Friday, 27 January 2012

Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” (2009)

Often named “the Zinfandel capital of the world,” Lodi in California is said to produce 40% of all of California’s Zinfandel production (which is in itself the majority of global production). However, despite the quantity of wine produced here, Lodi has always attracted a reputation as a bulk wine producing region, rather than an area which is capable of producing the finest expressions of Zinfandel (or for that matter other common grape varieties grown in America, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot).

The problem really (if you can call it that) is a climate that is roastingly hot once you get in to sun-baked valley that forms the majority of the western and central parts of Lodi, with the only respite from the heat coming once you start to get into the Sierra foothills in the east. Here in the heart of California’s “gold rush” country, the temperatures moderate slightly, offering up a longer growing season and less overt heat, which allows more subtlety and nuance into the wines that are grown here.

Starting with just 12 acres of vines in 1948, the Kautz family (owners of the Ironstone vineyards) now own 5,000 acres of vines across Lodi and the surrounding area, thereby making them one of the top ten largest grape growers in California. Given the whole of California to choose a spot for their signature “home” vineyard, the Kautz family selected a small area in the east of Lodi, nestled amongst the Sierra Foothills. In 1989 work began with dynamite and hard labour to blast into the limestone hills to form the cellars for Ironstone’s home. Since then sustainable farming and a wealth of experience have yielded excellent wines ever since.

This Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” comes from the fruit of Zinfandel vines which are 45 years old and vinified in those subterranean Ironstone Cellars. Watched over as they ripen by the owls and wood ducks which are encouraged to live in the Ironstone vineyards as part of the sustainable farming practises programme, the grapes for this Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” may be fewer in number than when their vines were younger, but offer a greater depth and intensity of flavour than is possible to create with young vines. With 9% Petite Sirah also added to the blend, after picking, crushing, fermentation and pressing, this Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” is aged in French oak prior to release.

Bottled in a tall shouldered, Bordeaux-shaped bottle, this Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” has a plain looking label that highlights both the Lodi origins of this wine and the link to four generation of Kautzs who have been tending vines in California for nearly 90 years. The foil is plasticky and the cork is also a plain synthetic example.

In the glass, this Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” is a ripe and clear ruby colour of moderate intensity. A little bottle aging shows as discolouration towards the rim of the wine (this wine was originally released in March 2010), with a hint of ochre right at the hibiscus showing one of the effects of time in French oak. When swirled, the legs of this Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” are clear to see in describing an alcohol content of 14.5% abv. This sits midway through the alcohol range for Californian Zinfandel.

On the nose, this Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” shows soft and ripe summer fruits such as strawberries and raspberries, with some vanilla notes providing a smoothing, rounding and slightly sweet influence. Some richer cherry sits behind the initial aromas of this open and warm nose adding a sense of depth to the bouquet.

Once this Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” arrives in your mouth, much the same characteristics are exhibited. Soft, slightly jammy red fruits form the bulk of the flavour which is washed away into the finish with a good level of cleansing acidity that allows this Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” to retain a sense of balance. Medium bodied, depth is provided with some cherry influence and vanilla and the overall impression is of a wine that is well crafted and executed (if a little simple). Just as the wine is swallowed, Zinfandel’s trademark sweetness fades and the finish itself is drier with a sense of fading raspberries and violets. The finish itself is comparatively short in contrast to other Zinfandel.

Overall, this Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” is a good example of entry level Californian Zinfandel. Neither too extracted (often entry-level wines for a range feature the grape juice which has been extracted most vigorously from the grapes, resulting in too much tannin being present) nor too dilute (the vigorously pressed juice also tends to be less intense in flavour than “free run” juice, or juice that has been gently pressed), this Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” offers a generic interpretation of the Zinfandel grape in the Californian style. Easy drinking, this Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” is great with no accompaniment, but also works well with grilled meats and some cheeses.

Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” - an easy to appreciate style of Zinfandel - a qualified success.
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Ironstone “Old Vine Zinfandel” (2009)

Score: 78/100 – Medium-bodied and easy drinking Zin.

Value for Money: 7/10 – This Ironstone "Old Vine Zinfandel" is fairly priced (£10 per bottle) for a reliable example of Zinfandel
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