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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Tasting note: Cave Spring 1995 Beamsville Bench Riesling Icewine, Niagara Peninsula VQA

A little oxydation can be a good thing, now and then. Not only for all these wonderful, “geeky” wines from Jura, as Eric Asimov points out in his New York Times column this week (where he rightly praises the Ganevat Trousseau as a great steak wine… but that’s another story). It can even be true for wines that are not, by design, meant to be oxydated.

Take this 1995 Riesling Icewine from Cave Spring that a good friend of mine recently brought me at a dinner, with a bit of doubt about its condition. There was a tiny bit of leakage on the edge of the cork, and the wine, which he had dug out of a less-travelled part of his cellar, was showing a lot more color than one would usually expect from an (usually bright-gold) icewine.

Was it past its prime? Still drinkable? Hard to tell.

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Instead of opening it with the evening’s dessert, I pulled out a 2001 Ambre from one-0f-a-kind Swiss wine producer Christophe Abbet (see a few words about him here), a fabulous, voluntarily oxydative dessert wine made from late harvest marsanne and arvine. It showed intense candied orange and caramel flavors, and a remarkable freshness, due in good part to arvine’s natural acidity. Not a bad pick at all.

So, my friend did not get short-changed in this exchange of sweets. But neither did I, as I discovered on opening it last week.

The color, when I poured it, was a bit worrisome, as the photo here shows. Dark caramel, almost terra cotta colored, it looked as though it had gone overboard. But the aromas, however, told a different story.

You could sense the oxydative character, with a good dose of baked apple showing up right from the start. But as the wine opened up and met with more oxygen, it started going towards caramelized sugar and, gradually, apricot jam, with a tiny touch of something more earthy, like wet autumn leaves. Nothing rough or tired there, I must say, and the still bright acidity kept it quite fresh and pleasant, with apricot and orange flavors and a touch of spice showing up, with still nice length.

Of course, the high sugar and high acidity in icewine certainly have a good part to play in making it ageworthy and resistant to oxydation. But the extent to which this wine had withstood it – combined with the great impression a four-year barrel-aged icewine from Nova Scotia made upon me last spring – tells me that there could be considerable interest in working that frozen treat with long ageing in oak, which could well bring it more complexity, without taking much away from it.