Old Vine Zinfandel: A Meal In A Glass

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - October 06, 2010
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A consistent quality red

Zinfandel is a wine that seems to have fallen out of vogue in the past several years. There is still a staunch following for this big red wine, but its sales have slumped off since its height in the early 2000s.

What has happened to it? Have people gotten bored with it? Has it been replaced?

People love Zinfandel because it is a hedonistic, jammy, deep, berry-flavored, robust, rich and heavy alcohol-laden wine. Of course there are exceptions, but the die-hards love the biggest, thickest, inkiest and juiciest versions they can stain any glass with. Just look at the latest Zinfandel in any store and you will see alcohol contents more than 15 percent on the label. Some would say that Zinfandel has the most “bang for the buck.”

What I suspect is that when people first discover wine and drink Zinfandel, their palates are enthralled with all the wonderful aromas and flavors Zinfandel can offer. But most people’s palates change and, as they do, many discover that wines that are not as heavy or alcoholic may better suit their taste buds and the food they eat. I admit that I hardly drink Zinfandel because it rarely goes well with anything that I eat, with the exception of a roasted squab dish or the grilled ribs drenched with barbecue sauce I prepare on occasion. Zinfandel is not the most versatile wine when it comes to food.

With the higher alcohols in most Zins and the hugely impactful flavors, the wine can actually be a meal in a glass. To some, this is one of the greatest things about Zinfandel. But many people are not as tolerant to the high levels of alcohol and can only drink one glass of this high-octane wine before they get a little tipsy.

I also would propose that Zinfandel is mimicked by Shiraz. It too can be a gargantuan wine filled with jammy blackberry notes and spices. Shiraz also is more likely to have high alcohol levels. Have you taken a look at the alcohol content of a Mollydooker Shiraz lately? In many cases, Shiraz can be less expensive at the same quality level. Even some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot producers are creating more rich styles of their own in order to garner some of the market share that Zinfandel producers once enjoyed.

One of the more depressing by-products of Zinfandel’s lag in popularity is that many of the ancient vine vineyards have eventually been replanted with other varietals; ones that either sell for more money or are just more popular, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. I remember Mike Officer from Carlisle Winery and Vineyards (my personal favorite Zinfandel producer) mentioning to me how he sees it as his personal mission to save old vine Zinfandel vineyards from oblivion. The heritage of these vineyards is invaluable and I hope that more producers like Officer will do the same.

Thankfully there are producers like Carlisle, Four Vines, Papapietro Perry and Mantra, just to name a few, who are producing great Zinfandels. They keep Zinfandel lovers happy. And they prove that Zinfandel is here to stay.

Recommendations: 2008 Evening Lands Beaujolais Villages ($14) Yet another deliciously well-made Gamay that goes well with food. Sweet cherry pie and dried cranberries burst from the glass: light, soft and so easy to drink. 2007 Stags Leap Wine Cellars “Artemis” Cabernet Sauvignon ($55) This winery has been one of Napa Valley’s “blue chips” for decades, and this wine is another statement to their consistency and quality. It screams with sweet blackberry laced with vanillin and sweet spices. Thick on the palate with a palate-staining finish, this is for anyone who likes a thick red wine.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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