About (Red) Zinfandel

Whether or not Zinfandel can age has been an ongoing argument for as long as I’ve been into wine. Many seasoned wine experts say no, that Zinfandel can age maybe five years at the most, and after that time, they pretty much morph into flat, alcoholic grape juice. And if they’re from Paso Robles? No way.

I had several library bottles of Villicana Winery Zinfandel, Estate Grown, that I’d carefully kept in my wine refrigerator for years. I invited members of my somm group to join me for a tasting of very old Zinfandel wines. While the ages compared to, say, a Bordeaux or Barolo may not be considered old, by Zin standards, they were well aged.

Just to be clear, the Zins were red, not the “White” Zins so common in the supermarkets. In general, “White Zinfandel” is simply a Rosé that has not been fermented to dryness. That accounts for its sweetness and its popularity for those who prefer their wines a little on the sweet side. I’m not one of those people. Don’t call it “Red Zin” because Zin only comes in one color. It’s the “White” that has to be distinguished because it’s manipulated. That’s a peeve of mine.

There are, of course, exceptions. One of my favorites is the $18 bottle of White Zinfandel made by McCay Cellars in Lodi, California. At the time of this writing, it’s not available from the winery, but I expect it to be offered by spring of 2018.  It is a dry, delicious, and food-friendly wine. I personally feel that the winemaker calls it “White Zin” just to mess with people’s minds!

Just to be clear, the Zins were red, not the “White” Zins so common in the supermarkets. In general, “White Zinfandel” is simply a Rosé that has not been fermented to dryness.

But we are talking about a tasting of Zinfandel. Villicana Winery has always made one of my favorite Zinfandels. Located in Paso Robles (naturally), Alex and Monica Villicana produce rich, drinkable Zins loaded with flavor, spice, and red fruit. It is the prototypical high-alcohol Paso Robles wine, but drier than you’d think, and yummy. I know that “yummy” isn’t an “official” wine term, but it is what it is. This is one of the first wine clubs I joined, and I’ve been a member for nearly a dozen years.  Because their production is very small – occasionally as little as 40 cases – I’ve found being a club member ensures that I get the wines that I want.

The Wines

Foxen Chenin Blanc
Foxen Chenin Blanc

We began the afternoon by drinking (not tasting!) the 2016 Foxen Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. Foxen Vineyards & Winery is another winery that I love, and their wines are stellar. The Chenin proved to be a wonderful start for the tasting to come and allowed us to have some time for socializing as everyone arrived.

I surprised everyone with the next wine which was a 2002 Villicana Zinfandel, Mountain Springs Vineyard. Naturally, it had to be decanted as it seemed to have a goodly amount of sediment in the bottle. The first taste of the wine was not encouraging.  “Dust,” with none of the good part, seemed to be the only aroma and flavor. But as the air coaxed out the long-sleeping character from the wine, we realized that although we could taste the age, the flavor of the wine could not be denied. It bloomed with fragrance and flavor and the “old” taste went away. I believe that many of the better Zinfandels acquire almost Bordeaux-like qualities as they age, and this one is no exception.

I started off with that one specifically because it was nearly the oldest that I had (I have a 2001 Villicana that’s still sleeping *somewhere* and I eventually figured it would be worth waiting to be shared with The Wineaux Guy) and I wanted to see how the very oldest would taste.  Answer: good.

 The Vertical

It’s important to know that because these are estate wines made from estate grown grapes by the same winemaker, each vintage shares similar characteristics with the others.  All are black and red fruit forward with baking spice (touches of nutmeg and cinnamon), undeniable jamminess, oak, and earth. With the exception of the 2002, which was not made from estate-grown grapes, all of them had a medium finish.  Because of its age (we believe) the 2002 finish was a little on the short side.

2006 Villicana Zinfandel – 17% ABV

Eleven years from vintage, this wine was significantly different from the 2002. The 2006 still sported plenty of fruit, a surprising amount.  Although we realized that even an old Zinfandel can have a certain amount of complexity, we were pleasantly surprised to find that fruit, spice, and notes expected from oak were still discernable, but the 17% ABV was not attention-getting.

2007 Villicana Zinfandel – 17% ABV

Another 17% ABV, this one certainly got our attention! This wine was a textbook example of the classic Paso Robles Zinfandels with rich fruit and assertive alcohol.  Another hallmark of Paso Zins is the fact that despite the high alcohol, the wines are extremely drinkable. Quaffable, even.

2008 Villicana Zinfandel – 17.8% ABV

That’s not a typo. Believe it or not, there was very little heat despite its 17.8 number. It didn’t feel as alcoholic as the 2007, and it still drank as smoothly. Once again, the description is a fill-in-the-blank repeat – red and black fruit forward, medium finish.

2009 Villicana Zinfandel – 17% ABV

Another high ABV bruiser, the 2009 was as fresh tasting as any younger vintage I’ve had from this winery. We believed that this one was just hitting its stride and could have easily rested a few more years.

After the Vertical

The Pièce de Resistance was the La Fleur de Boüard, a Pomerol from the extraordinary 2005 vintage. At 14% ABV, it was soft, luscious, and a welcome respite from the Zinfandel heat. Needless to say, although this wasn’t a part of the official vertical, it was easily the Wine of the Night. Stunning. And certainly worth the fight over the remains!





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