It was a cold and blustery night in the Cleve; wild arctic winds whipped the snow around like an angry toddler shaking up a snow globe. Braving the elements, HubbyDoug and I met our friends, Shelly and Hal, for dinner and drinks at Humble Winebar in Lakewood, a funkycool restaurant, just southwest of downtown Cleveland. Looking for something to restore some warmth the icy night had stolen, Shelly noticed Predator Old Vine Zinfandel on the menu. Having fond memories of our time in Lodi at the Macchia event two years ago, and being fond of the Zin, we thought we’d give it a try. Allison, our server, said that it was a rich, full-bodied wine with notes of blackberry, chocolate and hints of bacon ( yum ~ I like bacon).
It was just as Allison described, but along with the rich dark fruit vibe and bacon, was a beautiful pepper finish that kept us warm well after the last sip. It was a more complex, layered wine. Paired with the roasted artichokes, sun-dried tomato goat cheese and proscuitto, it complimented the flavors; coaxing out creamier quality of the cheese. The tuna puttanesca had a bit of a peppery | garlic vibe to begin with, and the Predator brought more of that to the forefront. When I sipped a bit with the sausage pizza, I found the pepper of both to be quite heavy; I’m not always comfortable breaking a sweat at dinner ~ it was just too much of a good thing.
I think what I enjoyed best about this wine was that it had an old-world consistency: The taste you got at the start of the glass is what you enjoyed from the last drop. The bacon vibe that I loved so much, I deduce, came from barrel-aging, perhaps in an older barrel with more toasting to bring out the smoked essence. But that’s just a guess.
Intrigued by the Old Vine phenomenon, I wanted to investigate further. At first glance, most old vines look like they wouldn’t produce anything other than dust. But looks can deceive. Ravenswood winemaker and founder, Joel Peterson (via Sonoma County Winegrape Commission/ History in a Glass, May 2007) states that Old Vine Zinfandel “represents the most unique and traditional wine of California.”
Peterson defines Old Vine Zinfandel:
- 0-10 years: young vines
- 10-50 : middle age
- 50- 80: old vines
- 80+ : ancient
According to the wine blog Vinobo, most old Zinfandel vineyards are head-pruned meaning that the vine looks like an umbrella, with vines cascading from the top (trellised grapes, which most of us are familiar with, have clusters in a row, roughly waist high). Sun can shine into the middle of the vine of head-pruned grapes, since the leaves cascade from the top. As the sunlight patterns change through the day, different angles of the vine get what’s known as ‘dappled sunlight‘ therefore no grapes get burned. The dappling effect creates a perfect condition for nurturing Zinfandel, yet theses grapes are very labour intensive to harvest: They must be hand picked.Trellised grapes also can be pruned for the dappling effect but can be machine harvested, which is so much easier for the grower and crew.
Old vine Zinyards generally have lower yield than many other varietals, no irrigation and the soils are thin which makes the vine work a little harder. But all that hard work pays off with more power, color and intensity in the wine. With age comes ‘experience’ and older Zins tend to benefit from their time in the sun ~ their fruit tend to ripen more evenly, and gain more spice the older the plant. Just as we tend to get pruney with too much sun exposure, on Zins it actually works as they age.
And if you’re looking for a serious predator, look no further than the ladybug on the label; that’s what they use as a natural predator against nasties that invade the vineyard.