiting list to get the wines is as long as ever. Michael Browne launched Cirq which quickly sold through at over $100 a bottle. The wines are proving to be age worthy as well. Beg, borrow or steal for a tasting appointment at the new facility in The Barlow. Down 2 spots from 2013.
  11. Rochioli – Simply some of the best Pinot Noir in the world. Great Chardonnay as well. On top of that they actually have a tasting room open to the public! The best spot for a picnic in the Russian River Valley. East and West Block are being replanted but I am heartened by the upcoming inaugural releases of a Syrah and sparkling wine. No change from 2013.
  12. Rhys – Old world Pinot Noir that generates more conversation on wine boards than just about any winery. The founder, Kevin Harvey, is very accessible. Not even marginal scores from the Wine Spectator can derail Rhys. No change from 2013.
  13. Turley – You can make an argument that these are the best Zinfandels in California. Impeccable vineyard sources including the new Cobb and Sadie Upton Zins from Amador. Tegan Passalacqua has breathed new life into an already great winery. Up 2 spots from 2013.
  14. Williams Selyem – All eyes are on Williams Selyem as Bob Cabral is leaving after the 2014 vintage. Huge shoes to be filled. That being said the Pinot program is stellar and the Chardonnay and Zinfandel are second to none. The new facility is a tour de force. Even Burt Williams fans have grown to appreciate these wines. No change from 2013.
  15. Quilceda Creek – A decade long series of price increases, on a somewhat polarizing wine to begin with, has begun to take its toll. Demand is still strong but the next few years will mark a turning point. I’m still a buyer but definitely not in the volume of years past. Down 5 spots from 2013.
  16. Myriad – Mike Smith started his winemaking career under the direction of Thomas Rivers Brown in 2001. Like TRB he has his own label, Myriad, and works with many other clients including Quivet and Carter Cellars. Super wines that are well priced. New to the list in 2014.
  17. Dehlinger – The wines from Dehlinger are better than ever. Dehlinger makes one of the states best Pinots and the Cabernet, Chardonnay and Syrah are great wines that are fairly priced. If anything Dehlinger suffers from a lack of hype. Down 4 spots from 2013.
  18. Arnot Roberts – Small lot, single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, as well as several other varieties uncommon in Northern Californian vineyards including a Rosé of Touriga Nacional. A producer to keep an eye on. No change from 2013.
  19. FIGGINS/Leonetti/Toil – Chris Figgins added Toil of Oregon to the Figgins family portfolio. The wine is super and bodes for great things to come. Recent releases from FIGGINS and Leonetti are exceptional as well. I suspect there are more exciting projects in the works. Up 1 spot from 2013.
  20. Ridge – Old vine Zinfandel is going through a revolution and wines like Geyserville and Lytton Springs are leading the charge. Monte Bello is one of the true blue chips of California. Down 1 spot from 2013.

On the bubble but not quite on the list: Reynvaan, Spottswoode and Thomas.

Dropped off the list: Corison

There you have it! The 2014 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings. As always, I welcome your feedback.

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16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mark D. Leyendecker #

    Outstanding synopsis, Tom. It’s difficult to separate the long term perennial winners in winemaking from the huge ocean of wine out there, but you do an excellent job.

    Two wineries that missed your list but that I believe merit consideration: Kistler (classic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Sonoma) and Alban (the pioneer Rhone Ranger of Paso Robles).

    Enjoy the rest of your summer! MDL

    August 8, 2014
    • Thanks Mark. Alban is a little like Dehlinger. Great wines but the “buzz” is minimal.

      August 8, 2014
      • Mark Leyendecker #

        Yeah, you are correct. I think I like lack of “buzz”. I will see what the buzz is at TexSom this weekend!

        August 9, 2014
  2. Interesting list. I wonder if collectors of wines like Screaming Eagle are the same who buy from Rhys or Arnot-Roberts. I’d venture likely not. So do you think it’s worth dividing the ‘buzz’ wineries into segments? Surely that makes a huge difference and I’d be curious to see deeper demographic analysis (not that I expect that on your blog!).

    August 8, 2014
    • The wines clearly appeal to different audiences like you alluded to. Screaming Eagle is certainly the outlier on the list. The Zinfandel Chronicles staff is still working on the demographics thing…

      August 8, 2014
      • Ha – crack that whip for your large team of data analysts! How’s the hype around Ant Hill these days?

        August 9, 2014
        • Don’t hear much about Ant Hill.

          August 10, 2014
  3. A lot of goodies on here. But I’m curious about your #1 pick. Do you drink this wine? Do you think Screaming Eagle deserves this kind of credit and attention?

    August 8, 2014
    • I’ve had the wine. It is tremendous and deserves the accolades. Whether it is worth the price or deserving of the attention is somewhat subjective.

      August 8, 2014
      • Mark Leyendecker #

        I call BS on any wine with a release price of $200 or above for a standard bottle. Nothing is that good. Including Screaming Eagle, which I have had.

        August 9, 2014
        • Can’t remember the last wine I bought over $200 but I will be sorely tempted by the 2012 Scarecrow when it released.

          August 9, 2014
  4. @paulandga #

    Pride?

    August 9, 2014
    • Again just my opinion…the wines are great but like Alban mentioned previously…I don’t perceive much “buzz” around Pride anymore.

      August 9, 2014
  5. As someone who is lucky enough to be on Cayuse’s “wine club” list, Christophe definitely belongs on this list, so glad to see he’s there. And unfortunately, we have not made it to a release party, but hope to one day. I like how you stated the relation from last year. Great list!

    August 11, 2014
    • Just about every Cayuse wine is open at the release party. Great opportunity to try the entire lineup.

      August 12, 2014
  6. Anonymous #

    Sandlands sells out fast

    July 2, 2015

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