The Lodi Winegrape Commission was kind enough to send me 12 zinfandels selected by a “panel of experts” that chose these “outstanding” representatives from a field of 48; I applaud the panel for eliminating 75 percent of the candidates.

Still, I have to say that the palates of these experts must have been made of sterner stuff than mine; some of these zinfandels were so high in alcohol, so rife with jammy over-ripeness as to be untenable. It continues to boggle my little pointy head that bigness in zinfandel is equated with quality. People make these 15.9 and 16 percent alcohol wines, pack them with blackberry marmalade, thwack them with American oak and send them out into the world with macho names like Gargantua or Roadkill or Jackboot in Your Face and assume that we’ll all settle down like sweet woolly lambs and say, “Thank you very much, sir. Please, may I have some more.”

Having gotten that issue off my chest, I will say that I did enjoy several of these zinfandel wines from Lodi and bestowed Excellent ratings on four of them; two I found so unbalanced, unwieldy and overbearing that I rated them Avoid, which I don’t do often. Some real bargains are included here too. The sequence is from cheapest to most expensive.
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Here’s some good news. The Talus Collection Zinfandel 2007, Lodi, is a terrific wine at an incredibly reasonable cost. Zinfandel grapes make up 80 percent of the wine; the rest consists of petite sirah (11%), merlot (7%) and 2 percent “blending grapes.” This zinfandel is remarkably intense and concentrated for the price. Scents of blackberry, black currant and plum are wreathed with brambles and black pepper. It’s a satisfying mouthful of wine, with good heft and vibrant acidity to buoy dark, spicy — mocha and cloves — black fruit flavors wrapped around a potent core of lavender, potpourri and minerals. Tannins are robust and slightly shaggy. The alcohol content is a comfortable 13.4 percent. Very Good and a Great Bargain at about $7.
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Eola Hills Winery is a well-known producer of pinot noir in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. For the Eola Hills Zinfandel 2007, the company reaches down to Lodi for grapes picked, for a change, from young vines and aged 10 months in older American oak. The result is a zinfandel whose color is more a ruddy-magenta hue than the deeply extracted inky zinfandels we see so much. Interesting, too, is the bouquet, an amalgam of spiced apple, plums and blueberry with a slight mineral edge. As captivating as all this sounds, however, 15.1 percent alcohol gives this zinfandel a size that belies its initial impression. This is a mouth-filling wine, packed with big, dry, dusty tannins that dominate the ripe, moderately spicy black and red fruit flavors. I found this zinfandel to be oddly attractive and appealing, and at the price, one could hardly help experimenting. Production was 529 cases. Very Good. About $13.
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The Oak Ridge Winery OZV Zinfandel 2005, Lodi, made from 50- to 100-year-old vineyards, comes in a hair under 14 percent alcohol, which feels like a blessing in the wine. This is classic, a bountiful basket of black currants and plums with one or two ripe boysenberries and an overlay of blueberry tart. In the mouth, we get raspberry and damson plum marmalade infused with port stuffed into a fruit cake with all that confection implies of dried cherries and citron and dates, chopped walnuts and baking spice. Lordy, you’re thinking, this sounds over the top, and it would be except that the strict contours of wood, from French and American oak, a sinew of vibrant acidity and the weight of dense, chewy tannins keep it honest. The making is interesting; the French and American oak comprises 60 percent of the aging, while the rest of the wine was kept cold in stainless steel tanks to ensure bright, crisp fruitiness. Excellent, and a Great Bargain at about $15.
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The Van Ruiten Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel 2007, Lodi, made from vines “over 50 years” old and clocking in at 15.5 percent alcohol, is an earthy, funky wine that features aromas of cinnamon and Moroccan spices, roasted meat and wet fur, coffee and mocha, and dried currants and blueberries. One feels the imbalance in the mouth; velvety, iron-inflected tannins provide a texture so dense that it’s almost viscous, while black fruit flavors are stridently spicy and too roasted. A hot finish provides further evidence that this incoherent wine carries individualism to extremes. This is a blend of 84 percent zinfandel, 8 percent petite sirah, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon and 3 percent syrah. Avoid. About $16.
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Now, here is what we want in a Lodi zinfandel and at a great price. !ZaZin Old Vine Zinfandel 2007 takes grapes from a 108-year-old vineyard, adds 15 percent petite sirah and ages the wine 15 months in French and American oak barrels (75 percent new). The result is a dark, intense and concentrated zinfandel packed with dusty tannins, earthy minerals and ripe blackberry, black currant and plum scents and flavors. Those flavors are smoked and roasted, a little meaty and fleshy, wrapped around a core of lavender, licorice and granite; there’s a touch of blueberry tart, but no boysenberry, no over-ripeness. The wine is sizable, robust, dense and chewy, permeated by briers and brambles, deep and long in extension and finish, which brings in more of a loamy, mineral edge. !ZaZin is made by Laurel Glen, well-known for Sonoma cabernets. Excellent, and a Great Bargain at about $17.
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The Bargetto Old Vine Zinfandel 2007, Lodi, bottled with this nice “retro” label, is first characterized by what it is not: Not too big, not over-ripe, not raisiny. So, what is it then? A well-balanced combination of black and red currants and dusty plums, married to a touch of fruit cake, a whiff of black pepper, and a dense, chewy texture. The evidence of aging 18 months in American oak is mainly revealed in a firm structure and a mildly spicy nature. Well-suited to hearty pizzas and pasta dishes and burgers. The wine is made of 100 percent zinfandel grapes picked from two adjacent 100-year-old vineyards. Very Good+. About $18.
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Aged 18 months in new American oak and measuring 15.5 percent alcohol, the Mettler “Epicenter” Old Vine Zinfandel 2006, Lodi, is partly an expressive and classic Lodi zinfandel and partly an over-wrought blockbuster. Florid, penetrating black currant and plum flavors with a hint of boysenberry deliver a spice and mineral afterburn; these flavors take on more size, turning more macerated and roasted in the glass and offering notes of mocha and licorice. All of these aspects would be fine — there’s a pass at elegance — except that a pretty damned hot finish deprives the wine of final balance and integration. This is a blend of 91 percent zinfandel, 7 percent petite sirah and 2 percent cabernet franc. Very Good. About $20.
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Here’s an amazement: An old-vine, dry-farmed, 16.1% alcohol-zinfandel that manages to be as fresh and clean and bright as some winsome young thing and yet retain proper gravitas for impressive power, purity and intensity. The Macchia “Oblivious” Old Vine Zinfandel 2007, Lodi, offers a purple/black hue; the nose displays remarkable minerals depths under generously proportioned, macerated and roasted black and blue fruit scents permeated by briers and brambles, forest and moss. This confluence of fruit, earth and minerals finds even more dimension in the mouth, adding rollicking spice, potpourri and an edge of smoke and charcoal. For all that, the wine is buoyant, lively and appealing. Production was 200 cases. Excellent. About $24.
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Thank god for acidity, for without its keen and lithe electricity the Harney Lane Old Vine Zinfandel 2006, Lodi, from the 105-year-old Lizzie James Vineyard, would be unmanageable. At 15.6 percent alcohol, this zinfandel is very spicy, very brambly, bursting with scents of ripe blackberries, black currants and polums with a hint of boysenberry. The wine is deep and dense, rich and succulent, and its black fruit flavors, infused with lavender, violets, minerals and plum dust, stop just before the point of being jammy. A few minutes in the glass bring in notes of new leather, and the aromas shift to black fruit compote, black cherry and black pepper, all heightened by a wild, untamed, even risky quality. In the finish, oaky, minerally austerity takes over. We drank this wine with flank steak tacos, exactly the kind of fare it needs to accompany. You wouldn’t mistake this wine for anything made anywhere else in the world, and of course that’s the way it should be. Production was 221 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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The m2 Soucie Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2007, Lodi, is an ambitious wine that doesn’t quite hold together. This is quite rich. dark, dense and chewy, a velvet-and-iron-filings wine, emitting layers upon layers of dark, wild, spicy exotic blueberry, cranberry and plum fruit. The wine is very dry but luscious, almost viscous, and with its 15.3 percent alcohol level, it bears an overlay of ripe, alcoholic sweetness and heat on the finish, as well as touches of pomander, dark and licorice. It ages 17 months in new and used American oak barrels. The Soucie Vineyard was planted in 1916. Production of this wine was 430 cases. Very Good+. About $28.
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The m2 Artist Series Zinfandel 2007, Lodi, also taps in at 15.3 percent alcohol. The grapes derive from the Soucie Vineyard, mentioned above, and the Maley Vineyard, planted in the 1960s. The wine is a deep purple color; wild aromas of black currant and plum, mulberry and rhubarb burst from the glass in a welter of fruitcake and fresh-roasted coffee. The wine is dense and plush, packed with spicy black fruit flavors ensconced in supple, edgeless tannins. Still, there’s some heat on the finish that detracts from the wine’s purity and balance. The barrel regimen was 18 months in American oak, 60 percent new. 125 cases were produced. Very Good+. About $35.
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At 16.5 percent alcohol, the Michael & David “Gluttony” Old Vine Zinfandel 2006, Lodi — they also make a zin called “Lust”; I’m waiting for “Sloth” and “Anger” — smells, feels and tastes like port, which would be fine if you wanted port, but not if you’re drinking this with, say, a steak. I mean, this is a scorched earth wine in its intensely roasted, smoky earthy nature and overwrought in its sheen of alcoholic sweetness, though dauntlessly dry from mid-palate back. It’s difficult to believe that this blowsy, boozy monster made the cut to join this roster of “The Best of Lodi,’ as well as winning gold medals at several wine competitions. I guess poise and balance are distinctly out of fashion. 950 cases produced. Avoid. About — and this is ludicrous — $59.
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