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2001 Saucelito Canyon Zinfandel, Arroyo Grande Valley, California

There are a lot of things that go into making up the complexity of flavors in a wine, but none by my judge better than the age of the vines growing the fruit.

The effects of vine age were first made starkly real to me on a trip I took to Australia's Hunter Valley. There, in the capable hands of a man whose name and touring company have sadly escaped me, I got a chance to taste through a large, prestigious winery's entire portfolio of Chardonnay and Shiraz in horizontal and vertical tastings stretching back almost 10 years. The ability to compare 3 Chardonnays all from the same year, made in exactly the same way, from the same winery, but one with 5 year old vines, one with 20 year old vines and one with 60 year old vines was mind-blowing. The older the vines, the more subtle and varied the complexities of the wine. Older vines just equalled better taste.

Since then I have been a true believer in old vines. Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to Zinfandel as a varietal, which perhaps more than most grapes, gains amazing character from older vines (40+ years).

The vines that produced this wine from Saucelito Canyon Winery, a small family winery near San Luis Obispo, are no less than 120 years old. Planted by immigrant Englishman, Henry Ditmas and his wife Rosa shortly after moving to their newly purchased estate in 1878, these Zinfandel vines are thought to have been brought as cuttings from Spain.

Bill and Nancy Greenough, the current owners and operators of the Winery (Bill is the winemaker, too) purchased the estate directly from the descendants of the Ditmas family, who owned and resided on the property continuously until 1974. Since then, Bill has laboriously and meticulously been nursing the remaining living vines back into a producing vineyard with excellent results.

Tasting Notes:
Blood red in the glass, this wine has a shifting nose that waffles (or maybe its me that's waffling) between sweet aromas of blackberries, blueberries, cedar chips, and a slight floral scent that resembles lavender. In the mouth it is what you would expect after a nose like that -- loads of blackberry pie, a bit of black cherry, and some spice notes that incorporate vanilla and dried herbs. The tannins in this wine are soft and nearly undetectable, and the wine finishes with a hint of cinnamon. An excellent effort.

Food Pairing:
I had this with, of all things, a rock shrimp and jalapeno pizza in anticipation of the spice from the peppers, and it was a great complement, not too overpowering so the flavors of the cheese and the cilantro of the pizza remained bright, but matching the jalapenos in their spice.

Overall Score: 8.5/9

How Much?: $17

This wine can be ordered directly from the winery's Web site.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.