Sometimes, when you take a chance on a wine by the glass, you get lucky and like it a lot. Sometimes you just sit and ponder on it. I pondered on an $8 glass of Baron Herzog Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel at Wood Ranch at the Grove recently. It's produced by Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard, California. They source the grapes from the Watts Vineyard, far, far away in Lodi. The wine cost $8 by the glass and retails for $13 per bottle.
The reason for my pondering is not that it is a bad wine - it's just not what I expect from a Zinfandel. The nose is candied up, which doesn't bring images of gnarly, old, head-trained vines to my mind. There is some bramble on the palate with a big, spicy blackberry flavor which I do find appealing. Gentle tannins also lead me to believe that maybe these vines aren't as old as they are cracked up to be.
A little research showed that Watts Winery in Lodi has some vines which date back to 1937 - old vines, to be sure, even though they're just teenagers by California Zinfandel standards. To my knowledge, there are no government regulations on the use of the phrase "old vine" on a wine label, but, as I pondered, I thought, "maybe there should be."
The thing that may be making me ponder this wine so much is the fact that Herzog ages it in stainless steel, not wood, for a year. The Herzog website indicates that they feel this preserves "the fruit's essence." I can't argue with that. It's a fairly pure fruit expression. Most of the Zinfandel I drink has the stamp of oak on it, to one degree or another, and this unoaked version left me a little baffled.
I suppose I prefer a little oak spice with my Zin, but this is a Zinfandel worth trying. Its clean flavors and candy-like aromas are a different shade of Zin - one that's worth pondering for a glass or two.