Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2011

The words "old vine Zinfandel" are bandied about in California almost as much as the words "I know a guy in the movie business."  This is true especially in Sonoma County, where there are plenty of Zinfandel vineyards dating back before Prohibition.  Some date back to the Gold Rush days.  So, invariable, the question arises: "how old is old?"

There is no legal definition of what constitutes an "old vine," so Dry Creek Vineyard arbitrarily sets 50 years as the minimum age, although their Zinfandel vines are mostly around 90 years old, some more than 110 years.

Writing about old vine Zin in the San Jose Mercury News, Laurie Daniel notes, "These twisted, gnarled plants produce naturally low yields of grapes that are concentrated, intense and flavorful. [Ravenswood's Joel] Peterson says these vines are more integrated with their surroundings and exhibit consistent behavior, in addition to producing a naturally small crop.  However, he says, 'There are vines that are 60 and 70 years old that aren't behaving like old vines,' because they're growing on a more fertile or productive site.  At the same time, he says, a dry-farmed zin vineyard on a marginal site might produce old-vine-type fruit when the vines are younger."

Dry Creek Vineyard is based in the Sonoma County town of Healdsburg, with vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley appellation.  The winery was founded in 1972 by David Stare, and they say it was the first new winery in Dry Creek Valley since Prohibition.  Today it is run by Stare's daughter and her husband.

During the 2011 vintage in Dry Creek Valley, winter rains lasted into late spring and the growing season was unseasonably cool.  Dry Creek Vineyard Winemaker Tim Bell - ably abetted by Assistant Winemaker Nova Perrill - says 2011 might be the best vintage of old vine zin they have produced.

Sugar levels were low, but ripeness was excellent - a good situation for Zinfandel.  This Old Vine Zin is made from 83% Zinfandel grapes and 17% Petite Sirah.  Alcohol hits 14.5% abv, not terribly high for Sonoma Zinfandel.  The wine is aged for 20 months in French, American and Hungarian oak, 28% of which is new.  3,214 cases were produced, and it retails for $30.

The hillside vineyards from which the grapes come contain gravelly soil with decomposed granite in some areas.  The average age of the vines is 90 years.  A sample of this wine was kindly provided to me for review.

The 2011 Dry Creek Valley Old Vine Zinfandel has a medium-dark ruby color and a nose perfumed with dark berries, black cherry cola, coffee and peppery spices. The aromas are fragrant and vivid and they lay out what's in store on the palate.  Blackberry flavor dominates, with a wave of spice following.  Anise, nutmeg and cinnamon notes mingle with a brambly texture, while the coffee is transformed into black tea.  Acidity is bright and focused and the tannins are strident without wearing out their welcome.  It's a hefty sip, but it matches quite well with Korean barbecue.

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