Blind Tasting Zinfandel with Christina Turley

Sneak behind the scenes of our latest featured collection. Above: Turleygirl sizes up the work ahead of her.

Christina Turley is our latest guest curator for a collection of wines near and dear to her heart: Zinfandel. The eldest (yet shortest) daughter of Turley Wine Cellars founder Larry Turley, Christina learned to say Zinfandel before she could even walk. Yet with an endless hunger for adventure and perhaps a hint of rebellion, Christina’s life has not been all Zin all the time. She began her career by jumping into the wine pool on the opposite side from the family business — as a sommelier in New York’s europhilic restaurant world where she ultimately became the Beverage Director for the Momofuku Restaurant Group. Over those years she joined the Grüner brigade, Burgundy bandwagon and praised the Vouvray rapture. Her New York nurture soon gave way to her California nature. In 2010, she returned to her Zinfandel roots and joined her family’s Turley Wine Cellars. As Christina often says about her homecoming, “old vines, young love.” Over the past five years she has been both a devout student and a dedicated ambassador of Zinfandel, heritage vineyards and California’s rich winemaking tradition.

As a dear friend and regular drinking companion of Miss Turleygirl, I can tell you firsthand she is one of the most open-minded and inquisitive wine drinkers I’ve ever met. She prejudices no grapes or regions. Her eyes light up for quality, character and history. She simply wants delicious wines that are true to themselves. In the case of Zinfandel, this means juicy berry flavors, the hit of pepper on the nose, and a liberal dose of spiciness. Zinfandel should not be flavor shy: it is a dense and energetic grape that should taste similarly intense and alive in the glass.

We started with a high bar of excellence to curate this collection. Christina gave me her wish list of the Zinfandel producers she most admires. I tapped the Delectable community for their most loved bottles and then whittled the list down to twelve wines, each from different wineries. And to throw out any bias, I threw the wild card of blind tasting into the mix. Bottles expertly disguised in aluminum foil, I donned my best poker face and tasted Christina through the wines. We evaluated each for the following criteria:

Is this a well-made wine? Is it balanced? Are there any off flavors or aromas?
Is it Zinfandel-correct? Does it embrace and do delicious things with Zinfandel’s characteristic fruitiness and spiciness?
Does it have unique character? Big-flavor grapes like Zinfandel can easily get blown out to taste pretty generic. We’re looking here for an alluring and unique sense of place and personality.
Who would love this wine? Delicious is subjective, and even in its varietally-correct and well-made form, Zinfandel styles range greatly. Some have a rusticity that is the bees knees to old world wine drinkers. Others pack the juicy punch that new world wine drinkers crave. They don’t all have to be for everybody, but to make the cut, they need to be great for somebody.
What do you think this costs? We want to suss out the wines that over deliver on both deliciousness and price. If a wine receives a passing grade for quality and character, but is far more expensive than it tastes, it gets axed. Conversely, bonus points for wines that drink above their price class.
Where do you think this is from? Turley works with fruit from vineyards all over the state, so Christina has the ins and outs of California Zinfandel dialed. We want to make sure the wine is reflective of its region and climate. Sonoma Mountain has a very different profile than Paso Robles — in the best made wines, those differences come through.

After tasting back and forth through the twelve contender wines, we arrived with very purple teeth at a collection of six shining star bottles. Plus a bonus bottle of Christina’s favorite new Turley for good measure.

Text & Images: Julia Weinberg

Originally published on May 5, 2015 at

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