Cellaring Zinfandels

Managing a wine cellar takes some learning. The first thing to do when starting to setup a cellar is figuring out how you are going to capture the data. Capturing data at the time of purchase will save you a ton of time later on. The LCBO often include lots of detail about the wine, a reviewers notes etc. Be sure and save this somewhere. It will come in handy.

First and foremost … remember, not all wine is made to be kept. Some are brewed 🙂 in a drink now style. The LCBO Vintages documents show this by a legend that shows a wine bottle standing up. A wine bottle laying down means it is potentially an aging wine. Often a reviewer’s notes will also include a recommendation on when to drink it. How long to keep it. Etc. Different grape varieties age differently. Fruit forward wines like Californian Merlots, and Zinfs will simply lose their lively fruit dominant flavors as it ages. A wine as it ages will go along a curve. It will get better for a period of time, peak, and then start to fall off. Drink a wine past its peak and the fruit flavors will disappear. Wait way too long and you’ve got something that tastes a whole lot more like vermouth than wine; or vinegar.

I recently reviewed a 2002 Zinfandel I had in my cellar for a while. The wine was good but lacking in some of the nice fruit that it had when it was youthful leaving me to ponder … did I wait too long? Oh no … I was too patient? Are you kidding? Me? How is that even possible?

I heard a funny one that said do you know when a wine is ready to drink? When you can’t wait any longer … Ok so I’m no comic 🙂 Moving on …

Zinfandel’s in California (where most come from) are more often than not field blends. That means inter-mingled within the field are other grape varieties including carignan, petite sirah, cab sauv etc. What this means is the wine can vary significantly year to year and thus vintage charts can be useful. If you ever want to try what 100% Zinfandel tastes like try an Italian Primitivo. Sometimes Zinfs will have a jammy strawberry flavor. If you wonder where that comes from it is from the Petite Sirah. Try something like La Cetto to see this in spades! And if the only kind of Zinfandel you are used to is the pinky one then you have no idea what I am talking about!

I belong to the Society for America Wines and have attended a couple Zinf events. The cellar master there is Chris Bee. Chris is very knowledgeable on Zinfs. So I reached out to him, as well as Mr CWG, to pick their brains on cellaring of Zinfs and thought I would pass along their thoughts and the factors that affect aging of Zinfs.

  • “I look at Zinfandel as I do Pinot Noir as far as when to drink. Most are at their best at six years after the vintage date. True there are many top of the line (expensive) wines that will live on for another ten years plus but then it becomes a matter of taste.”
  • Is the bottle 100% zinfandel or a blend of zinfandel,carignan,petite sirah etc
  • The winery and vineyard location.
  • the vintage year.
  • French vs. American oak.
  • I find that Lodi and Mendocino are the shortest lived appellations followed by El Dorado and Sierra Foothills. They are usually priced lower to reflect this.
  • Late Harvest wines with <15% alc and over 2%rs can live well beyond the 6 years but the over 15% and under 2%rs tend to self-destruct in under five years. They tend to take on pruney overripe notes.
  • I have been drinking up some of my older vintages and the better producers have shown well with their top of the line offerings. I (Chris) am currently drinking 1992 Ridge Geyserville which is at its peak. The 1992 Sonoma, half the price, was over the hill but alive. The Howell Mountain was exceptional but is no longer made as the vines were budded over to Cab. A Sausalito Canyon 1991 was clearly over the hill and pruney.
  • Sadly Chris shared “Back in the early 90’s I bought too much wine, hence the clear out now.” You need to drink more Chris. I bet you can find a volunteer or two 🙂
  • Alderbrook is a good but not outstanding zinfandel producer and their wines are best drunk within six years from the vintage date 2002 would translate to 2008 or three years ago. Often their zinfandel is 100% zinfandel which tends to limit the ageing potential.

There you have it. So what I discovered was my Alderbrook was good but the fruit had totally faded. Not so far as to be a “bad wine” but far enough to have been past its peak!

If you cellar, capture info at time of purchase, track it. And most of all DRINK IT! 🙂
Copyright John Galea for CanadianWineGuy.com

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