Random Musings

The 2020 Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings

Welcome to the 7th installment of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings. The Power Rankings took a hiatus in 2019 as I did not think the list had changed materially from the 2018 list.

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, WineBerserkers, 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 2020 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.

  1. 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 2017 version was recently released at a price of $175 per bottle. Yours truly still hopes to visit here in the near future. Up 4 spots from 2018.
  2. Sine Qua Non – The mailing list has a wait list that I suspect is 8-10 years long although it did seem like many spots opened up with the last release. The postcards sent to those not able to buy the wine are a rite of passage for new collectors. For those clamoring to see what the fuss is about many vintages of SQN are routinely available on WineBid. Expect to pay a premium but savvy buyers can secure bottles here without feeling taken advantaged of. The 2018 Profuga Grenache and Squeezebox Syrah were released in early August at $170 per bottle. Down 1 spot from 2018.
  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 has honed his craft almost to perfection after being at this for over 20 years now. For my money Carlisle is the best Zinfandel producer in California. Down 1 spot from 2018.
  4. Scarecrow – Demand for the 2017 Scarecrow was high despite only receiving a 97 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. One of the few cults that has stood the test of time. Their second wine, M. Etain, was released on October 1st at $195 per bottle. Up 5 spots from 2018.
  5. Saxum – Pricing for the 2018 wines held steady at $98 per bottle. Justin Smith has not raised prices in years. The wines at Saxum are exceptional and Justin and his team provide fantastic customer service. Lots to like here as evidenced by the incredibly long wait list for the wines. 7-8 years from what I understand. The recent release marked the last vintage of the Terry Hoage Vineyard. Down 1 spot from 2018.
  6. 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 Schrader and Outpost just to name a few. The 2018 Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir received 100 points from Antonio Galloni. Down 3 spots from 2018.
  7. Screaming Eagle – Only a small amount number of magnums of 2017 Screaming Eagle were released due to issues with the fire in Napa near harvest in 2017. To those not fortunate in enough to get offered a magnum the winery released 3 packs from a variety of vintages in their library.  A classy move that was well received by the mailing list. I suspect demand will be off the charts when the ’18 version is released early next year. Down 1 spot from 2018.
  8. Ridge – Despite the retirement of Paul Draper, Ridge is more relevant than ever. Ridge is one of the few wineries that can make claim as world class in Chardonnay, Cabernet and Zinfandel. Monte Bello is one of the true blue chips of California and if you buy on futures the pricing is incredibly fair. Ridge is the rare new world winery that is a must buy for fans of old world wines. Up 3 spots from 2018.
  9. Cayuse – Never a dull moment for Christophe and his stable of brands. The portfolio, in addition to Cayuse, now includes Hors Categorie, Champagne Christope Baron, Horsepower and No Girls. The waiting list at Cayuse is exceptionally long and the wines sell well in the after market. Unfortunately the annual release party this past April was cancelled due to Covid. Down 1 spot from 2018.
  10. Ultramarine – Michael Cruse makes sparkling wines from Charles Heintz Vineyard in Sonoma. This might be the hottest new winery in California outside of MACDONALD. The recent September release sold through quickly and the wines sell for a ridiculous amount in the aftermarket. I’ve yet to try a bottle or sign up for the mailing list so the ship sailed without me. Up 5 spots from 2018.
  11. 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 a new wine from the iconic Old Hill Ranch Vineyard. 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 4 spots from 2018.
  12. 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. Down 2 spots from 2018.
  13. 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 $60 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. I routinely see the wine selling for $100 at auction. Thomas is a one man show but I do understand he takes guests at the winery every so often. The 2018 was released in early October. A visit is on my bucket list. Down 1 spot from 2018.
  14. 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. Tegan has finally moved to two mailers per year and has also released the first Sandlands Zinfandel from Kirschenmann Vineyard. Down 1 spot from 2018.
  15. 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. I know a few hardcore fans of Burt Williams but otherwise, Williams Selyem is one of those rare wineries that have come through ownership and winemaker changes and is as popular as ever. Down 1 spot from 2018.
  16. Aubert – Mark Aubert makes California Chardonnay that rivals some of the finest white wines from Burgundy. Deftly crafted wines from some of the finest vineyards in California. The 2017 Lauren Estate Sonoma Coast Chardonnay received 100 points from the Wine Advocate. New to the list in 2020.
  17. 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. Keep your eye out for a new release of their hard to obtain sparkling wine. 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. Down 1 spot from 2018.
  18. Realm Cellars – Realm released their first vintage in 2002. They source fruit from a number of premium vineyards located within and around the Napa Valley including Dr. Crane, Farella and To Kalon vineyards. Both the 2013 and 2014 Realm Absurd received 100 points from the Wine Advocate and it appears the winery is having no problem selling the new release at $425. Unchanged from 2018.
  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. The 2018 Marquis Zinfandel received 98 points from Jeb Dunnuck. Unchanged from 2018.
  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 and that is the recipe at Once & Future as well. The lineup has expanded to include several single vineyard Zins, a Merlot and a Petitie Sirah. I still hope that Once & Future will move to a two mailer per year system. Unchanged from 2018.

New to the list: Aubert

Dropped from the list: Myriad

On the bubble but not quite on the list: Dehlinger, Marcassin, Kosta Browne, Ferren, Schrader and Leonetti.

The wineries that continue to excel, make exceptional wines at fair prices from classic vineyards and provide amazing customer service.

So there you have it! The 2020 version of the Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings.  As always, I welcome your feedback.

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7 thoughts on “The 2020 Zinfandel Chronicles Power Rankings

  1. Tom, since I know the extent of your due diligence as you investigated who was buzzing where over what, I am not going to disagree. Another reason is that for several of the wineries you rank, I have never had the good fortune to be able to taste them. This includes some you rank very high, where it has been my misfortune- even though I am on their list-never to have received an allocation.

    But I hope you will allow me to change the topic for a moment- from Zinfandel to Pinot Noir. Last night I had the good fortune to open a bottle of your (well, it was then) Siduri 2012 John Sebastiano Vineyard Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir. I found it hiding on a low shelf of my wine cooler. It was magnificent. Do you know what has happened to the fruit from there since you and Siduri parted ways?

    I just hope that I have a couple more bottles in the storage I still have down in Florida.


    Roger Schwenke

  2. Tom -u have no worries there. I love to read these and then to look at my list of what I have stored to see if I happen to have one of the ones on which u have commented

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