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Wine of the Day
- Written by Fred Swan
- Wednesday, 04 May 2011 01:15
Old Vine Zinfandel
Grapes from old vines are generally cherished for their complexity and depth of character. Smaller in size with less juice but thicker skins, grapes from gnarly vines planted 30+ years ago pack more flavor and color per berry than do their younger counterparts. Yields decrease as vines become venerable, potentially decreasing grower revenue despite increasing quality. And the vines themselves become fragile as they age, more likely to be damaged by a gentle nudge from a tractor. This makes the viticulture and harvest slower and more labor intensive (read expensive).
All this being the case, old vine grapes are typically used judiciously. Sometimes they are added in small amounts to blends with other components that are already pretty good, making the final concoction even more interesting. These days, we often see old vine wine bottled by itself in high-end, single vineyard releases. Through their aromas and flavors they give a strong sense of the vineyard. And their exclusivity allows for high prices too.
Old vine Zinfandel hasn’t always gotten such special treatment though. California had so many old Zinfandel vines that growers didn’t value them highly. Consumers haven’t always valued Zinfandel highly either. In fact, many old vineyards were grubbed up and replanted with young vines of more fashionable varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.
A lot of California’s ancient Zinfandel was actually saved by producers of inexpensive Zinfandel wines, such as white Zinfandel and jug reds. They needed the color and intensity to keep their otherwise simple, high-volume wines from being completely devoid of flavor. These producers kept the growers in the Zinfandel business — and some growers out of bankruptcy. Old Zinfandel was taken from all over for such purposes. As a result, we still have a good quantity of 50+ year old Zinfandel in many different areas: Sonoma County, Lodi, Amador County, Napa Valley, etc. Now, more and more ancient vine Zinfandel is being reserved for special, vineyard specific bottlings that give the grapes their due.
The Lodi AVA has some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in California — and thus the country. And it has a lot of them. If you want to try a range of old vine Zinfandel wines, you should definitely consider visiting Lodi, either in person or online, to pick some up.
One wine you won’t want to miss is the 2008 m2 Old Vine Zinfandel from the Soucie Vineyard. Not only do the grapes come from a single old vine vineyard, every single one of them comes from that vineyard’s oldest block. It was planted in 1916 by the current grower’s grandfather. The vineyard’s sandy soil (DeVries Sandy Loam) is naturally phylloxera resistant so the vines have been able to survive not just Prohibition and the ravages of time but also the little louse most responsible for killing vines around the world.
The vineyard is on West Turner Road, just a bit to the east of Interstate 5. Cooling breezes from Suisun Bay and the Sacramento/San Joachin River Delta help keep the grapes from developing over-ripe flavors. The vineyard has underground irrigation but it is only turned on in extreme circumstances. The Soucie's goal is to maintain flavor density by dry farming as much as possible.
The 2008 m2 Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel is deep, yet not opaque, ruby in the glass with pigmented legs and a thin pale rim. The nose offers blackberry, black cherry, dark spice, wood and coconut. The palate is just right for Zinfandel with the body and tannins just north of medium. Alcohol content is listed at 15.1% and the wine doesn’t feel hot or flabby. Attractive flavors of briary blackberry, black cherry, coconut, cocoa and vanilla subside slowly and in unison.
This old vine Zinfandel from m2 is a very good effort. It is a fruit-forward wine, but is fresh and doesn’t have any baked or raisiny flavors. The alcohol is well integrated and use of oak restrained. It’s a boldly flavored wine with structure and I would prefer to drink it, as I eventually did, with a nice steak. It would be just fine with grilled chicken breast though, and serious Zin lovers can easily sip the wine without any food at all. Drink now through 2014. Highly Recommended.
2008 m2 Zinfandel Old Vine Soucie Vineyard Lodi
Rating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2014
Release Date: May, 2010
Retail Price: $28
Blend: 100% Zinfandel
Origin: Soucie Vineyard, Lodi
Aging: 19 months in American oak: 20% new, 80% “neutral”
The wine above was tasted at the winery, then again the next day. The wine was provided for review.
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