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90+ point rated wines under $20

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2009 Zin 91 Old Vine Zinfandel**
09Zin91.jpg Region Price Purchases Drank
California $13 Sample 11/19/10
A medium, ruby-colored wine with a moderately aromatic nose of red berries, black pepper, sweet spice and notes of cedar. The palate is medium-bodied with low tannins and medium acidity with flavors of black cherry, raspberry, pepper and hints of cinnaman and vanilla on the medium-length finish. While mostly Zinfandel (82%), this wine also has 15% Petite Sirah and 3% Syrah blended in, which helps temper the usual overt fruitiness of this grape. The wine was aged for 9 months in 2-year-old French barriques. It's not overly complex, but at 14% abv (crazy low for this varietal) this is a well-balanced wine that delivers Zin flavors without the usual alcoholic, overripe punch. It was even better with food. Very good QPR and a wine that will get Zin-haters to reconsider. (Grapes come from 3 regions: Zin from Paso Robles, Petite Sirah from Clarskburg CA and Syrah from Napa.)

2007 Dover Canyon Winery Old Vine Zinfandel***
07DoverCynZin.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $27 @ the Winery 1/31/12
Sourced from the Benito Dusi Vineyard, the graped that go into this wine come from vines that are, on average, over 80-years-old. This really comes through in the glass. Even at 15.2% abv, this was a vibrant, elegant, complex wine that kept me intrigued the whole night long. Something I didn't think possibly happen anymore with zinfandel. This winery has been producing lovely zinfandels since 1994 and this bottle showed me I can love the grape again. A bright, clear, medium ruby color with an intense nose of red berries, herbs and earth with hints of candy, meat and sweet spice. The palate is medium-bodied with well-balanced acidity, flavors of black raspberry, strawberry, minerals, tobacco and a hint of pepper and vanilla on the lengthy finish. While certainly ripe and fruity, this wine showed control, elegance and a liveliness that is sorely lacking in this grape in this region. They know what they're doing and if I you love zins you need to stop here. Drinking perfectly right now, I wouldn't wait much longer given the fairly high abv, though no heat was noticeable.

2007 J Dusi Dante Dusi Zinfandel***
jdusi07zin.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $32 The Wine Vault 11/22/09
A medium-deep, ruby-colored wine with tinges of purple on the edges. The nose is very aromatic with notes of ripe berries, cherry and hints of earth and spice. One of those wines I could smell for quite some time. On the palate, the wine is medium-bodied with well-balanced acidity and low tannins. The mouthfeel is round with jammy berry, black cherry and earth with notes of sweet spice on the lengthy finish. Despite it's 15% abv (which is fairly low for Paso), this is a very elegant wine without the over-the-top heat and overripe fruit on many Zins produced these days. The winemaker, Janelle Dusi, is a member of the fourth generation of owners/growers of the Dusi vineyard and she clearly knows how to get the best from their land. A must-buy for zin lovers as this wine delivers pure varietal characteristics without the usual alcoholic punch and heaviness. Great QPR for what I paid ($26). Haven't enjoyed a Zin so much in a long time.

2007 Trader Joe's Coastal Zinfandel**
tjcoastalzin.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Central Coast, CA $4 Trader Joe's 6/10/09
A medium-colored bright ruby wine with lovely aromas of brambly red fruit, sweet spice and hints of pepper. The palate took a few minutes to open up, but once it did it showed ripe black cherry and raspberry flavors with notes of vanilla, smoke and pepper on the surprisingly lengthy finish. This medium-bodied wine was well-balanced and zippy with just the right amount of acidity. It's hard to believe a $4 wine could be so enjoyable, but this one is vinified and bottled by Castoro Cellars, one of Paso Robles best, affordable Zin producers. At under 14% abv, this is a wine that went really well with our pasta with meat sauce, yet was just as good on its own, giving true varietal flavor without the usual heat. A great wine for a BBQ that will please the palate as well the pocketbook. Get it before it's gone. Glad I bought 2 bottles.

2007 Zynthesis Old Vine Zinfandel**
07zynthesiszin.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Lodi, CA $15 BevMo 10/1/09
A deep, ruby/purple colored wine with a moderate, youthful nose of black fruit, smoke and sweet spice. The palate was medium to full-bodied dominated by flavors of blackberry, black cherry and vanilla spice along with notes of coffee on the medium length finish. Not very complex, but more enjoyable than many zins made these days because it wasn't slap-you-in-the-face fruity or alcoholic. The additions of Syrah and Petite Sirah (could not find out how much) brought depth and savory qualities to the wine that I quite liked. At only 14.8% abv it could almost qualify as a sipper. Not sure I would have said it was a Zinfandel if I tasted it blind, but perhaps that's a good thing. Popped and poured, the wine did not really change much as the night went on.

2006 Croad Vineyards Zinfandel**
croad06zin.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $32 @ the Winery 1/12/09
This medium-bodied, ruby-colored wine has a deep nose of ripe red and black berries, spice and pepper. The body had low tannins and good acidity with a smooth mouthfeel and flavors of blackberry, blueberry, black pepper and hints of cola and vanilla on the moderate finish. As their second effort this bottle showed good structure and elegance for a Paso Zin. Despite an abv of 15.5% the wine was well-balanced and had nice unity of fruit and spice. Almost three stars, but it needed a longer finish and a bit more depth of flavor. Not quite worth its price tag.

2006 Joel Gott Zinfandel*
joelgott06.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
California $15 BevMo 2/22/09
A medium-deep, ruby-purple wine with a moderate nose of ripe briary fruit with notes of oak, sweet spice and pepper. The palate is medium-bodied and started out quite acidic, taking almost an hour to smooth out. The flavors were more subdued than I expected with black cherry, plum and raspberry with hints of smoke, earth and pepper on the short finish. I've had better Zins in this price point and I liked it more as the night went on, but overall just wasn't that impressed. Should have aerated it, which might have helped deliver more pleasure earlier.

2006 Layer Cake Primitivo**
layer_cake.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Puglia, Italy $15 Private Dinner 9/18/08
The wine is opaque and purple-colored with a nose of jammy black cherry and blackberry fruit, earth, oak, and spice. Warm and rich in the mouth, with soft tannins and acidity. The wine has good structure though with a touch of heat on the finish. A lot of ripeness for a wine that not only come from Italy, but is only 14% alcohol. Pleasant, but not complex.

2006 Minassian-Young 1000 Vines Zinfandel***
MY1000VinesZin.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $22 @ the Winery 1/19/09
A bright ruby, medium-bodied wine with an aromatic nose of brambly red fruit, sweet spice and hints of pepper and earth. The palate was initially tight, but quickly smoothed out into an intense and well-blanced wine with the alcohol nicely incorporated with the ripe fruit. The flavors are black cherry and blackberry with notes of cola, earth, maple syrup and vanilla on the lingering and lush finish. This wine only got better and deeper as the night went on. Could age for at least another year, but at this price why wait?

2006 Nadeau Family Vintners "The Bouncer" Zinfandel**
NadeauZinBouncer.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $23 @ the Winery 8/28/10
A medium, ruby-colored wine with a bright nose of brambly black fruit, white pepper, earth and herbs. The palate is medium-bodied and well-balanced with the ripe blackberry and black cherry notes well-integrated with the savory aspects, delivering a solidly elegant wine with medium-length, spice-filled finish. Popped and poured, this wine is ready to go and has some time left in the bottle, despite its 15.2% abv, which didn't show through at all. Was better with food and could have used a bit more depth and persistence of flavor, but more than delivers what you expect for the price.

2006 Seghesio Vineyards Zinfandel**
seghesiozin.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Sonoma, CA $20 Private Tasting 3/14/08
A ruby-colored medium bodied wine with distinct and bright, almost candy-like red fruit flavors on the nose and the palate which is filled with ripe berries and cherries, soft tannins and hints of spice and briar. It is youthfully exuberant and somewhat juicy in character with not much structure or balance. It bit more time might help to integrate it's rambuctiousness. A wine with upfront flavors and little else. For true Zin lovers only.

2006 Tobin James "Ballistic" Zinfandel**
tobinzin.jpg Region Price Purchased Drank
Paso Robles, CA $18 @ the Winery 2/27/08
This wine is a lovely ruby red with a big, ripe berry-filled nose with just a touch of black pepper. The fruit-forward palate expresses blackberry, cherry and currant flavors with verve, followed by hints of pepper, spice and smoke. Nice acidity makes this a great food wine. It was a touch alcoholic with our lightly spicy food, but well-balanced and elegant afterwards. A good value wine.

2006 Vie Winery Beatty Ranch Zinfandel**
06VieBeatty.jpg Region Price Tasted Drank
Napa Valley, CA $40 @ Red Carpet Wines 4/26/08
A medium-purple colored wine with upfront aromas of berries and cherries, earth and spice that follows through in the mouth with medium body and additional notes of vanilla and oak. While the wine is pleasant on the palate the finish was shorter than expected and filled with a tinge of herbaceousness that conflicted with the ripe fruit. While well-balanced it just failed to excite.

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**** Outstanding | *** Delicious | ** Enjoyable | * Drinkable
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