From the Cellar: Zinfandel

With Zinfandel on the brain, GDP gives us a peek at some of his cellar selections

1983 Fetzer Zinfandel Ricetti Vineyard Mendocino 13.7%

Not particularly aromatic at first though a little spicy and oaky. A bit of air lends this focus and brings out lots of smoke and briar pipe aromas. Smooth with richness still buffering the tannins and acids, which are significant. Lots of raspberry fruit and tobacco early on the palate is followed by a clean, fresh and bracing finish. This is holding together nicely, showing some peppery spice, a cast of red fruit, and a light oak spice, whiskey barrel tone on the fairly long acid driven finish.  87pts
1983 Haywood Zinfandel Estate Sonoma Valley 13.4%

Smoky, nutty and still oaky on the nose with lots of wild herbs, a mineral base and spicy almost currant fruit. Almost soft on entry with nicely integrated acidity, this offers up simple, burnished wild raspberry fruit with a hint of leafy spice. At 30 years of age this is still a tough wine, very structured and rugged, and long lived with a little cough lozenge note on the rather long finish. This really needs some food.  86pts
1985 Haywood Zinfandel Estate Sonoma Valley  “Table Wine”

Rather complex if unusual and very spicy on the nose with subtle mint and orange peel accents over lots of earthy and frankly dirty aromatics. Orange, earth. This has a lovely texture on entry, rich and rugged showing off raspberry fruit framed with tobacco and lots of earthy nuance with spicy red fruit, lifted by volatility that plumps on the back end and drives through the moderately long acid driven finish that frays and falls apart turning too volatile. With air this implodes, turning into a volatile mess. 74pts for the first sip, 65pts thereafter.

1990 Mazzocco Zinfandel Sonoma County 14.6%

Completely shot on the nose, caramel, beef extract, sweet. Sweet, mouth-filling, acidified, disjointed, over-extracted, tannic, horrible. I enjoyed this wine on release.  50pts
1991 Schuetz Oles Zinfandel Korte Ranch St. Helena Napa 13.9%

Sweet, vanilla, smoke, tobacco, leather, a little cocoa complex and savory with notes of Worcestershire sauce, candied red fruit with lots of spice and orange rind on this spicy and opulent nose. Bright and juicy in the mouth, lots of fruit here with lovely bramble spice notes, soft, slightly creamy tannins, bright acids, nice cut, though this is short and a little hot. Powerful, ripe and quite savory, this gains length on the finish but it is surprisingly hot. 83pts
1992 Topolos Zinfandel Rossi Ranch Sonoma County 13%

Precise on the nose with smoky, grilled meat aromas that are deep with a rustic, savory edge, featuring lovely herbal, sage elements and notes of American oak. This smells like zin. Bright acids on entry, a touch unripe with green edges early on the palate, but then there’s lovely raspberry fruit framed by creamy oak, a little vanilla and lots of briary and green herb notes. This still has some power to it and fine length with an earthy, spicy finish. A powerful yet elegant wine thats a touch rustic but has good fruit with an appealing herbal sweetness. 87pts
1993 Ridge Vineyards Pagani Ranch 14.9%

A wow wine in this company. Intense and perfumed on the nose still showing hints of American oak with dill accents to the leathery, black-fruited nose that shows some light spice notes topped with lovely red cherry fruit and hints of grilled meat. Everything comes together gorgeously, adding in stewy plums and spice notes with air. Sweet on entry, then meaty with intense strawberry, spiced raspberry and American oak flavors. While it does show a touch of heat on the finish, this comes with lots of blackberry and almost black currant fruit. Sweetly fruited on entry, this shows excellent integration with compelling complexity and lovely spice on the finish. Finish is a touch short at first, though there is a fine echo to the fruit.  92pts

1994 Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vines Sonoma County missing ABV on torn label

Lots of vanilla still on the nose along with chunky plummy fruit in a gently spicy, earthy way that morphs into a noticeably rubbery aroma. Plenty of acid and a little burnt fruit quality. Short, acidic and a bit lean on the palate, which does show some cherry fruit but dries out on the finish. A bit short, a bit of rare beef on the nose, disjointed and not very pleasant. Drying, dying and chunky. 65pts

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Old Zinfandel Tasted April 2013

David Bruce Zinfandel Mendocino (1981)
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Preston of Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Estate Bottled (1981)
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Fetzer Zinfandel California Ricetti (1982)
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Fetzer Zinfandel California Ricetti (1983)
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Haywood Zinfandel Sonoma Valley (1983)
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Haywood Zinfandel Sonoma Valley (1985)
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Mazzocco Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (1990)
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Schuetz Oles Zinfandel Napa Valley Korte Ranch (1991)
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Topolos Zinfandel Sonoma Valley Rossi Ranch (1992)
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Ridge Pagani (1993)
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Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vines Zinfandel Sonoma County (1994)
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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: runhack
    131870 17

    If a "volatile mess" gets 65 points, and a "horrible" wine gets 50 points, your rating system is very broken.

    May 09, 2013 at 3:20 PM

  • Snooth User: Zuiko
    Hand of Snooth
    540750 756

    Those were some interesting findings. I had a 2001 Villa Mt Eden Zin last year that was still alive and that surprised me. Even though it was not a great wine upon release, it still held up well and was enjoyable.

    May 09, 2013 at 3:32 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 204,616

    I use the same rasting scale as other wine reviewers, which begins at 50 points. whether it's broken or not is a valid question.

    Remember that wines get points for color, smell, taste, texture, and finish. Any one of which can outperform the rest by a wide margin. Any wine that scores under 70pts fails miserable to deliver in several of those categories and should be avoided. A wine between 70 and 80 points can be simple, somewhat defective, but pleasurable nonetheless.

    Thanks Zuiko. It's fun to see what happens to these wines and where they end up. Not always a good idea to save them, but still fun and that's what wine is all about for me. I'm glad you enjoyed your Villa Mt Eden!

    May 09, 2013 at 3:58 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 2,876

    You drink these so we don't have to.
    Clay Mauritson told a good story about why he makes a Port styled wine. Seems his grandfather used to cellar two kinds of wines, Ports and Zinfandel. The latter was made from his own grapes, or by neighbors in DCV. Clay remembers him opening amazing ports and bottles of pure vinegar made from Zin. Clay would be the last one to tell you to hold these wines thirty years. Michael Talty gave me a six or seven year old Zin as an example of a wine that "aged well." I think some Zins continue to improve for about 6-8 years, but then the window of the peak is short. I'm going to comb my cellar and make sure none of mine gets past ten years old. I don't think drinking them in the 4-6 year window will be very hard.
    The short life comes from a relatively low ratio of skin to pulp. We think of Zins as big wines, but keeping color, tannin, and phenolic levels high is actually tough because the berry is relatively large and the skin thin. The seeds don't add much help, either.
    Sad that a wine that gives so much pleasure and can have so much complexity relatively early in its life doesn't get the designation of classic or noble because of the limits on its aging. Unlike Grenache, which also has limited aging potential on its own, Zinfandel has rich, complex flavors that compare well with the great age-worthy wines but at an early age. If it keeps the prices in the reasonable range, I guess we should be happy. So, drink up and enjoy!

    May 09, 2013 at 4:21 PM

  • Snooth User: outthere
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    324443 3,827

    Im sorry ;(

    May 09, 2013 at 6:28 PM

  • Snooth User: MikeDashe
    417618 4

    Great article, Gregory--it brought back memories for me. I helped make that 1993 Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel as Asst. Winemaker at Ridge in the '90s, and I remember that the intensity of fruit and the thickness of the wine from these old vines were off the charts. In fact, those early Pagani Ranch wines were almost too big--it was clear that they would need years to soften and integrate all the flavors that were showing in the wines at their youth. Glad to see that the wine has stood the test of time so well. Thanks for having the cellar and patience for showing people how these wines aged. --Michael Dashe

    May 09, 2013 at 6:46 PM

  • Snooth User: grostern
    650101 2

    Some wines are not for storing and saving.
    Drink young and drink fresh.
    Mort Grostern
    Montreal Canada

    May 09, 2013 at 9:00 PM

  • Snooth User: Zuiko
    Hand of Snooth
    540750 756

    For some reason, this resurrection of these old zins brings back memories of Wine World magazine. Ah the good ol' days.

    May 09, 2013 at 10:54 PM

  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 152

    GDP, I have maybe a dozen or so bottles of high alcohol zin that are 6-8 yrs old and really falling apart. Next time you are in the Bay Area I will be happy to give them all to you :-)

    May 10, 2013 at 3:07 AM

  • Snooth User: MikeDashe
    417618 4

    I must write to say that I have a cellar full of Ridge wines, most of them between 12 and 20 years old, that are all drinking just fine. I think if you pick the grapes when they're ripe (and not overripe), have good acid and tannin levels (which help the wine age), make a balanced and layered wine, and blend well, that Zinfandel can indeed age beautifully. I know that my own wines from Dashe Cellars have been drinking quite well even after 10 or more years--my 2000 and 2001 single vineyard wines are holding up just fine. I'm just saying that as wineries move towards more balanced (and less overripe) styles, that you'll find more examples of ageworthy zins.

    May 10, 2013 at 1:24 PM

  • Snooth User: dryhopped2
    544495 25

    I recently had a 2000 Unti Sonoma Zin. It was very much alive with great fruit and black pepper followed by leather and olive notes.

    May 12, 2013 at 8:40 PM

  • Mike, I love your Zins, especially the "lighter" style Heart Arrow. I had no idea Zin wasn't just a big & burly wine, but could be beautifully balanced like a fine Pinot. Thank You!

    May 15, 2013 at 3:37 PM

  • I had a bottle of 1995 Clos du Bois just this week, I thought it might be past it's prime, or dead, and was pleasantly surprised by its still lively raspberry & leather, with a long finish. Perfect with the grilled pork tenderloin! I will go through my cellar tonight and find another gem, I hope.

    May 22, 2013 at 8:18 PM

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