Random Musings

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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