I tasted through 5 old vines Zins from Lodi over the past week or two hoping to find a few winners and learn a bit about the style.
So how did it go and what did I learn?
1. The clear winner was the Ravenswood. It was a damn fine wine for less than $12, showing great fruit, but also some real character: richness, earthiness, depth and structure.
2. But overall, I was a bit disappointed with the wines. I was expecting the old vines to translate into wines with lots of intensity and complexity, with interesting secondary flavors and a sense of terroir. Instead, I feel like the intensity I got was in the sweetness of the fruit (though not necessarily residual sugar in the wine, with the exception of the Campus Oaks). I used terms like candied, overripe, jam, cream soda, and Hawaiian Punch to describe these wines. Perhaps you need to move up the price curve (these were $10-17) to get real character, even if the wines are from old vines. Or perhaps Lodi is too hot to produce wines with structure to rein in the fruit.
3. Lastly, 3 of the 5 wines specified the age of the vines on the bottle: Spellbound at 52 years; Gnarly Head at 35-80 years, and Campus Oaks at 90 years. I think it’s bad form to use the term “old vines” and not specify the age, especially given that there are no regulations about it’s use. So come on Ravenswood and Plungerhead: how old is old?
Hope you enjoyed the series. Perhaps sometime soon I’ll do another old vines Zin series from another appellation. Thea Dwelle’s terrific post on Zinfandel at the brand spanking new Palate Press gives me some good ideas. But if you have a recommendation, leave a comment. Where have you found great old vines Zin in the under $15 range?
Update (11/09/2009): Since I only found one real winner here, I’ve been on the lookout for examples. I came across a post from Frederic Koeppel over at Bigger Than Your Head reviewing 12 other Lodi Zins. He, too, found more dogs than winners, but I thought I’d point you there for some other options. Several of them are quite a bit more than the “everyday” price range I focused on for my series, but not all of them. Check it out.