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Chuck Hill, wine reviewer and columnist

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Wines of the Week Archive
Archived March 25, 2017
Originally Published March 4, 2017

Italy Comes to America – Part 4
Zin and Primitivo Fest

Part 4 of a 4-Part Series  (Part 1)  (Part 2)  (Part 3)
By Chuck Hill

Primitivo and Zinfandel are essentially the same grape.  They are both genetically equivalent to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kastelanski, but are historically associated with Italy and California, respectively.  Extensive research during the 1990s revealed that Primitivo and Zinfandel are clones of the same grape and one parent of the modern Croation variety Plavac Mali; the other parent - Dobricic - is an ancient variety from the Adriatic island of Solta.

“Holy smoke, Chuck!  When are we going to pull some corks and get this show on the road?” 

The proof is in the glass. Both Zinfandel and Primitivo are juicy, delicious red wines that accompany hearty pasta dishes and red meat from the grill. 

(To increase the likelihood of availability, we have included a few more California wines in these reviews
than the less available Northwest Zinfandels.)


Angel Vine
2013 Zinfandel, StoneTree Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

Angel Vine owner and winemaker Ed Fus makes Zinfandel from several different vineyard sources in Washington’s Columbia Valley.  This tasty wine comes from the StoneTree Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope AVA.  This is more of a food wine in the Old World style showing cranberry, cherry and raspberry with notes of earthy mineral and ample acidity to pair with your hearty meats from the grill. 

Spangler Vineyards
2013 Zinfandel

Southern Oregon seems to be a great place to grow Zinfandel, but only a few producers release it as a varietal wine.  Patrick Spangler crafts this delicious version at his eponymous winery just south of Roseburg.  Look for aromas and flavors of dried cherry and sweet blueberry with notes of baking spices and black pepper. 

Thurston Wolfe
2013 Zinfandel, Zephyr Ridge Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

Winemaker Wade Wolfe likes to wrap many of his red wines in a layer of toasty oak from aging in new and once-used barrels.  This gives the wine a hearty, New World character that goes very well with grilled meats and rich, spicy red sauces.  Look for toasty oak with dark cherry fruit, pepper spice and a finish of toasty cedar with vanilla-coconut notes. 

Angel Vine
2012 Zinfandel, Avery Vineyard
Columbia Valley AVA

This Angel Vine Zin takes advantage of the superb fruit grown at Avery Vineyard at the east end of the Columbia Gorge on the Washington side.  Aromas of cherry and cranberry lead to a palate of earthy mineral, black currant and hints of toasty oak and licorice. 

Maryhill Winery
2013 Zinfandel, Proprietor’s Reserve
Columbia Valley AVA

The Reserve wine from Maryhill Winery in Columbia Gorge wine country is of the New World style with oodles of toasty oak, deep extra-ripe fruit and firm tannins on the finish.  Those looking for a powerful red wine experience to pair with steaks from the grill will appreciate this wine's intense dark cherry and plum fruit wrapped in a cocoon of toasty coconut and vanilla with ample gripping tannins on the finish. 


Hard Row to Hoe
2014 Primitivo
Columbia Valley AVA

“Our vineyard celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit of a man who ran a rowboat taxi service on Lake Chelan in the 1930s, ferrying miners by rowboat to a brothel located at Point Lovely.”  Judy and Don Phelps share this playful spirit in their lives and their wines.  This fantastic Primitivo offers dark cherry and plum in a pure form with exotic spice – a complex, food-friendly masterpiece! 

Whidbey Island Winery
2013 Primitivo
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

Winemaker Greg Osenbach crafted his Primitivo from grapes grown at Coyote Canyon Vineyard in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills.  Greg blended 5% Barbera into his Primitivo, creating a delicious medium-bodied wine with raspberry and plum complemented by baking spices and black pepper. 

Coyote Canyon
2013 Primitivo, Coyote Canyon Vineyard
Horse Heaven Hills AVA

This was Justin Michaud’s first vintage as winemaker at Coyote Canyon winery, and he enjoyed his first experience with Primitivo from this premier growing site.  Ultimately, he blended 9% Merlot into the mix creating a wine showing sweet plum, boysenberry, toasty oak and hints of dark chocolate and tarry mineral on the finish. 

Angel Vine
2013 Primitivo
Columbia Valley AVA

Ed Fus’s license plate reads “ZINMAN” but makes Primitivo, too!  He seeks out grapes from warm sites in Washington’s Columbia Valley and crafts his Primitivo with little perceptible oak in the finished wine.  The raspberry and blueberry fruit comes first to the taster, followed by intriguing spice and mineral notes. It is a food-friendly accompaniment to meats from the grill as well as pizza and pasta. 

Maryhill Winery
2010 Primitivo, Northridge Vineyard
Wahluke Slope AVA

Northridge Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope AVA sits at 1,100 feet of elevation in the foothills of the Saddle Mountain range.  This south-facing location is one of the warmest in the state, perfect for Primitivo.  This wine from a cooler vintage needed the warm site, and rewards us with perfect balance, ripe raspberry and cherry fruit and mellow notes of toasty oak and earthy mineral.

Wines from other areas

Pedroncelli Winery
2014 Zinfandel, Mother Clone
Dry Creek Valley

Pedroncelli’s historic Zinfandel vineyards are located on the hillsides surrounding the winery in the Dry Creek Valley.  Some of the original vineyard blocks were planted to Zin in 1904, and these “mother” vines were used to replant sections of the vineyard in the 1980s.  My tasters could tell that this was REAL California Zinfandel – tangy, brambly, blackberry, black pepper, plum and spice.  Finishes with hints of chocolate, toasty oak and vanilla.  Seek some out for a taste of history!

Kendall Jackson
2014 Zinfandel, Vintner’s Reserve

Here’s another authentic California Zinfandel coming from less heralded, but equally superb Mendocino County up the coast off Highway 101.  Vineyards here are equally famous for Zinfandel with very old vines, and are dry farmed to produce intense, ripe fruit.  As KJ winemaster Randy Ullom celebrates his 25 years with the brand, he comments on the wine’s “plum, raspberry jam and blackberry flavors, supported by chalky tannins – with sultry cedar and spice accents.”

Cline Family Cellars
2015 Zinfandel, Ancient Vines
Contra Costa County

This wine comes from 100-year-old vines in Contra Costa County near Oakley, California at the southern edge of the Sacramento River Delta.  A charming Zinfandel in the nouveau, lighter style, it offers plum and strawberry aromas and flavors mingling with nuances from aging in American oak.

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards
2014 Primitivo
Lake County

This ripe and flavorful Primitivo comes from warm Lake County, an inland growing area just east of Mendocino County.  Even though the wine tips the alcohol scale at 16%, aging in American oak gives the whole package a rustic power that appeals.  Look for ripe cherry, tobacco, toasty oak and hints of vanilla.

Murphy-Goode Winery
2013 Zinfandel, Liar’s Dice
Sonoma County

Murphy-Goode co-founder Tim Murphy was the architect of their Zinfandel program conceived, in part, through “consultation” with Sonoma County Zinfandel growers over breakfast games of Liar’s Dice.  M-G 2013 Zin is a juicy, celebratory wine with dark cherry and blackberry fruit, a jammy palate and notes of oak from a combination of American and French oak aging.

2014 Zinfandel, Old Vines

The Mendocino Wine Company (owner of Parducci, Paul Dolan and others) purchased Offbeat Brands in 2016, adding Jelly Bean, Tie-Dye, Slices Sangria and Zin-Phomaniac to its portfolio.  I recently advised a friend to buy a gift wine for a friend based on “a nice or clever label.”  A fun label can add lots of enjoyment to a wine shared with friends and Zin-Phomaniac is a fun label (check it on the web).  The wine is tasty too, offering raspberry, tangy plum and earthy-toasty notes on the finish.

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To find contact information for most of the wineries in the above text,
visit our alphabetical lists for Northwest States.



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All rights reserved.  Last revised: 03/25/2017