Here’s Why To Try Old or Ancient Vine Zinfandel from Mendocino or Lodi

What should you pour on Thanksgiving to pair with turkey, ham, or prime rib?

I say Old Vine ZINFANDEL!

(Although I must admit after tasting these three Beaujolais with coq a vin I was reminded how well that works too!)

Last Wednesday, on Zinfandel Day 2017, Sue, John, and I tasted FOUR old vine or ancient vine zinfandel: three from Lodi as part of a Facebook live event and one from Mendocino; all four were samples sent for our review consideration. Two of them should be easy to find in your nearby supermarket! Plus I tasted a blend that features Lodi and Mendocino old and ancient vines fruit that has been aged in bourbon barrels — and you should be able to find that one as well.

We’re fans of Zinfandel around here: we also did a Pre-Zinfandel Day warm up post featuring two more old and ancient vine Zinfandel from Lodi.  Last summer we did a Lodi-centric tasting with 13 zinfandels.  And after the 2008 and the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conferences, I came home with MANY bottles of Zinfandel which we tasted and I wrote about here (2008) and here (2016).

But if you’re not convinced that zin is the direction you want to go, check out this post all about what wines to bring for Thanksgiving.

And now back to ZINFANDEL.

Old or ancient vine zinfandel? What does that even mean?

Wine grape vines can regularly produce grapes for 120 years or more, with the oldest vine on the planet planted in the 17th century, and the oldest vineyard in the Barossa AUS dating back to the 1840s. However, after 20 years, most vines don’t produce as many grapes, and so these older and ancient vines usually get pulled out to make room for vines that provide more grapes and therefore more juice that can be fermented into wine.

While there is no official definition for “old,” when you see it on a wine label, it usually refers to wines that, if they were human, might be middle aged (30-50) but certainly when they’d be eligible to join AARP at 50– and that’s when they really are old vines in my book — from 50-75 years old.  Ancient vines might be eligible for social security or get a senior citizen discount at the movie theater at 65, but really, if you ask me, ancient vines belong to the century club (75-125).

So, in a nutshell:

OLD VINE: eligible for AARP (at least 50)
ANCIENT VINE: retired and on social security (at least 75)

So what’s the big deal with old or ancient vines? Why does it matter? And if the vines produce so little fruit, why bother with them?

There are a number of reasons why some of us make a big deal out of old and ancient vines but the main one is the amazing complexity and minerality that comes with age. The older vines have super deep roots: ancient vines in Lodi and other areas where they are dry farmed might sink their roots down as much as 40′. That takes time. All of those main roots have smaller roots and all of those roots have little hairs that bring in moisture and nutrients into the vine and subsequently into the wine.  The smaller harvest of fruit from each vine means that the grapes are much more concentrated, intense, and flavorful.

Because I worked at the tasting room at Ridge when I was in college, just about all of the wines I tasted and we sold were old vines or even ancient ones. Ridge rescued many of these old vineyards from obscurity and worse — getting pulled up and replanted or turned into sub-divisions.

What saved many of the old and ancient vines in California, and especially in Lodi is White Zinfandel: the popularity of this wine required vast plantings to feed a seemingly insatiable desire. In the meantime, more and more people discovered and developed a respect for the wine made from these old and ancient vines so that many are preserved today for us to appreciate and enjoy.

For your holiday table, consider bringing along a senior citiZIN or two!

Below you’ll find four wines that fall into the category of old or ancient vines, three from Lodi and one from Mendocino ranging in price from under $20 to around $30, plus a blend that has older vines from across the state but mostly form Lodi and Mendo. We tasted them in the order of the amount of alcohol — from 14.2% to 15.6%.

And for some fun, we thought we’d match these wines with a female movie star!

2014 – Fields Family Wines Old Vine Zinfandel – 14.2% alcohol – $28
Stampede Vineyard – Lodi – Clements Hills AVA – Neutral French Oak – 100 Cases produced

With only 100 cases produced, this is a special wine that you’re not going to find at the neighborhood grocery store. And we felt pretty special getting a sample to taste as part of a Facebook live event!

Color – reddish brown, translucent, pale

Nose – berries, baking spice, vanilla, oak

Palate – Nice complexity, not too fruity, but there is nice fruit, bright mineralogy, tart cranberry, pomegranate. Light in body for a zin.

“Tastes kind of brown,” according to John. I think he meant the earth and baking spices…

I love the subtlety and elegance, its lean and austere elegance. This would be the zin for the pinot noir lover.

If this wine was an actress, it would be Audrey or Kate Hepburn: slender, stylish, graceful, classy, and classic.

2016 /Artezin – Mendocino County – 14.5% alcohol – $18

Another wine that is lighter in body than you might expect for a zin. We appreciated the label that gives the breakdown of the vintage notes, including harvest dates, brix,  alcohol, ph, etc. This wine should be available in your local supermarket and we were impressed by the quality of this wine for the price. We would definitely recommend this wine to someone looking for an under $20 wine that they can easily find. Artezin also makes more expensive zin from some of the more famous vineyards in the state.

Color – More ruby in color, a bit denser in the glass than the Fields.

Nose – Mellow oak traits on the nose, not up front and overbearing, pleasant vanilla, pipe tobacco, fruity, and smooth.

Palate – Bright, medium to full in body, fruity but not overpowering; the sweetness of the wine really comes forward with the sweet oven roasted tomatoes.

If this wine was an actress it would be Jennifer Aniston: friendly girl next door, not afraid to introduce her to mom, charming, approachable, sunny disposition.

2015 – Ironstone -Reserve Lodi “Rous Vineyard” Ancient Vine Zinfandel – Lodi – 15% alcohol – $30

These 106 year old ancient vines were previously used for white zinfandel.  Only 960 cases produced from this special vineyard. I visited the winery in Murphys last summer as part of the Wine Bloggers Conference and if you are passing though town, you should definitely make the short drive up the hill to check it out. The grounds are lovely, the caves impressive, but what you want to see is the museum! Some really mind blowing ROCKS celebrate the region’s mining history. They also have a summer concert series that’s a lot of fun.

While Ironstone makes wine from vineyards in Calaveras county, they also source fruit from Lodi including this historic vineyard.

Color – Dense rich color, garnet, with a bit of translucency

Nose – Deep cherry fruit, vanilla and baking spice, all of this and more pie, dark berry pie, and a bit of the pie crust as well. The alcohol does burn a bit so don’t inhale too deeply at first! John picked up on the scents of chaparral and saddle leather.

Palate – This wine went beautifully with our Amber Mist cheese from the Snowdonia Cheese Company: what a perfect pairing, makes you want to keep going back for more of both! At first it is super plush and fleshy, textural like thick velvet that changes into a tanginess, like the skin of a plum.

If this wine was an actress, we’d say it was Kathy Bates or Whoopi Goldberg: strong and powerful, well rounded, brash, smart, witty, not discrete, expressive, boisterous, and fun to be around!

2014 – Earthquake Zinfandel – Lodi – 15.5% – $26

While this wine is identified as an “old vine zin” (which is what the first letter of each line spells out), by anyone’s definition wine made from vines planted in 1906 would be ancient vines! This Zinfandel has a touch of Petite sirah in it which presents as more blue berry and brings in more color and weight.

Color – dense, ruby, what you would think of as having colors of royalty.

Nose – stewed fruit and oak

Palate – I was surprised to get so much mint on the front of the palate,  almost like a wine-o-green lifesaver. John found chewy leather, and the high alcohol in these wines, but especially this one was starting to make my mouth feel numb! It went nicely with the Snowdonia Amber Mist cheese, but was almost too sweet.

This is one of John’s favorite wines, and it was a winner in the line-up last summer. so of course I sent the rest of the bottle home with him and Sue which explains why I don’t have a better picture of it!

Who would be an actress to match this wine? Voluptuous Ava Gardner, of course — 50’s bombshell and star of the 70’s flick Earthquake.


1000 Stories 2015 ZINFANDEL – BATCH 035 CA 15.6% $20

Before the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, I participated in a Zinfandel blending competition using predominately Lodi and Mendocino fruit led by 1000 Stories wine maker Bob Blue.

Quite a bit of the juice is from old vines including fruit from 1880s heritage vines from Mendocino  as well as vines that range in age from 9-45 years old located on bench land from Redwood Valley south to the Sanel Valley. Some of the juice was barrel aged, too, giving it unique and rich characteristics.

It was a lot of fun tasting the various component parts, experimenting with the blending process, and checking out the barrels, and I loved getting to spend time with some of my wine and food blogging buddies! Jeff Burrows of Wine Food Click was to my right and Nancy Brazil of Pull That Cork was to my left with husband Peter across the way intent on his phone and that’s Brianne Cohen of Sommspirations sitting next to Peter and demonstrating her prowess in multiple photos. And I’m not sure if you can tell, but it was REALLY cold and raining cats and dogs that afternoon and evening while we were in the barn at Fetzer!

And who is the actress I’d pair with 1000 Stories? I’d go with Mae West! She’s bold, trashy, splashy, full of fun and stories to tell! She’s the one you’d want around a campfire — just like this wine!

Happy Thanksgiving! Do tell: what wines are you planning on pairing YOUR meal with? Will zinfandel be among them?


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