Grapevines are like people in that they can live for 100 years or more. Some wine labels even mention "old vines" as a point of pride, or its foreign-language equivalent, like the French "vieilles vignes," the Spanish "vïñas viejas," and German "alte Reben." But how old must a vineyard be to quality for this distinction? And why would older vines make better wines? Though the term "old vines" is not regulated, there is a consensus among vintners that it should apply only when vines are past the point where they would ordinarily be ripped out and replaced. New vines take five to eight years to hit their stride, and twice as long to reach peak productivity in terms of full-size crops of high-quality grapes. Inevitably, though, as vines age further, their yields decline in volume, eventually dipping below the threshold of economic viability. That said, winemakers prize the fruit of more mature vineyards because they may produce less fruit, but that fruit is often of superior quality, adding layers of complexity to fine wines. Mature vineyards are also more resilient in the face of drought or rain. This affordable "old vine" zinfandel is a perfect example. Made from vineyards that range from 60 to 80 years of age, it offers rich flavors of raspberry jam and brandied cherries with aromatic accents of dried herbs and pipe tobacco.
Bogle "Old Vine" Zinfandel, California. $10.99 (regularly $12.99; sale price through Monday). PLCB Item #5043