The marketing department at XYZin leaves me a little confused, but that’s okay—so does elementary school math.
(In fact, I remember getting the equation ‘2 + 2’ wrong, although Sister Beatrice, my First Grade teacher, was decent about it. I answered ‘3.99999’ and she assured me, “You’re close, Chris. Real close…”)
So, when I noticed a bottle of XYZin with a huge ’10’ on the label ballyhooing XYZin’s ten-year-old grape vines, my puzzlement can at least be put into perspective.
Ten is the one after 9, right?
The thing is, in elementary school winemaking, I remember learning that once you plant a grape vine, it takes about five years before you can realize a bare-bones harvest. And, of all the varietals on the planet, zinfandel is the one most frequently associated with the testimonial ‘Old Vines’ on the label.
According to David Gates, vice president of the zincredible Ridge Vineyard, who’ve been zinfandel pros since 1964:
“Zinfandel vines should be fifty years old. Or older…”
His boss, Ridge winemaker and CEO Paul Draper, maintains that zinfandel vines don’t even mature until they’re fifteen.
In California, especially north-central Sonoma and Amador County in the Sierra Foothills, plenty of supremely old zinfandel vines exist, some well beyond their Willard Scott hundredth-birthday kudos. That’s because cabernet and chardonnay are the new kids on the block; zinfandel was planted by Italian immigrants who came to Sonoma County in the 1800s after the Gold Rush. Such heirloom vines are prized because, unlike their callow counterparts producing high yields with somewhat simple fruit, world-weary, post-menopausal zinfandel pops out low yields of small berry clusters jammed with concentrated sugars and subtle, secondary undertones like graphite, licorice and slate.
In contrast, pubescent zinfandel displays all the subtlety, gravitas and sophistication of Justin Bieber.
So Why Advertise It…?
A quick flip to the XYZin website clarified things, although I was further poleaxed by their tagline, ‘Wines with a Sense of Place and a Place in Time’. Say wha…?
Turns out that the good folks at Geyser Peak are behind ‘10’ as part of their XYZin ‘Vine Age’ series; bottlings intended track the evolution in zinfandel’s flavor profile as the vines grow up, then old. Now that’s an idea worthy of sitting up and taking notice. Also in the series are self-explanatory ‘50’ and ‘100’ zinfandels, available at age-appropriate price-ponts—‘50’ goes for around $35, and ‘100’ sells for $45.
Although I haven’t had the chance to dip into the older, posher versions yet, the concept itself is as clever as it is unique—a zin win/win.
So, just when all was revealed and my head cleared, another odd XYZin statement reared from the web page. No, not winemaker Ondine Chattan’s food-pairing suggestion for her XYZin 100: Shrimp with Grits.
Now, maybe I’m just a frostbitten Midwest meathead, but I do confess that this delightful-sounding morsel has never once graced my table. And if it did, would it occur to me to match it with a massive high-alcohol, hundred-year-old zinfandel?
Not in a hundred years.
But that wasn’t the assertion I’m referring to. It’s this:
‘Although these vines exude classic Zinfandel characteristics, it’s rare for a single vineyard to embody everything we look for in the final blend…’
Maybe I nodded off during that elementary school winemaking lecture on ‘sense of place’, but XYZin didn’t, since they used in their jingle. Single vineyard wines are the very embodiment of terroir—a metaphor for ‘sense of place’—and big momma Geyser Peak, like most wineries, is always slapping vineyard names on their labels and commanding top dollar for it. Vineyard designated wines are generally better than their generic counterparts, if only because blendings can mask shortcomings—and single-source wines with shortcomings are generally relegated to generic-counterpart status.
Speaking of Terroir, Ready For Another XYZinger?
‘We believe that the history of a vineyard is as much a part of the terroir as are climate, soil, clones and the age of its vines’.
Stop already. Terroir is not the result of history; history is the result of terroir.
But I’m just nitpicking words here; the wine itself is fine. Better than fine. Once opened and allowed to mellow, XYZin 10 is a juicy, spicy mouthful with plenty of grit—a powerful pour; hardly a shrimp. Ondine Chattan, who is gorgeous and not much older than her baby vines (she’s thirty), confesses a lifelong obsession with hard science and subjective aesthetics. To prove it, she earned a Masters degree in Enology while me, I need a calculator to work out 7 X 5.
Not only that, but she’s a former Ridge Vineyards winemaker. So, if Ondine Chattan wants to pour zinfandel directly over her shrimp ‘n’ grits and use a straw, she’s got the street cred to do it.
“Okay, Chris, I’m giving you four apples…” went my subsequent remedial first grade math nun. “Think about this before you answer it: How many apples do you have?”
Of course, it so took me so long to do the calculation that by the time I was done, I had already taken a bite out of one—so this time, 3.9999 wound up being correct.
XYZin Zinfandel, 10 Year Old Vines, California, 2007, about $15: Cardamom and cracked pepper spice up the nose while the palate is ripe with crisp summery fruits like Bing cherry and Damson plum along with briery backwoods ones like huckleberry and blackberry. The finish is long with smoke, chocolate and vanilla notes from the triumvirate of oak: American, French and Hungarian.