Tuesday, October 19, 2010

WoW- St. Francis Old Vine Zinfandel

Old Vine Zinfandel is California wine country history in a glass, particularly that of Sonoma County. The soils and weather are perfect for the grape, and the growers have elevated these old vines to a revered status, much like the old redwoods and oaks that have survived in the area. And "survivor" describes Zinfandel perfectly. Originally imported from Croatia, by the late 1800's it was the most widely planted grape in Sonoma Valley. In 1890, phylloxera wiped out the majority of the vineyards, but the Zinfandel, originating from a phylloxera-resistant root stock, survived. Then, from 1913-1933, it survived prohibition as a popular grape for home wine-makers. Zinfandel held it's own as a varietal and a blending partner to many California wines until it's gradual decline in the 1970's. Then came the White Zinfandel phenomenon which once again ensured the survival of this uniquely California wine.
So what exactly qualifies as "Old Vine"? While there is no legal definition, vines between 50 and 80 years old are considered "old vines" Anything older is considered "ancient". Most grapevines tend to decrease their productivity and quality after around 25 years and are gradually removed. Zinfandel has the shown the capacity to thrive for 50,75, 100 years. As they age, their production declines, but the fruit increases in flavor and intensity. Many of these century old vines are being grafted onto new rootstock, preserving the character. These wines are often labeled as "Heritage" wines. Look for this designation from Dry Creek Vineyards for an exceptional example.
The St. Francis Zinfandel has the characteristics you would expect; raspberry, black cherry, and the unique peppery spice that is developed in the cool mornings and hot afternoons in Sonoma. It really benefits from decanting to temper some of the heat of the relatively high alcohol.

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