Is it a sin to love Zin? In this wine tasting we explore Zinfandel’s unique history and compare an Italian Primitivo with an aged American Zin.
Here’s the kicker: one of these wines is almost a decade old! For Zinfandel, that might be too old.
But is it? Can Zinfandel actually age?
Here are some facts we know about Zin:
- It has low color-producing anthocyanin which means wines are usually garnet and partially transparent.
- When grapes are ripe, they’re super sweet! This means that most quality Zinfandel wines are typically 15% ABV or higher. This is pretty normal for Zinfandel, but still a prickly topic in the media.
- Zinfandel is hard to grow. Zinfandel often suffers from millerandage (uneven ripening) which makes it very difficult to pick evenly-ripe grapes.
Some producers will go as far as hand-picking berries from clusters to control quality. Others still, embrace the variance.
- Zinfandel really picks up terroir. Much like Pinot Noir, Zinfandel can’t help but express the region and place it’s grown. Because of this, you’ll find a great deal of variance of styles and flavors on the marketplace.
What We Tasted
San Marzano Primitivo di Manduria 2014
- pH: unknown
- Total Acidity: unknown
- RS: unknown
- Alcohol: 14.8%
- Price: $34
Look: Deep garnet. Lots of color and opacity, but definitely on the orange-side.
Smell: Aged flavors with scorched blackberries, raspberry jam, new leather, and volcanic rocks
Taste: Big flavors. Zinging with blueberry, blackberry, and raspberry. Then, it leads into light calcium-like (pillowy) tannins. Overall, it tastes mature and ready to go. I’m not sure that I’d age this wine.
Peterson Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley (Sonoma) 2010
- pH: 3.71
- Total Acidity: 6.6 g/L
- RS: TBA
- Alcohol: 15.2%
- Price: $25
Look: Deep garnet leaning towards medium garnet (it’s more transparent).
Smell: Lots more fresh fruit on the nose, with blackberries and raspberries and this funky spiced baked apple flavor. Then there are some pretty strong notes of crushed wet gravel and thyme or sage.
Taste: On the palate, the wine is quite zingy with acidity. Flavors are fresh: think blackberries and strawberries with pin-cushion tannins with a nice tingle of alcohol on the finish. Overall, the zing of acidity matches well with the tingle of alcohol on the finish.
We found out after the tasting that this wine is 82% Zinfandel with 11% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignan, and 2% Grenache. It’s likely that the deep color is coming from the presence of Petite Sirah!
What To Look For in Zinfandel?
If you’re looking for higher quality Zinfandel wines that can cellar, it’s important to pick out wines with moderately high acidity and tannin. We suspect that Zinfandel goes through a “dead period” while it ages (maybe at 10+ years). During this time Zinfandel fruit flavors diminish and are replaced by more tertiary flavors (aged flavors like tobacco, spices, horehound candy, etc).
After the tasting, we continued to decant the 10 year old wine and felt that it very quickly lost is zing and spunk. So, you might choose to decant Zinfandel for just 30 minutes.
Surprisingly, Zinfandel’s high alcohol didn’t seem to be as much of an issue for aging as we initially thought.
If you’ve aged Zinfandel for 15+ years and have tasting notes (and thoughts on this) – add your comments below!