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Aug 25, 2007 11:17 PM

Aging Zin?

I see there are some zin fans here. Any thoughts on ageworthiness of zinfandel? I've heard it said that zin should typically be drunk within about 5 years and generally doesn't improve much with age. I've had limited opportunity to experiment as I live in South Florida and only got a half-decent wine fridge for storage a few years ago. I recently drank through most of my 99's and 00's (neither a terribly remarkable year for zins though the 99's were pretty nice). All were certainly solid and hadn't deteriorated (though occassionally needed some time after getting out of the bottle to pull themselves together), though I'd be hard pressed to say they were any better after 4-5 years of bottle age than 1-2.

Question in part prompted by post referencing '92s and '93s.

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  1. Florida isn't the problem, as long as your storage conditions are good.... I lived there 12 years and started my "wine education" at the Crown Wine & Spirits on US 1 in Riviera Beach in the late 80's... You just have to control temperature in Florida a bit more...

    As for age-worthiness of Zinfandel.... the problem IMO is that zin in general is a very high-alcohol wine. So you have a tenuous flavor balance between interesting fruit and dull alcohol...

    The key is the vintage... how rich are the fruit layers in the wine ?? If you have a tremendous fruit structure from a great vintage (and it's well stored!) then zinfandel can easily age 10 to 15 years... Below is a link to a recent Moroccan dinner where I brought a great 97 Ridge, 10 years old at the time and stored under very primitive storage conditions I might add...

    IMO it's the abundance of thin-fruit, high-alcohol, mediocre vintage zinfandel that gives the great bottlings a bad rap... and luckily probably helps to keep the prices down on these phenomenal wines...

    1. Zinfandel is like Beaujolais . . . some age, some don't. Or, more accurately, all wines (including Zinfandel and Beaujolais) will age -- some will improve with bottle age; some won't.

      I don't disagree with Chicago Mike when he says, "The key is vintage," EXCEPT that I would substitute the word "balance" for "vintage." Not every wine from a great vintage will improve with age; not every wine from a weak vintage is best in its youth. Exceptions exist on both sides, and in the middle. It's the individual wine that will age, not a vintage, and it's the indivdual wine that must have enough acidity, tannin, structure, etc. -- but all balanced with the rest of the wine -- to mature gracefully over time.

      That said, there are indeed some wineries that have track-records of notable, age-worthy wines -- Ridge probably first and foremost among them.

      One of the greatest Zins I ever had was the 1970 Ridge Jimsomare that was stunning in the mid-to-late 1980s, and I hear is still going strong. Ridge Geyserville and Lytton Springs continue to age gracefully in most vintages.

      And I had the 1935 Simi Sonoma Zinfandel several times in the 1970s and early 1980s, along with the 1935 Simi Sonoma Cabernet--not only was the Zin superb each time, but it always showed better than the Cabernet on those 4-5 times when I had the two side-by-side.


      9 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        Chicago Mike and zin1953 are pretty much dead on regarding ageworthiness. I might add the tannin level to the balance part of the discussion.
        We opened a '92 'Ridge earlier this year that was wonderful. Generally Ridge zins will last longer than many.
        We're also slowly finishing off the case of '97 Deerfield Ranch Zin (Sonoma) that has aged wonderfully.
        Sutter home used to make a Reserve zin (early '80's and before :the pink stuff) from Amador County that would age very well.
        Generally I won't buy unless I think I'll get 7-10 years from my zin. I look for fruit and balance, no hot alcohol finish and tread lightly if the alcohol goes much over 14.5 -15%.

        1. re: vinolovers

          So here is my question. If the "drinkability" for lack of a better word remains the same or may slightly decline, why is it so important to age wine ? I am not referring to the varietals/producers/vintages that are nearly universally declared to benefit from aging. I am more curious about wines like those mentioned here (Zinfandel). I would generally not consider aging a Zinfandel unless it needed it. I think some must age wines for sentimental reasons (birthday, anniversary, etc.) rather than to improve the wine itself. I'm curious if the 92 Ridge was better in 2007 than say in 2002 or even 2000. I personally have "forgot" about a wine in our cellar only to open it and find, for my taste, the wine had actually tasted worse than it did a few years ago. Maybe this is just my preference an the taste profile that I enjoy. The one exception for me is Cabernet Francs which I have liked better with some years of waiting.

          1. re: TonyO

            TonyO, keep in mind that it isn't a question of aging *per se* but whether or not the wine IMPROVES withthat age.

            I have a lot of Zin aging in my cellar, but that doesn't prevent me from opening a bottle of 2004 or 2004 Zin for dinner now . . . IF added aging will not result in a better (read "more enjoyable") wine. The same is true, not only for Zins, but for Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, Rieslings, and wines produced from over a dozen (or more) other different grape varieties.

            Vinolovers did not mentioned the SPECIFIC Ridge 1992 Zin, so I cannot offer my own specific opinion. but Ridge, as I mentioned earlier, is one of those wineries that has a well-established track-record of making Zinfandels (and Cabernets AND Chardonnays) that definitiely improve with further bottle age.

            But the bottlom line is that there is no bottom line . . or, at least, no one right answer. If you like XYZ Zinfandel in its more primary youth, and someone else prefers their wines with the secondary and tertiary that can only develop with age . . . which one of you is right? which one is wrong?

            There are some wines I prefer in their youth; others I prefer with more age. There are some generalizations I could make by grape variety, but there are always specific exceptions.


            1. re: zin1953

              I just wonder how many people "age" or delay drinking a wine that nets no gain. I certainly have no problem drinking a certain wine over a few years, in fact of kind of like doing that if the wine either remains the same or improves (my definition of "improve" may be a bit limited but usually it is that the wine becomes more subtle). I have experienced some wines that I thought were better earlier in their lifespan. A recent example would be 1998 Simi Reserve Cab. We bought a case at the winery for $300 in 2003 (I guess the poor press 1998 received caused an overabundance of some wines and resulted in a discounted price). I thought the wine drank very nicely in 2003-2005. The last bottle I opened in 2006 had lost a great deal of it's fruit and was starting to turn brown a bit. I have never had the experience of drinking a "classic" vintage (like an '82 Bordeaux for example). Maybe once I do their will be a revealtion. For now, most of the wine I buy is consumed within 3 years of purchase and decanted as needed.

              1. re: TonyO

                TonyO, I agree completely. I had not read your post, before I replied, or would have attached it as a reply to your observation. All things being equal (won't bother to do the Latin), it's on the palate of the beholder.

                This is one very good reason for purchasing a half-case, or full, of a wine that one likes. They get to monitor its progression and decided if it did improve. It also helps, when one finds a wine in decline (their appraisal) to decide to do a dinner featuring the remainder of that quantity.


        2. re: zin1953

          And, I'd like to add, if I might, that improvement in the bottle gets very personal. You could have the same Zin, with great fruit, and wonderful balance, then pour it for 5 people. I doubt that all 5 would say that it had improved in the bottle. That same argument can be made for white Burgs, Bdx. and the list goes on and on.

          I think that it is more a question of does the person drinking it appreciate the changes that have manifested themselves over the years?

          I've had many that were great in their youth, and great with 10 years age. Better? Not really sure, but I enjoyed them all along their journey. I've also had some that fell completely apart, and, when young, I thought that they would go the course - I was wrong.

          For "lesser" Zins, I tend to like 2-3 years in the cellar, and with more well-structured ones, 5-10 years. Exceptions abound though. My wife likes 'em young and doesn't have the same appreciation for the aging, as I do. Same with Port, same with many Bdx and big Cal-Cabs. Who's right? Who's wrong? We like them at different stages, that's all.


          1. re: Bill Hunt

            Great points Hunt. This makes me think of the "acquired taste" concept. I guess I never really understood that theory as it relates to certain beverages, especially the classic example of Scotch. I do not like Scotch and doubt that choking down hundreds of glasses will result in "acquiring a taste". I'll stick to drinks that taste good from the first pour. If it tastes good, that should be enough of a reason to like it.

            1. re: TonyO

              Strange that you mention that whiskey. My wine guru's hubby is enamored with it, and I always accompany him to his "single malt bars." I drink my wine, and sniff the cork and soak up all of the history of the beverage. That is where it ends. I keep a half-dozen btls. of "the good stuff," in my home for my Scotch Whiskey friends, but do not appreciate it, in the least. Never have, and probably never will.

              With wine, I wish that I knew what the differences were, as to whether one will appreciate a finely aged wine, and another will not. My wife was into wine, far earlier than was I. Still, she usually passes her '60s 1er Cru Bdx to me, after only a taste. Now, that is not all bad, especially as she's my designated driver, but odd, in my book.


          2. re: zin1953

            Boy did you hit a memory...thanks. One of my very favorite all-timers was RIdge Occidental SIn. 1970. In 1998, I was in L.A., and visited a wine shop that had a couple of bottles. I spoke with the proprieter about the wine and his repsponse was poingant: "Live with your memories". So I did. That being said, in my experience Ridge sins can last 20 years. I have had Turleys that still seem in their youth at 10.