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2002 Cline "Ancient Vines" Zinfandel, Contra Costa County, California

In general, I enjoy finding and reviewing wines here that are from smaller producers, as well as wines from areas that are off the beaten track. With this wine from Cline Cellars I've managed to do the latter, but certainly not the former. Cline is one of the biggest names in the Sonoma Valley. However, they happen to have a piece of land in an area known as Oakley in Contra Costa County, 55 miles east of San Francisco, that has some old, old Zinfandel vines on it. It's from this little out of the way patch of land that we get this wine.

To be fair to Cline, even though they are a pretty commercial, high-volume producer (and sometimes those seem like dirty words here on Vinography), they do have small time family beginnings. Started by Fred Cline the grandson of mid-century settlers in the Oakley area (albeit famous ones, named Jacuzzi -- yes, THAT jacuzzi), they have been remarkably successful growers and marketers, now producing something on the order of 150,000 cases a year.

Cline's Ancient Vines Zinfandel is produced primarily from the old vineyards in Oakley that I mentioned, as well as from a some other vineyards in Lodi. It was aged for 9 months in American oak. Though Cline says it will cellar for 10 years, I wouldn't count on that. In 10 years it will be brown as dirt and will have lost a lot of the fruit that makes it an enjoyable wine.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is blood red in the glass -- surprising, considering that it is so young and a zinfandel at that. Despite the uncharacteristic color, it dispels all uncertainty as to its varietal with a heavy nose of just-baked blackberry pie (maybe with a sweet oak crust) In the mouth it is lush and extracted, with ripe, dark blackberry and boysenberry flavors. The wine is thankfully kept from being too lopsided with a good amount of spice that tastes a bit like white peppercorn. The finish is long with just a slight bit of heat to it, unfortunately, but not enough to make the wine unpleasant.

Food Pairing:
Like so many fruit driven Zinfandels and Syrahs this is a great BBQ wine as well as a great wine to have with cheese. It's also good to have with some spicy foods like these pork chops with a mustard crust.

Overall Score: 8.5/9

How Much?: $18

This wine is not extremely hard to find, thanks to the massive volumes in which it is made and the prodigious marketing and distribution machine that is Cline Cellars. Check your local gourmet grocery store. You can also buy it directly from their Web site.

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