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The Zinfandel Die-Hard’s Tour of Napa Valley

Because cabernet isn’t everything, dammit.

An estate vineyard at Biale.


When most people think of Napa Valley wines, they think of bold, tannic cabernet sauvignon and well-oaked chardonnay. And rightly so—these are the varietals that put Napa Valley on the map. But there’s a whole lot more to this valley than just those two, and we want to show you where to find the good stuff (last time we covered pinot). Despite its Croatian origins, zinfandel is known as a truly Californian grape and as the best red wine for pairing with barbecue. Since Napa is the most famous winery region in California, it makes sense that zin would taste fantastic and be prolific in Napa Valley, right? Right! Here are five must-visit spots in Napa Valley for all you zin freaks out there. 

Summit Lake Vineyards  
Summit Lake Vineyards is one of my favorite spots to send people who like silky yet powerful and flavorful wines. It’s off the beaten path, but totally worth the winding drive up Howell Mountain to get the full experience at this family owned and operated winery. You have to make a private appointment for a tasting, and you’ll likely meet the family and be taken through a relaxed, educational, and thoroughly downhome tour when you do. Ask for Brian Brakesman, second generation winemaker and farmer, because he can tell you everything you want to know about Napa Valley, the spicy, fruit-forward wines he makes, and the generation that’s currently taking the reins in Napa Valley.  

Robert Biale Vineyards 
Zinfandel is this winery’s raison d’être. Biale makes 14 different zins, and you can try a slew of them (depends on how many are available when you visit) in the intimate yet casual Zinner Sanctum (yup). Don’t leave without trying Aldo’s Zin—it's silky and smooth and drinkable right now despite its full layers of flavor. (A tasting at the winery will set you back $60 per person.) There are a few other tasting options as well, but who are you kidding, you’re gonna be a zinner. 

Chase Cellars 
Chase Cellars makes two coveted zinfandels that are often listed among the favorites of Napa locals. The Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel ($60) is silky, easy drinking, and layered with spice, chocolate, and strawberry. The reserve version ($95) has the same qualities but is harder to find, has a bit more complexity, and is fuller and deeper. Tastings are by appointment only and usually take place outdoors among the olive trees and old vines. If the weather doesn’t play nice, you’ll taste inside the vineyard cottage, so don’t let a little rain scare you away. 

Storybook Mountain Vineyards 
The Zin Gris at Storybook Mountain ($25) is a dry, fun rosé-style wine that’s refreshing, full of flavor, and perfect for a summer day or a spicy meal. But the real talk of the town are the fruity Mayacamas Range Zinfandel ($40), the powerful yet easy drinking Antaeus Zinfandel Blend ($50), and the brooding, complex Estate Reserve Zinfandel ($70). Reserve well in advance for a tour of the vineyard and a tasting in the 125-year old caves.

Mt. Brave Wines 
Mt. Brave sits 1,800 feet above the valley floor on Mt. Veeder, where the views, like the intense flavors of the wines, seem to stretch forever. These folks are best known for their collectible single-block cabernet ($125), or their rich malbec ($80), but it was their zinfandel that blew my proverbial skirt up and got them on this list. This zin has firm structure, intricate balance, and flavors of tart red fruits and holiday spice. The by-appointment tastings at the winery’s private estate in Calistoga are intimate, and you’ll have the opportunity to sip at your own pace and learn as much as you’d like about the wines of Mt. Veeder or zinfandel in general. 


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