Welcome to the 5th, annual installment, of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings. The intent behind the list is 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, Instagram, Wine Spectator, Wine Berserkers, WineBid and Cellartracker. Factors such as demand for mailing list wines and results at auction are also considered.
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. Finally, I included my bubble wineries which might find a spot on the list in the years to come.
Without further ado here is the 2016 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.
- Screaming Eagle – Demand for the 2013 version of Screaming Eagle was off the charts as the wine had received 100 points from the Wine Advocate well in advance of the release last spring. Mailing list price was $2250 for a 3 pack in OWC but the resale market saw the wines selling for more than $5000 per 3 pack. The wines are in such demand that the winery will kick you off the list if they catch you flipping the most recent release. Up 1 spot from 2015.
- Sine Qua Non – In what can only be a sign of the top, yours truly finally was offered wines from Sine Qua Non. Although my record keeping is somewhat spotty I have little doubt I put my name of the waiting list almost 10 years ago. The auction market for Sine Qua Non is as strong as ever and the wine is one of only a handful that can be flipped upon release. The upcoming release includes Petite Manseng Vin de Paille “Shackled”. Rest assured I’ll be keeping my bottles. Down 1 spot from 2015.
- Carlisle – The winery epitomizes everything you want in a mailing list. Exceptional wines, fair pricing and second to none customer service. At the forefront of saving California’s historic vineyards. Mike Officer is meticulous in the vineyard and somehow the wines are better than ever. Typically the last mailing list that most collectors would let go of. No change from 2015.
- Rivers-Marie – The personal project of Thomas Rivers Brown. Somehow he runs Rivers-Marie while making wine at the likes of Shrader, Aston Estate, Outpost and Kinsella Estates to name a few. Exceptional vineyard sources at prices that leave you asking how is this possible. The 2006 Rivers-Marie Summa Old Vine Pinot Noir may be the best domestic Pinot Noir I have had in the last year. No change from 2015.
- Bedrock – Morgan Twain-Peterson continues to do all the right things at Bedrock. Exceptional wines, fair prices, tremendous customer service and a passion for California’s historic vineyards. This Summer’s mailer includes two new wines: the Esola Vineyard Zinfandel from Amador and the Schmiedt Road Zinfandel from Lodi. I can’t wait to try them. No change from 2015.
- Scarecrow – Demand for the 2013 Scarecrow was off the incredibly high driven by a perfect 100 point score from the Wine Advocate. Don’t lose sight of the fact that Scarecrow is sourced from J.J. Cohn Estate which has some of the oldest Cabernet vines in Napa Valley. The story is cool and the wine is spectacular. Up 2 spots from 2015.
- Saxum – Pricing for the 2014 wines held steady at $98 per bottle. The offering this Spring saw the return of Rocket Block, last offered with the 2005 vintage, and the release of a new wine from the nearby G2 Vineyard. The wines are exceptional and Justin Smith and his team provide fantastic customer service. Lots to like here as evidenced by the incredibly long wait list for the wines. Up 1 spot from 2015.
- Cayuse – Earlier this year Christophe Baron finally made the cover of the Wine Spectator. Cayuse, Horsepower and No Girls are dialed in and Christophe has a new project and vineyard in the works. Expect to hear about Hors Categorie and Fiddleneck Vineyard in the next year or so. Pricing at Cayuse tops out at an incredibly fair $85 per bottle and the wines has never been better. The waiting list is exceptionally long and the wines sell well in the after market. The annual release party in April should be on any consumers bucket list. Up 1 spot from 2015.
- Turley – With all due respect to Carlisle, Ridge and Bedrock these are arguably the best Zinfandels in California. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Turley is the sure scale. Turley literally sources Zinfandel from diverse vineyards throughout the state of California. Tegan Passalacqua has breathed new life into an already great winery. The tasting rooms in Paso Robles and Amador are a fantastic opportunity for those not on the mailing list. The bi annual struggle of fitting the bottles in the cellar wine racks is a rite of passage for Turley fans. Up 1 spot from 2015.
- Sandlands – This relatively new winery is the personal project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua. Tegan is the Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Turley. The line-up encompasses some of the forgotten classic California varieties, primarily grown in decomposed granite from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations but have remained the outliers of California viticulture. Trousseau , Mataro, Chenin Blanc and Carignane are the focus here. The big winner this year. New to the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.
- MacDonald – The winery is a collaboration between brothers Alex and Graeme MacDonald. The vineyard that makes up the MacDonald Family Vineyard was originally producing wine as part of ToKalon Winery in the 19th century. It actually rests within the ToKalon Vineyard. This is perhaps the most acclaimed vineyard in Napa Valley. The story here is super cool, Alex and Graeme are gracious and the wines are fairly priced at $150. I missed the boat on this one and hope to make the mailing list in the coming years. Another big winner this year. New to the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.
- Schrader – Where to start? Late last year Schrader made news for kicking people off the mailing list for reselling allocations. Schrader then proceeded to raise the price per bottle for their 2014’s by almost 30%. This from a winery whose calling card had been not raising prices. Anecdotally it is pretty clear the waiting list at Schrader is substantially shorter than it used to be. The big loser this year. Down 6 spots from 2015.
- Kosta Browne – Someone in the business wrote that Kosta Browne has a waiting list longer than any two Napa Valley Cabernet producers. That speaks to the staying power of the brand now well into its second decade of existence. In exciting news Kosta Browne recently bought Cerise Vineyard which is its first foray into Mendocino County. Tens years on the mailing list and I have still yet receive an allocation 4 Barrel. Down 2 spots from 2015.
- Rochioli – I was traveling when Rochioli released their Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs early last month. Six days after receiving the email I logged in to my account and the wines were sold out. Simply put these are the best Pinots in California and clearly demand has not waned one bit. Always my first stop when visiting the Russian River Valley. Bring a picnic and thank me later. Down 2 spots from 2015.
- 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. His newest client, Becklyn, made their debut in the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Ranking this year. The Myriad wines are exceptionally well made and fairly priced. Down 1 spot from 2015.
- Williams Selyem – Jeff Mangahas has done an admirable job as the third winemaker at Williams Selyem. Williams Selyem has always been about sourcing fruit from the very best vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast and the upcoming release includes the new Lewis MacGregor Vineyard. On the downside, 19 wines in the next release is somewhat overwhelming. Do yourself a favor and add a bottle of Chardonnay and Zinfandel to your next order. Down 3 spots from 2015.
- Thomas – Oregon’s first cult winery. John Thomas makes exceptional Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The wines drink well young but cruise to 10 years of age. Incredibly well priced at under $45 per bottle. If you want to sign up for the mailing list you will need to send John a letter or try to track down his phone number. Thomas is a one man show but I do understand he takes guests at the winery every so often. A visit is on my bucket list. Down 2 spots from 2015.
- Ridge – Big news at Ridge this year as Paul Draper has retired. The winery is in great hands though and I don’t think they will miss a beat. 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 and if you buy on futures the pricing is incredibly fair. The Estate Cabernet is an amazing value at around $50 per bottle. Down 2 spots from 2015.
- Becklyn – Becklyn Cellars was founded by Matt and Amber Denny in 2012. The aforementioned Mike Smith has been the winemaker since the start. The story here should sound familiar. Successful winemaker, impeccable vineyards and below market pricing for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Certainly a winery to keep an eye on. New to the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.
- Once & Future – Once & Future was founded by Joel Peterson who previously founded Ravenswood Winery 40 years ago. Ravensood, at it’s core, was always famous for their single vineyard Zinfandels sourced throughout Sonoma County. In what was certainly a move back to his roots, Joel’s first wines at Once & Future were a single vineyard Zinfandel from Bedrock Vineyard and a Petite Sirah from Palisades Vineyard in Napa Valley. Once again traveling prevented me from getting an order in on the wineries first release. If I am lucky enough to get offered wine next year I won’t make the same mistake. New to the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.
On the bubble but not quite on the list: Limerick Lane.
Dropped from the list: Quilceda Creek, Rhys, Leonetti and Dehlinger. These were tough for me as I still buy year in and year out from 3 of the 4. The wines are still exceptional and still sell out, however, they just don’t seem to generate the excitement of the newest members of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings. At least that is the case in the circles I travel.
So there you have it! The 2016 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings. As always, I welcome your feedback.
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