Zinfandel ages well.
There! I said it. You wanna make something of it? Huh?
Because I’m not flapping my gums just for the breeze. I have proof. Sure, folks will tell you that Zin won’t get better with age, that you should drink them fast before all that snazzy fresh fruit fades into oblivion.
But they’ve got it all wrong. Zinfandel can age with the best California wines; OK, except for maybe the crème de la crème Cabernet Sauvignons. Why am I so cocksure of this fact? I put it to the test with a blind tasting of 1991 and 2001 Zins.
I have to say that the 2001s were a revelation. Not only had most retained their vibrant and spicy flavors but many had improved since their release, filling out and taking on additional layers of complexity.
That was particularly true with four wines. The Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County Old Vine led the pack, scoring a 94 on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale. It was bursting with youthful fruit and ripe tannins. Carol Shelton Zinfandel Russian River Valley Karma Zin Old Vines Rue Vineyard Wood Road (93 points) was still darkly colored, rich and complex. Ditto for Williams Selyem Zinfandel Russian River Valley Forchini Vineyard North Flats (93) and Easton Zinfandel Fiddletown (92).
The 1991s were past their prime but were still fairly spry for their age, particularly three wines. Ridge Geyserville, which I rated 89 points, was rusty red in color and offered soft notes of cherry, dill and tea. It looked and tasted like a 30- or 40-year-old Cabernet. I had similar reactions to the Easton Zinfandel Amador County (88) and the Seghesio Zinfandel Alexander Valley Old Vine Reserve (88).
Seghesio winemaker Ted Seghesio wasn’t surprised at the result. “That 2001 is still one of the best wines we've ever made,” he said. As for the 1991, it was truly an old-school Zin, Seghesio said, fermented completely in concrete tanks.
There was another myth that this tasting disproved: "High-alcohol wine can’t age."
Of the top 2001 Zinfandels, the Easton had the lowest alcohol level, at 14.8 percent, with the Carol Shelton’s ranking highest at 16 percent. As for the 1991s, Ridge Geyserville clocked in at 14.3 percent, Easton at 14.7 percent and Seghesio registered at 13.6.
All that said, a number of the wines with 15.5 and higher alcohol levels—and most were from 2001—came across as soft, hollow and even rather boring.
Winemakers Seghesio and Bill Easton argue that the level of acidity—not alcohol—is the deciding factor. While high alcohol levels generally mean lower acidity, that contrast doesn't always occur; some vineyards retain natural acidity even in the face of fairly ripe conditions.
I learned one other thing from tasting the 1991 and 2001 Zinfandels. The top wineries back then still make excellent Zinfandels today.
So there you have it, solid proof that Zinfandel can improve with age. I hoped the naysayers learned a thing or two. Now if I can only teach myself the willpower not to open my favorite Zins on release. Even if they do age well, it’s hard to be patient.
What do you think about aging Zinfandel? Tell us your stories about old Zins you’ve tasted.