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The 2017 Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings

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 2017 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.

  1. Sine Qua Non – The mailing list has a wait list that I suspect is 8-10 years long. Fortunately I have been at this hobby so long that I finally made the list this past year. Manfred Krankl has recovered from a devastating motorcycle accident and the wines being produced are better than ever. The most unique aspect of SQN is that despite high pricing there is almost an inelasticity to demand. Even at $200+ consumers are climbing all over themselves to buy the wines. Lastly, despite a healthy secondary market, I think most buy the wine to drink, instead of flip. Up 1 spot from 2016.
  2. 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. I’m not sure on the dynamics but I would guess Mike can get an audience with most any Zinfandel vineyard owner in the state of CA. Mancini Ranch was added to the fold this past year. Up 1 spot from 2016.
  3. Rivers-Marie – Their is something for everyone here. Top notch Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. 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. I once had a winery owner confess to me that he was not sure how they could price their Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir at $25 (this was prior to a price increase a year or so ago). Look for expansion in the Chardonnay lineup and the addition of a Bearwallow Pinot Noir in the year to come. Up 1 spot from 2016.
  4. Screaming Eagle – Demand for the 2014 version of Screaming Eagle was almost as strong as last year despite only receiving 97 points from the Wine Advocate. Mailing list price was $2550 for a 3 pack in OWC but the resale market saw the wines selling for up to $4500 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. Unfortunately I think most buyers off the list purchase the wine to sell as opposed to drink (unlike SQN). Lastly, SE is showing up in the display cases at some upscale Costcos. For those reasons I am downgrading SE. Down 3 spots from 2016.
  5. Saxum – Pricing for the 2015 wines held steady at $98 per bottle. Smart move as $100 is a mental block for many of us. Perhaps the biggest news from the latest release is that there is a white wine blend in the near future at Saxum. Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Petite Manseng and Chenin Blanc will be in the mix. The wines at Saxum 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. 6-7 years from what I understand. Up 2 spots from 2016.
  6. Scarecrow – Demand for the 2014 Scarecrow was 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. You can even make the case that wine is fairly priced at almost $300 per bottle. It certainly sells for more at auction. Unchanged from 2016.
  7. 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. The big news from this Fall’s mailer was the recent purchase by Bedrock of Evangelho Vineyard in Contra Costa County. This wine from Bedrock has always impressed. The rise of Bedrock has been so rapid that I have seen many cut back on their Bedrock purchases as it makes up too much of their cellar.  Down 2 spots from 2016.
  8. Cayuse – Last year Christophe Baron finally made the cover of the Wine Spectator. Cayuse and Horsepower are dialed in and Christophe has a new project in the works. Expect to hear about Hors Categorie in the near future. To top it all off the 2014 Bionic Frog and Cailloux Vineyard Syrahs both got 100 points from the Wine Advocate. 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. No change from 2016.
  9. Turley – Carlisle and Turley sit squarely on the pedestal for best Zins in the state of California. The most impressive thing about Turley is the shear scale. Turley literally sources Zinfandel from diverse vineyards throughout the state of California. Tegan Passalacqua has the winery firing on all cylinders. The tasting rooms in Paso Robles and Amador are a fantastic opportunity for those not on the mailing list. Whitney Tennessee Vineyard returned to the Turley fold after a decade long hiatus. Unfortunately, I was unable to secure a bottle. No change from 2016.
  10. 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. With Schrader being sold to Constellation the MACDONALD story is even a little more special. Up 1 spot from 2016.
  11. Sandlands  – This 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, Syrah, Mataro, Chenin Blanc and Carignane are the focus here. Only 1 release this year, unfortunately, so the buzz has diminished somewhat. Down 1 spot from 2016.
  12. 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 I was finally offered a bottle of the Kosta Browne 4 Barrel. I’ve been on the mailing list since the ’04 vintage so it only took about 10 years. There is hope for the rest of you. Up 1 spot from 2016.
  13. Rochioli – Admittedly I have a soft spot for Rochioli. I have bought their wines going back twenty years now. Every variety they produce is in the conversation for the best in the state of California. Certainly this includes the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. They could sell their entire production via their mailing list and retail but they still have a tasting room open to visitors on perhaps the best site in the Russian River Valley. Put Rochioli on your short list on your next visit to Sonoma. Bring a picnic, buy a bottle and sit on the back deck overlooking the vineyard. You can thank me later. Up 1 spot from 2016.
  14. Ridge – Despite the retirement of Paul Draper, Ridge is more relevant than ever. Ridge is one of the few wineries that make claim as world class in Chardonnay, Cabernet and Zinfandel. The 2015 Geyserville marks the 50th vintage of this bottling. 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. Up 4 spots from 2016 and the big winner this year.
  15. 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 last year. The Myriad wines are exceptionally well made and fairly priced. No change from 2016.
  16. 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. The newest release sold out in only a few days. As of now there is a waiting list for the mailing list. Up 3 spots from 2016.
  17. Thomas – Oregon’s first cult winery. John Thomas makes exceptional Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Incredibly well priced at about $50 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.Conventional wisdom is that these wines need 10 years in the cellar. Perhaps, but they show pretty well young. 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. No change from 2016.
  18. 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. The downside with the mailing list is there are literally 15+ wines on the two releases every year. On top of that prices continue to creep up. $65 is a touch steep for the recently offered Bacigalupi Zin. At the end of the day the wines are exceptional so I will continue to be a buyer. A fantastic winery to visit in the Russian River Valley. Down 2 spots from 2016.
  19. Limerick Lane – The vineyard dates back to 1910. The winery dates back to 1985. The current iteration dates back to 2011 when Jake Bilbro purchased Limerick Lane. The wines coming from this vineyard are second to none. As evidence, Bedrock, Carlisle, Robert Biale and Matthiasson are all producing a Limerick Lane vineyard designate Zin. Lastly, Jake has taken a page from some of the aforementioned producers offering exceptional wines at fair prices with second to none customer service. New to the list in 2017.
  20. 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. I was able to purchase some Zin and Mataro from the release last Spring. Once again a winery that suffers from only have a single release per year. No change from 2016.

On the bubble but not quite on the list: Ferren, Andremily, Piper and Christopher Tynan.

Dropped from the list: Schrader.

Last year 4 new wineries were added. This year, just a single new winery was added. The wineries that continue to excel make exceptional wines at fair prices from classic vineyards and provide amazing customer service. Part of me wants to mix things up a little more. Seriously though, who would you take off this list?

So there you have it! The 2017 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.  As always, I welcome your feedback.

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2007 Lillian Syrah – Bottle Notes

Maggie Harrison was assistant winemaker to Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non for eight years before moving to Oregon to take over the wine making position at Antica Terra. Lillian Winery, founded in 2004, represents Maggie’s personal project and reflects everything that she learned during her time at Sine Qua Non.

The fruit for the Lillian Syrah comes from the White Hawk Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. The 77 acre vineyard was planted in 1997.

Opaque purple in color. 14.8% ABV. Sublime nose of blueberries, coffee, grilled meats and black olives. Rich, complex and smooth as silk. Full bodied with medium acidity. Black cherry, blueberry liqueur, cassis and charred meats on the palate. The finish is exceptionally long. Absolutely prodigious Syrah. Another brilliant wine from Maggie Harrision. Drink over the next 2-4 years.

My rating: 95 points.

Lillian belongs in the discussion of best domestic syrahs with the likes of Cayuse, Saxum and the aforementioned Sine Qua Non.

The wine is available via the web site once a year and current vintages run about $75. The 2014 was recently released to the mailing list and will likely be available at retail in Portland in the coming months.

I recently blogged about Lillian forgoing their mailing list which is great news for those of you looking to secure a few bottles.

If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to Zinfandel Chronicles updates by email.

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The 2016 Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6.  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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 shear 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.

If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to Zinfandel Chronicles updates by email.

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2006 Lillian Syrah – Bottle Notes

Maggie Harrison was assistant winemaker to Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non for eight years before moving to Oregon to take over the wine making position at Antica Terra. Lillian Winery, founded in 2004, represents Maggie’s personal project and reflects everything that she learned during her time at Sine Qua Non.

The fruit for the Lillian Syrah comes from the White Hawk Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. The 77 acre vineyard was planted in 1997.

Ruby red in color. 15.6% ABV. Spellbinding nose of blue fruits, molten licorice and violets. Medium to full body with exceptional balance. Amazing texture and presence on the palate. Flavors of cherry liqueur, blueberries, iron and milk chocolate. The finish is long, seamless and silky. Stunning, sexy and extremely well crafted Syrah. Drink over the next 2-3 years.

My rating: 96 points.

Lillian belongs in the discussion of best domestic syrahs with the likes of Cayuse, Saxum and the aforementioned Sine Qua Non.

The wine is available via the web site once a year and current vintages run about $75. The 2014 should be released in the near future. I recently blogged about Lillian forgoing their mailing list which is great news for those of you looking to secure a few bottles.

If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to Zinfandel Chronicles updates by email.

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2005 Lillian Syrah – Bottle Notes

Maggie Harrison was assistant winemaker to Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non for eight years before moving to Oregon to take over the wine making position at Antica Terra. Lillian Winery, founded in 2004, represents Maggie’s personal project and reflects everything that she learned during her time at Sine Qua Non.

The fruit for the Lillian Syrah comes from the White Hawk Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. The 77 acre vineyard was planted in 1997.

Opaque purple in color. 15.6% ABV. Surreal nose of plums, flowers, grilled meats and black olives. Medium body with perfect acidity. Everything is in balance here and the wine has a sense of weight of palate that belies the 11 years of bottle age. Flavors of blueberries, soy sauce and olive brine. The finish is tremendous. This has aged exceptionally well. Drink over the next 1-2 years.

My rating: 94 points.

Lillian belongs in the discussion of best domestic syrahs with the likes of Cayuse, Saxum and Sine Qua Non.

The wine is available via the web site once a year and current vintages run about $75. I recently blogged about Lillian forgoing their mailing list.

If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to Zinfandel Chronicles updates by email.

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Mailing List Fatigue

The insanity of Spring mailing list offers took on new proportions in 2016 when literally over a dozen wineries, from which I traditionally purchase, decided to release their wines on January 12 or January 19th. I don’t keep exact release date records, but seem to recall in years past, that the offers were spread out more evenly over both January and February. I do understand that many wineries I purchase from are family operations and it literally takes over a month to process, pack and ship orders. An early January release allows time to get the wines out before shipping conditions decline in April.

This year was just too much though. Too many wineries in too short a time frame. On top of that prices and allocations are as high as ever. Some hard decisions had to be made. Do I really need both No Girls and Horsepower? The answer is yes but I am good with just a 3 pack of each. In this case and more often than not I just purchased less from my favorite producers. Wide but not deep became the name of the game. In some cases though if prices went up too much or shipping costs seem out of whack, I just decided not to order. Schrader comes to mind.

The real winners in all this are the wineries that continue to offer exceptional wines at fair prices. It is a short list but wineries like Carlisle, Rivers Marie, Bedrock and Turley come to mind. Scarcity is still a factor in the high demand I see for wines from the likes of Saxum and Sine Qua Non. That being said, if you are new to the mailing list game, I think it is safe to say that you should have little to no problem getting an allocation from most wineries as many consumers, myself included, are suffering from mailing list fatigue.

I would appreciate hearing from those of you who have also made some hard decisions this year. Feel free to comment below.

If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing to Zinfandel Chronicles updates by email.

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The 2015 Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings

Welcome to the 4th, 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, 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. For the second year now 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 2015 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.

  1. Sine Qua Non – Pricing for obscure bottles of Sine Qua Non absolutely exploded this year. Collectors with more money than common sense are paying upwards of $10,000 for decade old bottles of Rosé. Knowing this dynamic the recent release of Pearl Clutcher Chardonnay had collectors clamoring to secure a bottle. Meanwhile I continue to get my postcard every year. Up 1 spot from 2014.
  2. Screaming Eagle – As expected, demand for the 2012 version of Screaming Eagle was extremely strong. That will clearly be the case with the 2013 as well. The wines are in such demand that the winery will kick you off the list if they catch you flipping the most recent release. I am fortunate to try the wine once or twice a year and whether you think it is worth the price, the wine is about as good as Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon gets. Down 1 spot from 2014.
  3. Carlisle – The winery epitomizes everything you want in a mailing list. Exceptional wines, diversity of wines, fair pricing and second to none customer service. At the forefront of saving California’s historic vineyards. If I had to nitpick…the bi-annual mailers offer so many good wines that it is truly hard to pick and choose what you want. No change from 2014.
  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 calling card at Rivers Marie. The wine lineup is expanding on all fronts with new Cabernet, Pinot and Chardonnay additions this year alone. Worth monitoring is an announced price increase for the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. No change from 2014.
  5. Bedrock – Morgan Twain-Peterson has to be one of the hardest working winemakers in California. By my count he made 22 different wines under the Bedrock label in 2013. Last year also saw the launch of the Sparkling Wine project, Under the Wire. No secrets here, just high quality wine sold at very fair prices and sourced from the very best old vine vineyards. Up 1 spot from 2014.
  6. Schrader – Demand for the 2013 Schrader release was as strong as ever. Schrader has managed to stay relevant by making world class Cabernet Sauvignon and maintaining pricing at $175 per bottle. In a day in age where comparable cult Cabernets like Bryant, Araujo and Harlan are priced at well over $400 per bottle most collectors consider Schrader to be a bargain. Allocations seem to be on the rise as well. Up 2 spots from 2014.
  7. Saxum – The price increase last year from $89 to $98 caused a very small portion of the mailing list to look for alternatives in Paso Robles. That being said, the wine has very few peers for domestic Syrah and Grenache based blends, and still sells out in a heartbeat. Demand is also strong in the secondary market. I continue to be a buyer in small quantities but do hope Justin Smith keeps his wines out of the three digit price range for the foreseeable future.  Down 2 spots from 2014.
  8. Scarecrow – The 2013 M. Etain and Scarecrow will both be released in the next 9 months and once again demand will far exceed supply despite the $275 price tag for the flagship Scarecrow. In fact, the 2012 Scarecrow was being sold for $400 per bottle in the aftermarket shortly after release. Owner Bret Lopez was even featured in a Liquid Assets piece on CNBC earlier this year. Up 1 spot from 2014.
  9. Cayuse – Christophe Baron has things completely dialed in at Cayuse. His highly acclaimed vineyards, like Armada and En Chamberlin, are maturing and the wines are simply better than ever. Even with aggressive pricing, his new project, Horsepower, launched late last year with tremendous success. The annual release party in early April is hands down one of my favorite wine events of the year. I have wish listed Bionic Frog for 5 years now to no avail. Down 2 spots from 2014.
  10. Turley – With all due respect to Carlisle, Ridge and Bedrock these are arguably the best Zinfandels in California. Impeccable vineyard sources including the likes of Ueberroth and Hayne. Tegan Passalacqua has breathed new life into an already great winery. The wines are fresh, vibrant and full of energy. 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 3 spots from 2014.
  11. Kosta Browne – Kosta Browne belongs on a short list of the very best domestic Pinot Noir producers. Despite a polarizing style, the wait list for the single vineyard wines is still over 5 years long. I’ve been on the mailing list for over a decade and I sincerely doubt I’ll ever get an opportunity to buy the coveted 4 Barrel bottling. The new facility at The Barlow in Sebastopol is one of the best winery visits you will ever go on. Trust me. Down 1 spot from 2014.
  12. Rochioli – It is hard to believe Rochioli is closing in on their 30th year in business. These are some of the very best Pinot Noir’s in the world and the Chardonnay program should not be overlooked. The tasting room, located in the heart of the Russian River Valley on Westside Road is worth a visit. Use the opportunity to picnic on their back deck overlooking the beautiful Rochioli Vineyard. Rochioli is not resting on their laurels with new bottlings of Syrah and a Sparkling wine this past year. Worth monitoring is the recent replanting of both East and West Block Vineyards. Down 1 spot from 2014.
  13. Williams Selyem – All eyes are on Williams Selyem as Winemaker Bob Cabral left after the 2014 vintage and the Jeff Mangahas era is underway. Jeff is the third Winemaker since the founding of Williams Selyem. Not to downplay the roll of the winemaker but Williams Selyem has always been about sourcing fruit from the very best vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. That has not changed. Do yourself a favor and add a bottle of Chardonnay and Zinfandel to your next order. Up 1 spot from 2014.
  14. 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, has garnered big support on WineBerserkers. The Myriad wines are exceptionally well made and fairly priced. Up 2 spots from 2014.
  15. 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. New to the Power Rankings this year.
  16. 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 and if you buy on futures the pricing is incredible. The Estate Cabernet is an amazing value at around $50 per bottle. The winery is very active on social media and the Ridge Blog is a great read. The big winner this year. Up 4 spots from 2014.
  17. Rhys – Old world Pinot Noir that continues to be a big topic on the various wine bulletin boards. The founder, Kevin Harvey, is very accessible and transparent in how he runs his business. I sense pricing might become an issue here in years to come although the Rhys fans seem very devoted. Down 5 spots from 2014.
  18. Quilceda Creek – After a decade long series of price increases demand for the wine have leveled out. The Palengat and Galitzine Single Vineyard offerings, priced at $95 and $115 respectively, are the real values in the lineup. I’m still a buyer and the release party in late March is always a blast. Down 3 spots from 2014.
  19.  Dehlinger – The Pinot Noir from Dehlinger is about as good as it gets in the Russian River Valley. The secret is out that the real values in the Dehlinger lineup are the Cabernet Sauvignon, Claret, Syrah and Chardonnay. If you are on the mailing list you should be thankful that Dehlinger still manages to fly under the radar. Down 2 spots from 2014.
  20. Leonetti – Leonetti is the flagship wine of the Figgins family portfolio which also includes FIGGINS and Toil of Oregon. Washington’s original cult winery. The waiting list at Leonetti is 3-4 years before you can expect to receive an allocation. Given pricing in the Napa Valley, the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot represent value at $85 and $75 respectively. I’ve been on the mailing list for 20 years and look forward to my allocation letter every March. Down 1 spot from 2014.

On the bubble but not quite on the list: FairchildVine Hill Ranch and Liquid Farm.

Dropped from the list: Arnot Roberts.

There you have it! The 2015 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings. As always, I welcome your feedback.

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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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Making a List

In the spirit of the upcoming holidays I am making a list of wines I’d like to see made. In some cases it is a winemaker that I would like to see make a wine from a new varietal and in other cases it is an existing varietal from a different vineyard source.

Lets get this list started with a Zinfandel by Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non. Being a fan of the Syrah and Grenache he has crafted over the years I salivate at what he might do with my favorite grape.

How about a Syrah from Chris Figgins of Leonetti and FIGGINS? Better yet, lets make that a Syrah from Ciel du Cheval fruit on Red Mountain.

While I am on a roll how does a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Michael Browne of Kosta Browne sound?

Speaking of Willamette Valley…how about a Pinot Noir from Christophe Baron of Cayuse. Prior to founding Cayuse it was his intention to make Pinot Noir.

Could we get Justin Smith of Saxum to make a Syrah from Walla Walla Valley fruit? Cailloux Vineyard perhaps?

Don’t you think a white Rhone style blend from Bob Betz of Betz Family Winery is long overdue?

The Zinfandel geek in me would love to see Tegan Passalacqua of Turley make a Zinfandel from Papera Ranch.

Anyways, you get the picture. Let me know what wines you would include if your were Making a List.

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