The best California zinfandels are single-vineyard bottlings now blowing past $25. But major zin producers continue to make higher-volume wines, usually blends of grapes from several wine-growing regions, for convivial sipping at $10 or less. And for just a few bucks more, these same winemakers offer labels that are a step up in complexity without filching your wallet. For example, Rosenblum Cellars Vintners Cuvée XXVII ($10), is rustic and jammy, while the 2003 Rosenblum Contra Costa County from Oakley Vineyards ($12) is rich with bright berry flavors. I found the 2002 Ravenswood Vintners Blend ($8) to be friendly enough for a burger or simple tomato-sauced pasta, but at $13, the 2002 Ravenswood Sonoma County shows more zesty red fruit. Similarly, the 2003 Cline Cellars Zinfandel ($8) is a good everyday wine, but it lacks the full-bodied oomph and dark fruit of the 2004 Ancient Vines ($12).
–D. R. W.