Brian Cain

OZ 2018

Brian Cain
OZ 2018

OZ 2018

Best Zins I can remember; even the last place wine was outstanding!

This is an annual event which has been held for at least 20 years.  It has all but lost its Wizard of Oz theme though the coveted Toto award is still given to the lowest scoring wine.  It is now an official American Wine Society wine judging open only to AWS members and potential members.   It is double blind in that no one knows which wines are being tasted nor the order, price etc.   The judges do know that all of the wines are made from Zinfandel grapes, however.  We now use the American Wine Society rating method to arrive at a point score out of a possible 20 points.  If you like medals instead of points, consider an 18-20 point wine as a gold, 16-17.9 as a silver and 14-15.9 as a bronze.  The listed price is based on the winery’s own website or other on-line vendors, so, chances are you’ll find them for less in the marketplace.

This year, more than in the past, the average was very high and even the lowest rated wine was excellent.   37 wines were entered, with a few duplicates not known to any of the judges.   As usual, the biggest, richest wines garnered higher scores while the more subtle, finely textured wines did not fare as well.  I was a bit surprised that the Italian Primitivos fared well in the context of the mostly California line up.

The biggest surprise was the wine that finished dead last receiving the Toto award..   2015 Victor Hugo Winery Estate Zinfandel Paso Robles Templeton Gap $24 was entered by Jo Schmidt who now joins the who’s who list of West Michigan’s most luminary wine geeks.  Hard to believe that this gold medal (Tasters Guild) wine was the lowest scoring wine at this event.  The ripe (25.7 brix) fruit is evident throughout the big berry and bittersweet chocolate-like nose and long silky tannins that are framed with subtle oak and elegant texture.   What’s not to like?  This wine is no dog!

Below are the highest rated wines of the event.



2016 Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma CA $26, entered by Jackie Hansen with a second bottle entered by Dan Hansen.

Although I did score a couple of wines higher, to be truthful, if I had only one of these wines to drink, it would be this one.   One couldn’t ever get tired of or bored with the bright raspberry/strawberry fruit in the nose and the big, edgy, nervously fresh, vivid, late harvest-like flavors that bombard the palate.  The winery has completely captured the fresh essence of the grapes while crafting a balanced and rewarding wine.  My score, 19+/20; final Judging 1st and 2nd place overall.



2016 Federalist Zinfandel Lodi CA $29, entered by Roger Schiefler with a second bottle entered by Janet Standish

Big fleshy red fruit mouth feel with spicy, peppery nuances married with subtle oak and fine tannins.

My score, 17/20; Final judging 3rd place overall.



2015 Michael David 7 Deadly Zins Lodi CA $16, entered by Peg Hartman with a second bottle entered Phil Grefe.

HUGE HUGE HUGE!   Here is a block buster full of big earthy right bank-like flavors and textures the more resemble a big Merlot than a Zin with big fat chocolate and raspberries throughout.  Its big texture is nicely balanced with lush glycol and glycerol in the finish.  WOW!   My score, 20/20 


2016 Oakridge Zinfandel Lodi CA $15, entered by Scott Conduti. 

Jammy with lots of complexity and gargantuan ripe fig and black berry fruit.  It lasts on the palate and feels juicy with rich viscosity.   My score, 20/20 


2016 Cosentino Cigar Zin Old Vine Lodi CA $17, entered by Larry D’Haem and a second bottle entered by Nancy Fiore.

This is a real powerhouse of a Zin with a huge mouth filling texture loaded with blackberry, dried fruits, with a marmalade Gewurz-like nuance and hints of truffle.  My score, 18/20


2015 Vinifera Wine Co. The Pier Zinfandel Lodi CA $12, entered by Greg Hoffman with two more bottles entered by Bob Standish and Dan Hartman.

This is a bit of an odd duck to me.  Though likable enough, the bouquet has a little bit of a sour cabbage component that carries through the wine reminding me of some of our currently fermenting cuvees.  Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of fruit too, but the other flavors diminish its fruit purity.  My score, 14/20




Other wines that I liked but were not among those with the highest scores included in the final judging.


2016 Frogs Leap Zinfandel, Napa Valley CA $32, entered by Alice Cain. 

Big fine red cherry fruit that feels both light and very concentrated and persistent.   The tannins are quite silky and get longer and longer in the finish.  My score 19/20


2015 Plungerhead Zinfandel Lodi CA $13, entered by Gene Picciotti

The nose reminds me of bitter orange and berries while the mouth feel is long and concentrated.  My score 18/20


2014 Carol Shelton Monga Zin Old Vine, Cucamonga CA $19, entered by Brian Cain

Sweet savory spices of clove and black pepper infused with extremely dense ripe Italian prune plums and blackberry.   Hints of earth and stones compliment the long tannic finish.   Bill Martinus commented that it is “quintessential Zin”.   I would go even further to say it is “quintessential California!”  My score, 18/20


2014 Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo Salento IT $23, entered by Mike Hansen

The very floral (not perfumed) bouquet reminds me of violets and lavender somewhat like a good Mourvedre delivers.  The floral component carries through to the fine, long finish.  My score, 18/20


NV Chateau Diana Zombie Zin CA $18, entered by Jan Hoffman

Quite unusual for a California Zin in a good way; it actually reminds me of some of the better red hybrids we make in Michigan with an earthy, rustic, sense of wet stones and old wood.  It may not sound like your kind of wine, but, it is really delicious when judged without Zin prejudice.  My score, 17/20


2015 Tommasi Massenia Surani Heracles Primitivo Puglia IT $18, entered by Tony Fiori.

 The nose reminds me of pomegranates with a slightly floral rose petal scent and subtle mineral nuances  not unlike Alsace Gewurz.  Pleasant finish too.  My score, 16/20


2016 1000 Stories Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel CA $19, Entered by Kathy Mauck

Sweet oak and chocolate with an easy supple soft mouth feel all the way to the finish.  My score 16/20


‘Till next year’s OZ,


Enjoy in Good Health,

Brian Cain, the Michigan Vintner