Over the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to taste a number of Old Vine Zinfandels. The results of the tasting reveals a dramatic range in quality and the perception that Old Vine is misused. Ultimately the consumer is the one who misses out on the opportunty to consume one of the iconic wines of California. As posted before there is no uniform mandate for producers to conform to a norm for the production of Old Vine Zinfandel. This problem also exits for late harvest wines like riesling and semillon.
A week ago I attended a tasting of Old Vine Zinfandel produced by Ravenswood Vineyard. These wines originate in Napa, Sonoma and Lodi. Given the sheer volume of wine produced, there are more cases produced than there are acres of producing Old Vine Zinfandel. Old Vine in my opinion is not 30 years of age as the vine can produce significant tonnage for many more years. The results of the Ravenswood tasting was that all the wines if priced at $10 or less are good red wines with little to no Zinfandel character. Color was dark and the aromas were not of Zinfandel. The vintages tasted were 2009 and 2010 so time in bottle would not be a consideration. I would like to see what they use as criteria for Old Vine on their label.
Recently I had the opportunity to taste a number of wines which are in my opinion true Old Vine Zinfandel. Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma has a 2008 Old Vine Zin (15%) which they acquire through a number of growers who are under long term contract. Dry Creek also provides their own vineyard crew who manage the vineyard during the vintage. This wine which can retail for as low as $24 or less is an excellent deep dark and rich Old Vine Zin and is highly recommended because of price quality ratio.
Bogel makes a good inexpensive Old Vine Cuvee which has more fruit and flavor than all three Ravenswood bottles and sell for $10 or less.
Del Carlo Old Vine Zin is the real deal and is sourced from the Teldeschi vineyard. The 2 acre plot of Zin is right at the century mark in age and produces a bright clean wine with berries and loam aromas. It is a healthy 15.5% in alcohol but with acidity which holds everything together. Priced at $32 this is a fair price for true Old Vine Zinfandel fruit.
Sausal Old Vine and Martini Monte Rosso, Rancho Zabaco and Rosenblum all produce Old Vine fruit that expresses what consumers are looking for, they represent quality in the vineyard and winemaking. The Monte Rosso is exceptional and so is the price. If you have a special occasion take the step with the Monte Rosso it is a most exceptional wine.
Overall I would suggest that a tasting with friends could do you more of a service than buying individual bottles. Make no mistake there is a wide range of quality. Be prepared to spend $30 to $40+ for the real thing. Anything less than $30 I would consider a very good deal.
What should you find in a true Old Vine Zinfandel? Color should be rich and dark. Aroma and taste should be full of berries and have blackberry etc brimming from the glass. Alcohol is generally 15% plus because of the need to ripen full clusters, many growers look for 25 degrees brix or more for healthy maturity of fruit and not just a number to pick.
Summer time is perfect for the consumption of Zin. BBQ meats and vegies and cheese are a perfect match for the fruit of a good Zinfandel. Enjoy!!