Saturday, April 20, 2013

An old vine Zinfandel.

The phrase 'old vine' appears quite often on California wine labels.  Old vines have a reputation for making better quality wines due to the concentration of all of the vines resources into fewer clusters of fruit.  But anyone who knows just a little about viticulture and oenology knows that this is a gross over-simplification, as there are a multitude of factors that together determine the eventual quality of a given wine, the least of which is the subjective experience of the individual taster.  In the United States there is no formal definition of exactly what constitutes an old vine.  Is it 30, 40, 50 years before the vines in a vineyard are deemed old?  All grapevines begin to produce less crop after 20 years and in the Napa Valley, for instance, 20 years can be pretty ancient for a vineyard.
The Rosenblum Cellars, 1991 Michael Marston Vineyard Zinfandel does not mention old vines on the front label, but on the back label it says: "These vines are over 85 years old...They produce a crop of less than one ton to the acre, but the fruit is spectacular in its intensity."  All well and good, but harvesting less than one ton of grapes per acre is not really viable from an economic standpoint, is it?  Wineries need to make a profit or they simply cannot continue making wine.  As a side note,   The Marston family no longer farm these low-yielding Zinfandel vines in their Spring Mountain vineyard (Spring Mountain became an AVA in 1993), they have replanted every block to Cabernet Sauvignon.
I didn't have high expectations for this wine, after all it was almost 22 years old.  Yes, I know, in the grand scheme of things this wine might not seem old when compared to some wine producing areas of the world - I'm thinking Bordeaux - however, this was a California Zinfandel and I personally don't think Zinfandels age particularly well.  Neither Vinomaker or I are quite sure how we acquired this wine, which can often be the case in Vinoland, but that makes trying older wines all the more fun, one never really knows what the wine will be like.  The tasting notes on the back label describe the wine thus; "...rich brambly blackberry and briary spicy elements in the bouquet with flavors of blackberry jam, spice and anise."  And I could very nearly agree with these descriptors if it wasn't for the fact that this wine had been thoroughly spoiled by brettanomyces.  Now, I usually have a higher tolerance for a touch of brett in wine, I am not as sensitive to this spoilage as Vinomaker is.  On this occasion my olfactory epithelium must have been working overtime because after three sips of this veritable mouse-bottom of a wine, I was done. However, Vinomaker didn't think it was that bad.  No biggie...brett happens!

6 comments:

NHwineman said...

Vinogirl, I just read your comment on NHWM and had to take a look at what you were talking about; what a great post this is, and the next time I comment on "Old Vines", I would love to link this (your) post as an information rich contribution the topic?
Yes, a bit odd that we were on some kind "same wave-length!"

Thud said...

You need to have vm see a doctor as he obviously isn't well...liked it? I thought I was the king of the Brett drinkers.

Thomas said...

Ah yes, the real problem with Brett shows itself: no one knows how and when it will ruin the wine in the bottle?

This is one reason for NOT allowing many wines to age...

Vinogirl said...

NHW: Link away...

Thud: I know! I was going to mention Chateau Musar and the fact that VM doesn't share our enthusiasm for it, but the post was getting too long.

Tomasso: I always enjoy the 'Brett: complexity or flaw?' discussions - when Brett is bad, it's just bad!

Thomas said...

VG:

To me, they are not complexity/flaw discussions as much as they are mysteries. With Brett, today's complexities can easily become tomorrow's ruined wine, which is why many winemakers are vexed by the presence of the sneaky yeast.

Musar is one of those products that simply hits and misses so often I cannot muster energy for it. At a trade tasting, when I asked about the wine's hit and miss nature, I got the stock answer that I get at trade tastings: "you don't understand the wine."

I will never understand why I need to understand flawed wine.

Vinogirl said...

Tomasso: I really meant fault...wineries should be able to keep their wines clean. And the only thing I don't understand is, why they can't. Still, if there is a little bit of early-stage Brett contamination I'll "muster energy" enough to swallow it.