Tasting Note: Robert Mondavi 1995 Napa Valley Zinfandel

Zinfandel is like white wines: it doesn’t age well, right?

Wrong. Oh, so wrong.

IMG_4209On Saturday night, I opened a bottle of 14-year-old zin I’d pulled from the cellar a couple of weeks ago, to set it up right and make it ready for drinking on the right occasion. Which, in the end, meant pizza night on a lazy Saturday evening.

The 95 Napa Valley zinfandel from Robert Mondavi – back when it was really a Mondavi winery – opened up on an intense and well-defined aroma of sweet pipe tobacco, with some prune and spice showing up afterwards. All that carried through on the mouthfeel, where a very decent level of acidity kept the wine lively and easy-drinking, despite a solid 15% alcohol level. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was refreshing, but it certainly found its balance, and did not feel heavy at all.

Better yet, as the wine opened up, more fruit came through, as black cherry notes came to the forefront. Eventually, the wine actually smelled like the tanks of fermenting pinot noir I punched down at Closson Chase vineyards, ten days ago. As if that zinfandel still had a touch of fresh picked grapes at its core.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had solid, mature zinfandel that felt like it could keep going and going. About four years ago, I drank a bottle of 1979 Glen Ellen Zinfandel I’d picked up at the tasting room at Ridge, one of my favorite California wineries. Although it felt a bit more like an old port, in some ways, it still had balance and life to it, at a good 25 years of age. Lots of pleasure to be had yet – and it was far from being over the hill.

How’s that for a wine that doesn’t age?

While I’m at it, I could tell you about the 1998 Doisy-Daëne white Bordeaux we had with Thanksgiving dinner,  as another example of graceful aging. But that’s another story.

I’d love to see how the Anderson Ranch zinfandel from Quivira, a biodynamic winery I visited last year, during the Wine Bloggers Conference, or a Preston Old Vines Zinfandel would taste like in 10, 15 or even 20 years. From what I’ve tasted so far, I think there could be much rejoicing.

Oh, by the way, the old zin went really well with the chicken-mushroom-onion pizza. Just wrapped around it smoothly, and matched nicely with the tomato sauce. Simple food that gave the wine all the room it needed to shine.

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A few years back, we tasted a 6 year vertical of Clos du Val Zins starting with a 1972 or 1973. While not all of the wines were good, the 1976 and 1977 were amazing. Alive, interesting and still varietally correct.

    • I like your point about varietally correct, Jared. I think it is probably an important indicator of aging potential. In that respect, the 95 Mondavi was spot on. And so was the 79 Glen Ellen from Ridge. Score two (or four, with yours) for old zins.

  2. I bet the high alcohol contributes to the aging potential of Zinfandel. 15%, even in 1995. That’s a lot. With more ethanol in the mix it might push the alcohol/ester equilibrium and allow more ethyl esters (i.e., fruit) to remain.

    • The hypothesis makes sense to me. It would go with the way fruit flavors remain in fortified wines over fairly long periods of time.

      Another kind of fruit preserves, eh?

  3. fruit, preserved. yes. compare to BJ nouveau, whose banana and cherry fruit esters are gonzo after a few months…

  4. You wrote with such enthusiasm and choice of words i had to open a bottle and enjoyed in a glass of Dornfelder.

  5. I think you hit it right, I love pairing a slightly aged Zin with a pizza. It just usually works. I do wish the old Mondavi wines though, seems the quality has not quite kept up since the family is less involved these days….marketing is sure better though.

  6. […] Winecase cracks open a 14 year old bottle of Robert Mondavi Zinfandel and finds it delightful: […]


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