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Senior Tim Fish joined the Wine Spectator staff in 2001. His tasting beat includes Oregon, Washington, California Zinfandel and Rhône-style reds, and U.S. sparkling wines.
Tim Fish

A Monster Zinfandel That’s Aging Well

Carol Shelton Zinfandel Mendocino County Wild Thing Old Vine Cox Vineyard 2006

Tim Fish
Posted: July 16, 2010

Does Zinfandel get better with age? That’s one of the great debates in California wine. Some do but most don’t, in my experience. Bold and youthful fruit are what Zins are all about. In some vintages, like the tightly wound 2005s, it pays to give them a year or so to unfurl. A handful of vineyards have enough muscle to back ageworthy Zins—“Old Hill” in Sonoma Valley comes to mind—and certain winemakers like to build them that way. Carol Shelton is one.

Her Wild Thing 2006 is a great case in point. As the name suggests, the wine can be untamed when first released, and the 2006 was no exception. It was a briary monster with considerable tannins, but it showed bold fruit and good structure—a Shelton hallmark. I revisited the 2006 recently, and it was coming into its own, smoothing out and starting to reveal finesse and a more supple texture. I rated it 91 points, non-blind. You can still find it around if you look hard, and it sells for a reasonable $28.

WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting review for Carol Shelton Zinfandel Mendocino County Wild Thing Old Vine Cox Vineyard 2006 (90, $28).

• Plus, get our quick list of Top Values among California Zinfandel.

Thomas Cannon
Fairfax, VA, USA —  July 16, 2010 3:04pm ET

With so many Zinfandels on the market, how do you go about choosing which winery offerings to taste? If a winery offers 10 different bottlings of zins, do you taste them all or do you select a few as a sampling? As a regular Zin drinker, I'd like to see more ratings from WS, but understand it may not be completely possible.

Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  July 16, 2010 4:23pm ET

That's a tough one. I try to taste as many Zins as possible, which was nearly 500 last year. If a winery has a good track record and makes numerous Zins - ie Biale, Seghesio, Four Vines - I try to taste them all. If the winery is new or has a mixed record, I generally taste a selection, and if those are encouraging I might then taste more.

I hope that answers your question. Thanks for the note and for reading.
Thomas Cannon
Fairfax, VA, USA —  July 17, 2010 6:52am ET
Thanks for the response. Appreciate your ratings and comments on one of my favorite varietals. Cheers!
Scott Oneil
Denver, CO —  July 17, 2010 2:59pm ET
'Gotta say that I'm a little surprised after reading the headline "A Monster Zinfandel That's Aging Well" to find that you're talking about a wine only four years from its vintage. ? Granted, I too prefer Zins with plenty of youthful robustness to them, but I'm usually talking 5-7+ years, not 4. This wine is, what, one-maybe-two years from a current release? Sincerely, thanks for drawing attention to the wine; I was just a bit taken aback, as I clearly have a different definition of 'aging well' - even for a Zin.
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  July 17, 2010 4:40pm ET
Scott, thanks for the note and I understand your point. Everyone's different when it comes to aging. I agree with your timing when it comes to most California reds except for Zinfandel. I've found from experience that if the tannins still grip and overpower the fruit in a Zinfandel 2 years after release, chances are the fruit will tire out long before the tannins do. There has to be some sort of evolution during that aging period. There are rare exceptions of course. There were some Ravenswoods from the 1990s that needed 4-5 years to show much development. I think some of the muscular Outpost Zins need more time, too. What are your favorite examples?
Scott Oneil
Denver, CO —  July 19, 2010 7:16pm ET
Tim, thanks for the response. My favorite Zins that have aged successfully in the past were Turley's Moore Earthquake Vineyard (particularly the '99 and '02, which aged gracefully and gained a more harmonious elegance), Turley's Black-Sears Vineyard ('96 and '97 were astounding, especially after 5+ years from the vintage), Martinelli's Jackass Vineyard (2002!!!), Ridge's Geyserville (though not consistently so; the '96 was so good in 2004 that I regretted that it was my last bottle, and I have high hopes for 2007), and Radio-Coteau's von Weidlich Zins have been going strong at 6+ years old and counting. I also believe that the newer Zinfandel blends, such as Linne Calodo's various Zin-Rhone blends, may age well, and Carlisle's Zins show signs of being age-worthy. I agree that we should drink the wines at their peaks, and if that's 2-3 years out, so be it, but that rare, elusive Zin that gains in depth and complexity at age 5-8 is what I continue to hunt. I bet you're right about Outpost as well; I'll give 'em a try. Thanks again. :)
Matthew Regan
Napa, CA —  July 21, 2010 12:51am ET

A great example of age worthy Zinfandel is the Chateau Potelle V.G.S.
They really age amazingly, still drinking some of the early 1990's.
Chateau Potelle is hosting a VGS Retrospective Tasting in SF at the St.Francis Yacht club on Sat Sept 4th with 10 of these old vintages...you should come!
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  July 21, 2010 10:56am ET
Good recommendation. The Potelles from the 1990s were particularly good.

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