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by Fred McMillin
for October 11, 2001

 

Are Zins or Cabs the Better Buy?

 

"It would be foolish to deny that California delivers extraordinary results from Cabernet Sauvignon."

"Zinfandel can rise to great heights, and is still slightly undervalued. Zinfandel prices per ton of grapes are about half of those for Cabernet Sauvignon."

...from The Wines of California, Stephan Brook, 1999

OK. If Zinfandels are undervalued, then a $16 Zin should taste better than a $16 Cab. To find out, in blind tastings we matched pairs ranging from $9 to $30. Here are the results.

 
Price of
the Pair
Winning
Varietal
The Winning Wine
  Cab Zin  
$9   X '98 Ironstone, California
$12   X '93 Guglielmo, Santa Clara Valley
$14   X '94 Belvedere, Dry Creek Valley
$15   X '94 Dry Creek Vineyard
$15   X '98 Sobon, Shenandoah Valley
$16   X '95 Davis Bynum, Sonoma County
$16 X   '95 Belvedere, Dry Creek Valley
$18   X '96 Sonora, Amador County
$20   X '95 Steele Du Pratt Vineyard, Mendocino
$24   X '95 La Crema, Sonoma County
$25 X   '96 Beringer Knights Valley
$30 X   '97 Davis Bynum, Hedin Vineyard, Russian River Valley
$30   X '97 Hidden Cellars Mendocino Heritage
Belvedere

This sharp Belvedere crew's wines won two of the matches!

 
 
 
Belvedere
Dry Creek Vineyard
 

What Have We Learned?

Below $25, Zinfandel won 90% of the tastings.

From $25 to $30, Cabs won two out of three.

If I'm buying a $12 red for dinner at home tonight, it'll be a Zinfandel. (see postscript)

If I'm pouring a $30 red for company, it'll be a Cab.

 

Postscript — A Classic Zinfandel Bargain

It's named Buffalo Ridge. Where's that? Let's go back to the early 1970s, and find the source of the Buffalo Ridge grapes.

 

The Grapes

Bob and Steve Miller plant in Santa Barbara County what will become one of the most distinguished vineyards in California...naming it Bien Nacido (born good). They also started developing what today is the huge (1,700 acres)French Camp Vineyard, named after four Basque farmers who, in 1860, settled east of San Luis Obispo.

 

The Winemaker

Critic James Laube gives Tom Eddy wines four stars...period. A specialist in making great Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, he wanted to add Zinfandel to his porfolio...when he came across a highly-promising block of Zin in...The French Camp Vineyard. He's just turned out the second vintage...rich black cherry, touch of black pepper, flattered with a year in French and American aged oak.

 

Whadda Bargain!

My panel and I gave it an eye-opening 88 rating. The average price of a Cabernet that we rate 88 is $26. The price of this Zin is twelve dollars!
Buffalo Ridge '99 Zinfandel
French Camp Vineyard, Central Coast
5% Syrah
Producer—Vintage New World, Ukiah, CA
Contact—Rusty Eddy, (707) 462-7196, FX (707) 462-7823.

Oh yes. There is no geographic Buffalo Ridge in California. It's the brand name.

Credits: Research Assistance—Judy Lorentz

 
 

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.

 


 
 
 

This page created October 2001

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