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Spare Me the Bottle Age When It Comes to Zinfandel

zinfandel corks

Virtually every week I peruse WineBid to see if there are any wines worth bidding on. It strikes me that when I browse through the Zinfandel category I see countless bottles of Zin that are 10 plus years of age. Often I will see bottles that are 15-20 years old. I think that more often than not these wines end up on WineBid because collectors are disappointed with the way their aged Zinfandel tastes.

This past week I opened a 2003 Ridge Lytton Springs out of magnum. The wine was interesting with flavors of black tea and aromas of bay leaves and wet forest floor. It was definitely drinkable and paired admirably with a grilled steak. What the wine lacked though was the juicy acidity and brambly fruit characteristics that I adore in Zinfandel. This was the oldest bottle of Zin in my cellar and I had aged it intentionally to see how it would develop.

I am a proponent of aging wine in the cellar if they improve or become more compelling with bottle age. Obvious examples for me would include Bordeaux and top tier Cabernets from Napa. They develop compelling secondary characteristics and the tannins are more in balance with the fruit profile. While my bottle of ’03 Ridge Lytton Springs clearly made it to 15 years of age I am certain it was not better than had I consumed if 5-7 years ago. I know many a wine consumer who won’t touch a bottle of Ridge Geyserville or Lytton Springs until it reaches 15 years of age. I’ll err on the side of drinking them sooner rather than later going forward.

With that being said a little bottle age can clearly benefit some Zins. A recent bottle of 2015 Ridge Pagani was just a little too over the top at this time and a year or two in the cellar should bring more balance to the wine.

I will not pass judgement on those of you who want to cellar your Zins. I plan to drink most of my single vineyard Zin from the likes of Carlisle, Turley and Ridge in the the 5-8 year window after release. Wines like Outpost and Black Sears that are sourced from Howell Mountain will also be consumed after 5-8 years. Entry level Zins like Turley Juvenile and Old Vines or Carlisle Sonoma County will be consumed 1-3 years after they are released. Unless I lose track of the bottle in my cellar I don’t intend to keep bottles of Zin past 10 years of age going forward.

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8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mark Leyendecker #

    Tom, I tend to agree for the most part. One of the best Zins I ever had was 1990 Geyserville consumed in 2005 at 15 years from standard bottle. It was more akin to Bordeaux than a Zinfandel based wine, and totally different in character. But an amazing drink nevertheless. I will be following the 80/20 rule, opening 80% by year 10 and saving 20% in large format beyond that.

    March 3, 2018
    • I know there will always be exceptions. Just not sure if I want to roll the dice.

      March 3, 2018
  2. Mark Leyendecker #

    Given that we get mags of Lytton and Geyserville from the winery for about $75, we can afford a few rolls of the dice on these…

    March 3, 2018
    • I think you are right. I’ve had better examples of aged Ridge than the ’03. Perhaps it was the vintage.

      March 3, 2018
  3. Mike (@mbb71) #

    Really agree with this post. There are many big Zins that benefit from a year or two of bottle age but otherwise are best consumed relatively young. As someone who also loves Bordeaux, this characteristic of Zin is one thing that greatly attracts me too it. I’d go crazy if I had to treat all the wine I buy with the patience of Bordeaux. That said, I do think many Ridge Zins have the capacity to age longer. Ditto Williams Selyem and Joseph Swan.

    March 3, 2018
    • Thanks Mike. I’d like to try an older Joseph Swan as your the second person who has referenced how well they age.

      March 3, 2018
  4. Rich Brown #

    Just a great post Tom – great topic that I’ll happily geek out on with you any day of the week! First off, I do the exact same thing on Winebid (probbaly around the same time as you at 8:15 every Sunday ;), and I 1000% agree. It’s almost comical the number of 20+ year old zins on there from little known, or at best, not exactly ‘highly regarded’ producers. And the craziest part about it – they ALWAYS end up selling! It just begs the question, WTF is buying this stuff!?!?

    Anyway, in general, I’m with you on enjoying most zin within the first 10 years from vintage. Just like you said, the haunting perfume, and fresh,juicy, brambly fruit is what brings us back time and time again to the varietal, and it’s typically most prevalent fairly early on. That being said, there are definitely some exceptions, albeit fewer and farer between, where extended age does seem to bring out extra nuance and complexity in the wine. For me, those exceptions are more vineyard/producer/vintage specific, with the likes of Raveswood Monte Rosso (had an amazing 1994 not long ago), and Ridge Geyserville (killer 1991 a while back) leading the pack for me. Again, those bottles do not always do better with mote time in bottle….but I feel they have a better chance of doing so in strong years compared to other producers. Case in point, a well stored 15 year old Ridge Lytton Springs from magnum could have been profound with many miles still left in the tank…but imho, the 03 vintage probably had something to do with it underdelivering.

    In addition, I feel that some of the zins, and in particular, the zin-heavy field blends from current top producers such as Bedrock and Carlisle don’t really hit that sweet spot until they are 7 to 8 years old, and then should stay at that plateau for a handful of years or longer. For example, I have a personal rule to not touch Bedrock single vineyard heritage blendls until they are at LEAST 5 years old. The wines just demand that extra time in bottle, and you’re truly doing yourself a disservice if pop the cork before then as the aromas are more muted, and the dusty blue/red fruits, spice, and tannins just are not integrated enough for maximum enjoyment.

    As always, YMMV, but id say a good rule of thumb is to enjoy most bottles of zinfandel within the first 7 to 8 years from vintage, unless you’re confident in the track record of the producer and vineyard to craft age-worthy zins, and it’s thought to be a strong vintage. But the good news is that even if a few bottles slip through the cracks and you miss that prime drinking window….there’s plenty of suckers more than happy to buy them from you on Winebid 25 years down the road ;)

    March 3, 2018
    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I think we are pretty much on the same page. Most top end Zins are at their best in the 6-8 year age range. That being said there is always something special about capturing magic in a bottle like you did with the 91 Ridge and 94 Ravenswood. BTW I had forgotten about the Monte Rosso bottling from Ravenswood. I used to go there every Summer when they released their single vineyard Zins.

      March 3, 2018

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