Thu 3 Dec 2009
Overlooking for the moment the issue, which seems important to me, that there are no rules about using the term “old vines” on wine labels in America, I’ll propose as a model of what an old vines zinfandel should be the Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2007, Alexander Valley. The dry-farmed vineyard from which Sausal draws the grapes for this wine was planted before 1877, according to available records. That makes these zinfandel vines at least 132 years old; by any definition, these are old vines indeed, and they make a wine of profound depth and dimension as well as balance and integration.
First, what the Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2007 is not. It’s not over-ripe or jammy; it’s not “hot” with alcohol; it delivers no cloying boysenberry scents or flavors; it’s not massively tannic. The alcohol level is 14.7 percent; yes, legally that’s give or take a point on either the up or down side. Still, the wine does not fall into the category of almost port-like zinfandels that soar over 16 percent alcohol. I mean last week I drank a lovely, delicate pinot noir from the Willamette Valley that carried its 14.5 percent alcohol like a zephyr, so 14.7 for a zinfandel is child’s-play.
The Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2007, Alexander Valley, offers a beguiling bouquet of clove-and-black pepper-infused black currants and blueberries that unfolds to reveal ground violets and lavender, crushed gravel and a hint of mocha. The wine is notably clean and fresh and pure, a graceful amalgam of power and elegance that never loses its sense of being rooted in the earth. Black fruit flavors are rich and spicy but subdued by vibrant acidity and supple tannins; a year in French oak lends a touch of suavity to the wine’s texture and firmness to the structure. Altogether, a pleasure to drink, indeed an exemplar of presence and resonance, now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $40.
We drank the Sausal Century Vines Zinfandel 2007 with chuck roast braised in wine and onions, with root vegetables, the second time I made this dish in a month.
Sausal Winery is owned by the Demostene family, whose ancestors came to Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley in 1901. The winery makes all red wines, chiefly several zinfandels, cabernet sauvignon and a Chianti-like sangiovese.
This wine was a sample for review.