Lodi Zinfandel Smackdown; Old Vines v. Not So Old Vines

The most recent gathering of the Pacific Pointe Wine Tasting Club featured a blind-tasting of Lodi Zinfandels. My wife, and I started the Pacific Pointe Wine Tasting Club in 2010.  The club is going strong.  We have a solid core group 8-10 tasters, and we’ve had as many as 25 tasters at our gatherings.  The experience of the tasters is diverse.  There is a handful of hard-core winos, but most are more casual wine drinkers who want to learn more about wine. Our gatherings are always fun and informative.  It’s been gratifying to see so many members’ palates evolve over time. Our tasting of Lodi Zinfandel was our first regional themed tasting.  Regional themed tasting are a great way to learn about specific style of wines produced in a particular region. And Lodi Zins was the perfect place to start for three reasons – 1.) Lodi is a region on the rise and it was great to expose our wine tasting club members to a region that’s not necessarily “top of mind”, 2.) Because the Lodi Zins are noted for their ripeness of fruit and soft, easy-drinking style, and 3.) It was a great opportunity to compare “old vines” wine to not-so-old vine wines. Here’s the 411 on the Lodi appellation (click here for the history):

  • Located between the Sierra foothills and the San Francisco Bay near the northern edge of the San Joaquin Valley
  • Became recognized as an American Viticultural Area (“AVA”) in 1986
  • Approximately 100,000 acres of premium wine grapes
  • Close to 80 wineries, most of which are small family run operations
  • Self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the world producing over 40 percent of California’s premium Zinfandel
  • Has thousands of acres of “old vines” some dating back to 1880’s (including 11 vineyards listed on the Historical Vineyard website)
  • Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay account for most of the grapes grown in the Lodi AVA, but there are over 60 grape varieties
Lodi Old Vines
Head-trained Lodi Old Vines – This one was about 5 feet tall!

So what’s the deal with “old vine” wines anyway?  The first thing you should know is that there is no objective definition of “old Vine”.  In my mind a vineyard has to be at least 40 years old to qualify as “old vine”. Definitions aside, what’s the difference between Old Vines and young vines? According to Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator…

“The deep roots of old vines are their greatest asset. In a rainy harvest, a young vine’s shallow root system sucks up surface water, bloating the grapes and diluting the juice. Yet old vines are often surprisingly unaffected, as their deeper roots are untouched by the passing rainstorm. And in drought conditions those same deep roots can tap into water reserves in the subsoil unreachable by younger vines.

Presumably old vines produce smaller yields which results in wines of greater structure, concentration, and complexity. Some would say old vines wines also age better, developing a more layered complexity over time. On to the tasting!  Here’s how it went down… Nothing like a bit of bubbly to prepare the palate for a tasting – besides it’s so food friendly!

And speaking of food…we roll pot-luck style so there was plenty of good eats..

In terms of the tasting, we had diverse (experience-wise) group 14 tasters. We blind tasted eight wines.  Five of the eight wines were labeled as “old vine”.  The wines were blind-tasted in the order of listed below.  The wines are scored for 4 dimensions, Aroma, Taste, Body, and Finish on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the highest). All participating tasters score all wines.

Tasting Group
Twelve of our fourteen tasters..

My tasting notes on the wines follows:

  • 2011 Castle Rock Zinfandel Lodi – (SRP $9) – Medium ruby color with elusive roasted cherry, red-currant, and a touch of spice aromas. On the palate it’s light-bodied and one-dimensional with borderline baked cherry, spice and vanilla flavors. Short finish (85 pts.)
  • 2011 Neyers Zinfandel Vista Luna (SRP $20) – Ruby color with promising cherry, bramble and spice aromas. On the palate it’s medium-bodied with very good acidity, and cherry, cranberry, and spice flavors. Medium finish. Fruit from Borden Ranch sub-AVA (86 pts.)
  • 2011 M2 Vintners Zinfandel Old Vine Soucie Vineyard (SRP $28)  – Garnet color with exuberant, red fruit, bramble, spice and dark chocolate aromas. On the palate it’s between medium and full-bodied, and smooth with concentrated, and appealing black cherry, raspberry and vanilla flavors. Medium-long finish. This wine is from the original six acre block of Soucie Vineyard planted in 1916! (88 pts.) – Sample provided for review
  • 2010 Klinker Brick Zinfandel Old Vine (SRP $17)–  Garnet color with baked red fruit, baking spice and a hint of pepper aromas. On the palate, it’s full-bodied with generous baked cherry, black raspberry, chocolate and vanilla flavors. Medium finish. Sourced from vines averaging 85 years old. (87 pts.)
  • 2009 McCay Cellars Zinfandel Truluck’s (SRP $32) – Violet color with red promising currant, cherry, bramble, spice, and a bit of cocoa aromas. On the palate, its medium-bodied, concentrated and fresh with appealing black cherry, red currant, and baking spice flavors. Medium-long finish. Sourced from a mix of 80-year-old vines inter-planted with 40-year-old vines. (89 pts.) –  Sample provided for review
  • 2010 Michael-David Vineyards Zinfandel 7 Deadly Zins (SRP $14)– Inky violet color with black cherry, bramble, spice and pepper aromas. On the palate, it approaches full-bodied, and exhibits ample black cherry, raspberry, dark chocolate, vanilla and spice flavors. Medium finish. Sourced from 7 different vineyards. Blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah (87 pts.)
  • 2010 Harney Lane Zinfandel Old Vine Lizzy James Vineyard (SRP $35)– USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi – Dark violet color with lifted brambleberry, baking spice, and pepper aromas. On the palate it medium-bodied, and nicely balanced with blackberry, baked cherry, red currant and vanilla flavors. Medium-long finish. Sourced from 100+ year old vines. 15.9% alcohol.  (90 pts.) – (SRP $35) Sample provided for review
  • 2011 Klinker Brick Zinfandel Old Vine Old Ghost (SRP $38)  – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi – Violet color with aromatic bramble, spice, earth, and clove aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, elegant and supple with black cherry, red currant, and vanilla flavors. Long finish. Sourced from 90 plus-year-old vineyard blocks. 15.9% alcohol (91 pts.) Sample provided for review

The Reveal

Drumroll please… The winner was…

photo (19)
2011 Klinker Brick Old Ghost Zinfandel

The order of finish for the other wines was …

the reveal 2
R-L; 2nd – 2011 Harney Lane Winery Lizzy James Old Vine Zinfanel, 3rd – 2010 Michael David 7 Deadly Zins, 4th – 2011 m2 Wines Soucie Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel, 5th – 2009 McCay Cellars Truluck’s Old Vine Zinfandel, 6th – 2010 McCay Cellars Truluck’s Old Vine Zinfandel, 7th – 2011 Neyers Vista Luna Borden Ranch Zinfandel, 8th – 2011 Castle Rock Lodi Zinfandel

It was a fun, and informative tasting.  What was interesting was that as the tasting progressed, many tasters started to get a sense of the Lodi “terroir” and began to pick up on the similarities in aromas and flavors.  The common thread in the aromas/flavor profile for me was a cherry/red currant or raspberry, and dark chocolate character of the wines.

I came away from the tasting impressed by Lodi Zins, especially the Klinker Brick Old Ghost and Harney Lane old-vine Zins.  And many of our tasters said they would seek out their top rated bottles

Many thanks to the fabulous folks at Charles Communications and Lodi Wine for the providing the samples!

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