2016 Tilth Del Barba Vineyard Zinfandel
Zinfandel, like many of our ancestors, is an immigrant to the United States. But unlike many generations-deep ancestors, Zinfandel’s very first immigrant vines can be still alive in the United States, still producing grapes, and still having those grapes turned into wine – just like they were 150 years ago!
Well, not quite the same. As vines age they naturally produce less and less fruit – they have to work harder to make the fruit. But, the payoff for us as drinkers is that the decreased quantity of fruit they produce becomes much more dramatic. It has more flavor, depth, density and a deep, powerful elegance.
But for wine-growers, there is a trade-off. Most vines by the time they reach 30 years old are thought to be commercially inefficient, no matter how good their fruit might taste. Yields are just toolow to make the wine viable in terms of dollars. Which is why most California vines are ripped out at age 30, and also hence why “ancient vines” as a term generally starts at the ripe old age of 50.
However, in a few places in California, there are not mere ancient vines, but vines that are much older – centurian vines, still kicking out fruit to make rocking-good wine. Now here is a twist – most of these vines aren’t the mega popular varieties of today, Cabernet and Chardonnay. Rather, they are the “Italian” varieties—ones that immigrant Italians brought with them to California some 150 – 200 years ago. One of those varieties is, of course Zinfandel (or Primitivo, as it was known in the motherland).
You’ve probably never heard of the Del Barba Vineyard tucked away deep in the heart of Contra Costa County. Way back when the Italian farmers came, this was prime Zinfandel territory on the river delta, with sandy soils that phylloxera had never found. Nowadays, this vineyard—having stayed put these 200-odd years– is surrounded by encroaching urban sprawl. And not the gentrified kind of urban sprawl, mind you: When Jason Driscoll, owner and winemaker of Tilth approached Tom Del Barba for the first time to buy grapes, Tom answered the door with a shotgun in hand.
Moral of the story? Good wine is where you find it. And this is some darn exeptional wine:
An explosion of red and black fruits comes from the glass: ripe blackberries and boysenberries, dark bramble and black cherries all present themselves, a dense mélange of flavors. The palate is soft and luxurious, round and smooth, with a gorgeous finish. As Jason notes about the wine: “Black cherries, espresso and vanilla spice are accompanied by a full mouthfeel and an everlasting finish. This wine is a beast in a ballerina dress. I completely made that tasting note up to sound extra fancy. This wine tastes like Zinfandel. Good Zinfandel. Don’t think too much about it, just enjoy it…with friends and loved ones, preferably…or by yourself with a tub of chocolate ice cream — my wife’s preference.”
To me, Jason’s words don’t quite say enough. This tastes like one of best California Zinfandels I’ve had in a generation! We got a steal of a price on it, so buy all that you can.