Ancient Vines

What’s with this “old vines” or “ancient vines” fluff on wine labels, especially zinfandel?

First, term is not regulated so it can mean anything wine marketeers want it to mean.

In general, however, vines older than 50 years sometimes are called “old vines,” but term usually describes vines 75 to 100-plus years old.

When a vine is 20-plus years old, it often begins to produce smaller, less concentrated, less intense grapes and farmers pull old and plant new. Three years after planting, new vines produce quality grapes for next 20 to 50 years.

Not so zinfandel. Not all old vine zins are excellent zins—that depends on location and what has gone on at location—but in magical places where old zin vines were treated correctly and nature kind, old zin vines produce concentrated, intense fruits that make California zins among wine world’s unique, glorious wonders.

Reality check. California whippersnappers may tout old vines, but world’s oldest producing grape vine is in Slovenia. It is known as the “Old Vine,” and that “old” really means old—more than 400 years old.

It grows in front of a house in the Old Lent quarter of Maribor, on the left bank of Drava River, and produces about 100 bottles a year. Tasters report wine is pleasant with high residual sugar and benefits from bottle aging. What else would you expect from a supercentenarian?

When left coast makers slap “old vine” on their label, folks in Republic of Slovenija say, “come back in 300 years and we’ll talk about old vines.”

Tasting notes:
• Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel Contra Costa County 2012: Raspberry, nice cherry, black fruit; excellent value, much better than the 2011. $12
• Tin Barn Vineyards Zinfandel Gilsson Vineyard 2011: Fruity: blackberry, dark fruit, black currant, pepper, spice, bit of pucker finish; nice. $24
• Artezin Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2011: Fresh nose; cherry, raspberry, cranberry; cinnamon, chocolate, spice, mild tannin; jammy, fun. $25
• MacMurray Estate Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2012: Lavish lavender nose; concentrated cherry, raspberry; silky; soft tannin, complex, delicious. $28

Last round: If it can’t be fixed by wine, you are not using enough wine or it can’t be fixed.