Life Wine

Wednesday 24 July 2019

The wine buff: Lodi may lack the expensive polish of nearby Napa but it's been producing wine for more than a century

 

Sunny California: Old Zin vineyards are bush vines and grown without trellises
Sunny California: Old Zin vineyards are bush vines and grown without trellises
Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2015
Craft 3 Zinfandel 2016
Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

You have to love a vine that survived Prohibition, don't you? Yes, I'm talking about American vines and, in particular, the old Zinfandel vines of Lodi in California. Set between San Francisco and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lodi may lack the expensive polish of nearby Napa or Sonoma. Its style is more cowboy hats, boots and check shirts (a great place to buy them if you can rock that type of look), but it has been a major producer of wine for more than a century.

When I was in California a while back, one of the vineyards I visited was the Lange Twins winery. The Langes are the fourth generation of their family to farm vines, and while the family had always sold their grapes to one of the big wineries, in 2003 they decided it was time to think big, and took the major step of building their own winery. It was interesting to see as it is big on sustainability. Everything is gravity fed, there are solar panels on the roof and all the water is recycled.

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They grow a number of different varietals, but their iconic wine, Centennial, is made from Zinfandel grapes from the Lewis Vineyard nearby, which I had a chance to visit. It was planted in 1903, and over that time, the vineyard has weathered disease, survived Prohibition and endured the pressures of commercialisation which saw old Zinfandel vines being rooted up and planted with higher yielding grape varieties.

Old Zin vineyards are planted in the traditional way. They are bush vines, so are not supported in any way or trained on trellises. Instead they are pruned into a goblet shape (known as head trained) and are distinctive looking, gnarly old structures. These old vines have a much lower yield of fruit, and ripening occurs more slowly, so you get very concentrated flavours in the fruit. But the fact that they must be hand-harvested, coupled with the low yield, means that they are the least commercially viable option.

Although Zinfandel originally hails from Croatia, where it is known as both Tribidrag and Crljenak Kaštelanski, it is most associated with California, which grows more of the grape than anywhere else in the world. It is also common in Puglia in Italy, where it is known as Primitivo, a variety you may be familiar with. There is much debate about how it found its way to the US, but in the Oxford Companion to Wine, Jancis Robinson points to research that shows that the vine was imported, possibly unnamed, by George Gibbs of Long Island from the Austrian imperial nursery in Vienna in 1829. From there it went to Boston and, during the California gold rush, it made its way across to the west coast in a consignment which arrived in 1852.

So if you're celebrating July 4 on Wednesday why not toast it with history in your glass and try one of these Zinfandel wines, one of which is from old vines.

Grapevine

La Vie en Rose comes to Dublin at the terrace of Wilde restaurant at the Westbury Hotel, with a rosé wine tasting experience for €25. The tutored tasting, with sommelier Philip Dunne, includes four French rosés: Le Bijou, which balances wild strawberries with citrus and flowers; 'M' de Château Minuty, a dry and crisp Provencal rosé; followed by BY.OTT, hugely popular with the South of France set, and the celeb favourite, Whispering Angel. See wilde.ie for more.

Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel 2015

€22.99 approx, 14.5pc, from McHugh's, The Grape Vine, and Molloy's Clonsilla, all Dublin; and La Touche Wines, Greystones

Classic old Zinfandel from the Sonoma Valley, this has generous flavours of blueberries, blackberries, black cherries, pomegranate and a hint of cocoa.

Craft 3 Zinfandel 2016 €15, 13.5pc, from Marks & Spencer

Made by Sutter Home Winery, this is a fresh-faced Zinfandel with generous aromas of raspberries and spice, aged in French and American oak barrels.

Craft 3 Zinfandel 2016

€15, 13.5pc, from Marks & Spencer

Made by Sutter Home Winery, this is a fresh-faced Zinfandel with generous aromas of raspberries and spice, aged in French and American oak barrels.

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