The first era was represented by the wines from 1981- 1985. Old school wines, less ripe, less ‘made’, though no doubt more rustic and probably more age worthy than their younger siblings. I chose this selection of wines because they would represent, to my mind at least, the very outer limits of how long one might expect Zinfandel to last. The second set, spanning the years 1990 through 1994, represented where I expected the outer edge of actual enjoyment would lay.
Not surprisingly, this is not my first time at the rodeo after all, this tasting pretty much reinforced those thoughts. The wines from the 1980s alternated between somewhat enjoyable and on death’s doorstep, while those from the 1990s showed more power and richness accompanied by ripe and in some cases varietal fruit. I enjoyed several of these wines, but truth be told I don’t think that any of them were better today than they would have been 10 years ago.
That’s the general take away here. With few, if notable, exceptions, Zinfandel is at its best somewhere between their release and about 12 years after the vintage. There’s lots of compelling evidence that building multi-decade verticals of these wines is pure folly, which in turn keeps them from attaining the recognition that many deserve. Yes, these are not wines to cellar over the long term, but they still can be fabulous five or ten years from their vintage date. In my recent experience I’ve found that the vast majority of wines improve for about two to four years, then remain at their peak plateau for an additional two to four years, before fading, often quickly, into mediocrity.
This was a fun tasting, bringing back memories for me. Memories of purchasing each of these bottles, particularly those from the 1980s when each and every wine I purchased underwent careful deliberation and student dollars were dear. And that is yet another reason to cellar wine, even when your cellared treasures don’t really deliver drinking pleasure, they can still be rewarding.
1981 David Bruce Zinfandel Mendocino 13.8%
Old and dusty on the nose; not a lot of fruit left here. Spicy with a caramel base, some black pepper, and a hint of black fruit. Smooth with a hint of sweetness on entry and a nice touch of spicy raspberry fruit on the palate. High acid and smoothly textured though not much fruit left and dusty, mineral flavors on the modest finish. Drinkable and pleasant though shadow of what it must have once been. 78pts
1981 Preston Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 13.9%
Vegetal on the nose with rich beetroot aromas that are a touch musty. This shows a little sweetness with mint and sassafras accents. Round on entry then turning lean on the palate with some faint cherry fruit, a bit of old wood, and a hint of green anise seed. There’s still some tannin here, with some coffee overtones on the palate that shows fading richness, but this is barely drinkable. 69pts
1982 Fetzer Zinfandel Ricetti Vineyard Mendocino 13.8%
Smoky on the nose with a nice base of black fruit, spicy and a touch of truffle, peppery with a bit of oak still obvious. Smooth and polished in the mouth with a nice core of fading red fruit framed with wood spice and sweet licorice tones. A bit of vanilla and some noticeable astringent tannins still linger on the palate which is followed by a brief pop of lovely black cherry fruit on the moderately long finish. Still intact, and sweetly fruited, if not terribly varietal. 84pts