If I was blindfolded and you put an Old Vine Zinfandel in front of me and a non-Old Vine Zinfandel, I probably couldn’t tell the difference.
So I started asking around: what separates the two, flavor-wise?
Ondine Chattan, winemaker at XYZin Wines told me Old Vine Zinfandels tend to brighten the characteristics of the Zinfandel grape: producing a jammy and spicy wine. They’re “typically full-bodied, spicy, fruit-driven and accented by oak with robust alcohol,” she said.
Chris Smith, winemaking director of Bogle Winery, said Old Vine Zinfandels can have a superior quality of taste because the older grapevines are, the less vigor they have, which means they produce fewer grapes. Fewer grapes=more flavor.
“The Sex Appeal of Old Vine Zinfandel can be distilled down to smaller yields and more intensity of flavor. In general but not always true,” he pointed out.
There are different types of Zinfandel grapes and some old vines can’t be duplicated elsewhere, Chris said, leading to a unique wine taste.
So that’s that on the flavor profiles, but how old is old?
It depends who you ask. There’s no regulatory definition of “old vine.”
A winemaker can slap an old vine label on their bottles, even if their vines are only five years old and be “breaking no laws,” Chris said. Conversely, a winemaker with 100-year-old vines doesn’t have to define her Zinfandel as old vine on the bottle.
“So a consumer may frequently be drinking wines from Old Vines without any indication or may enjoy a wine from a blend of younger and older vines,” Ondine remarked adding that some consider 25-year-old vines old.
Not Chris. For him, more than 40 is old.
While other grape vines make it to around 25 years old with quality reducing as they age, Zinfandels have longer lifespans and increasing quality. One hundred year old Zinfandel vines are few and far between, but 60 to 70-year-old ones are common, Chris said.
If you want to get overwhelmed by Zinfandel info, check out this resource guide by Zinfandel Advocates & Producers.