Zinfandels are often referred to as a piece of California history - offering luscious, fruity wines that are authentic to California, and distinctive to the number of regions it thrives in. But, when we look at a regular bottle of Zinfandel and compare it to one termed "Old Vine," what's the difference and what flavors can we expect?
Zinfandel vines are unique in that they tend to be very sturdy and have the ability to age for decades - some California vineyards are actually over 100 years old! These older vines grow a deeper root structure that in time changes the size of the grapes and affects the flavor and sugar content. When you sample a regular bottle of Zinfandel, you should notice a brambly, earthy flavor with prominant blackberry or blueberry notes. Tasting this side by side with an "old vine" Zinfandel, you should taste deeper fruit flavors that help balance out the naturally earthy tones. These Old Vine Zins are known for being rich, intense, and the most multi-dimensional example of a Zinfandel wine.
The tricky thing with distinguishing an Old Vine Zinfanel from a regular Zinfandel is that there is no legal definition or industry standard that defines how many years old the grapes need to be to be termed "Old Vine." While some winemakers like to use 35 years as the minimum, others look to 50 years as the standard.
What we do know is Zinfandel is truly California history in a bottle, and Old Vine Zins are often the most complex and age-worthy examples. Try taste testing a few side by side, and see if you can tell the difference!
Here are some recommendations. Enjoy!
Scott Harvey 2006 "Old Vine Reserve" Zinfandel
Thacher 2006 Zinfandel