in praise of older vines

Monday, April 05, 2010

There is no official regulation for the term old vines in this country, but it generally receives more respect than reserve – another unregulated descriptor. It could be that no one thinks it really makes a difference whether you use old vines or not; or it could be that old vines command a certain amount of respect, from vintners and consumers alike. I believe in this second theory.

Whether provable or not, I always seem to find more nuance and detail in wines from old vines. I think of the century old grenache from Australia, or the original plantings in Priorat, or the remaining old field blends from California, such as at Old Hill in Sonoma where I spent a peaceful four days this past winter. Recently, some old vine wines have crossed my palate that impressed equally, though they were white wines, not red.

The first was from importer Jorge Ordoñez, who is collaborating on an old vines verdejo from Rueda. The 2008 Shaya Old Vines Verdejo is reportedly sourced from ungrafted vines between 75 and 112 years of age. The winemaker is Belinda Thomson, an Australian, who partially barrel ferments the grapes and leaves them sur lie. It’s spicy and concentrated, with some diesel aromatics, and a mix of wet stone, white peach and grapefruit in the mouth. Suggested retail is $15.

From importer Dan Kravitz of Hand Picked Selections comes the Villa des Anges 2009 Old Vines Rosé, 100% cinsault. Old vines on a rosé is a term I’ve never seen, and Kravitz notes that these are not really all that old – about 30 years – but still, that’s enough to make note of. The wine, which sells for around $10, has a delicate strawberry/rhubarb character, dappled with fresh spring herbs.

Here at home in Washington state, you don’t often see old vines on the label, but in fact there are some vineyards that date back to the 1960s, and a couple even older. The Arbor Crest 2009 Dionysus Vineyard Riesling is from vines planted in 1972. It’s big, round, fruity, and off-dry, loaded with sweet pineapple, Meyer lemon, and honey peach flavors. The fruit concentration is spectacular, and yet the wine retains enough acidity to feel balanced against the 3.5% residual sugar. It sells for about $8.

Planted in 1983, the 2008 Estate Riesling from Gamache Vintners is another ripe and rich wine. The alcohol is just 12.5%, and the wine shows some sweetness, but what stands out best is the succulent mix of tropical fruits. Big and plush flavors of banana, papaya, guava and pineapple come through, yet the wine retains its balance and detail. It retails for about $18.

The oldest bearing vinifera vines in Washington belong to the Newhouse family on Snipes Mountain. Their Upland Estates 2008 Muscat Ice wine is produced from vines planted in 1917 by Washington wine pioneer W. B. Bridgman. The front label graphic shows an original vine from the same block. It sells for $24 – just 90 cases were made.

3 comments:

Sean P. Sullivan said...

One of my all time favorite wine country moments was eating fruit off one of the 1917 vines last fall. Exquisite!

Sarah Bagdon said...

I was lucky enough to get a taste of this 2008 Muscat at Taste Washington,last weekend, and it was exceptional.

Anonymous said...

You're forgetting perhaps the oldest vines in the Northwest: The Pines Vineyard in the Dalles has zinfandel vines that are over 100 years old. Sineann makes a wonderful Old Vine Zinfandel from these ancient vines as well as another version sourced from younger zinfandel vines grown on the same site. While the younger zinfandel, dubbed "Z" on the label, is certainly good, the old vine "O" is in another league. Do old vines make a difference? Absolutely!

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