Old Vine Zinfandel – Better than Young Vine Zinfandel?

We recently posted “It is Zinfandel Time” in which we recommended several Zinfandel wines under $20. Most of those wines have “Old Vine” Zinfandel on the label. Check the Zinfandel section in a wine shop and you’ll see Old Vine on most of the Zin bottles. Is it a marketing ploy, or does it really mean something special? Here is what you need to know.

Old vine Zinfandel in full bloom

What is Old Vine Zinfandel

The first thing to know is that there is no legal definition of the term Old Vine Zinfandel. Zindandel was first introduced in California in 1832, long before we had Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. There are plenty of Zinfandel vineyards in California that are well over 100 years old. Many more are over 50 years old. So what is the cutoff in years for a vineyard to qualify as old vine Zinfandel? There appears to be an unofficial agreement among winemakers that only Zinfandel vines 50 years old or more should be labeled as Old Vine.

What is the advantage of Old Vine Zinfandel over younger vines?

Old vines get gnarly over time and begin to tire, just like us. They become less productive in terms of grape yields. Therefore, the smaller the yield on a vine, the more concentrated the flavors. Another factor is that, because these vines are so old, their roots run deep. The deeper the vines, the more contact with the minerals in the soil. Deep soil roots mean less irrigation, and often need no irrigation (dry-farmed). Many winemakers agree that dry-farmed grapes have more intense flavors.

In some cases, Old Vine Zinfandel is a marketing or selling point. If it’s an Old Vine, is must be good. If you are drinking an Old Vine Zinfandel wine, see what the label shows about the age of the vines. If the label does not have the information, head to the winery’s Website to find the Spec Sheet on the wine. Here is an example. Wild Thing Zinfandel Tasting Notes

Other important factors in any excellent-tasting Zinfandel are how the Zinfandel vines are managed and the skills of the winemaker. I do believe that older Zin vines do give the winemaker an advantage over a young vineyard. I like drinking Old Vine Zinfandel because I love the history of the grape and the gnarly head-pruned vines. A wine always tastes better when there is a story behind the wine.

I have walked many Zinfandel vines that are well over 100 years old. These are in Lodi, Amador County, and the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County. These old vine vineyards are hallowed grounds. The individual grape vines are gnarly and battered looking . Take a look.

You can see Old Vine Zinfandel at these wineries.

These wineries are in Sonoma. You can also find Old Vine Zinfandel in Amador County and Lodi.

My favorite Old Vine Zinfandel is the Carol Shelton Wild Thing – vintage after vintage this Zinfandel is a fun and zesty wine that provides enjoyable pleasures with many foods. The Safeway carries the Wild Thing.

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