The Gnarly Head Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel 2016 is sourced from 35 to 80 year old grapevines farmed in vineyards in the Lodi delta region. Gnarly Head is one of the labels from Delicato Family Vineyards, a family owned winery and vineyards founded in 1924, some of their other brands include Both Box, Handcraft, Twisted, and J. Alexander Brown, among others. Lodi is a bit different than most of the other well-known California AVAs, first it’s located in the Central Valley, not the Central Coast (Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, Monterey, etc.) or the North Coast AVA (Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, etc.), Lodi is too far inland to be considered coastal. The Central Valley is great for growing crops, but too warm for high quality grapes. But waters from the San Francisco Bay wind their way to northern Lodi in the form of river valleys funneling cooling morning fog and colder night breezes all the way to the vineyards. Now, you may ask, whats the big deal about “Old Vines“? Wine grapes are weird, grapevines grown in ideal (for normal fruit and vegetables) make loads of ripe juicy grapes that produce boring wines, but tasty grape jelly. Grape vines that suffer and struggle, prolong the growing season, maximize the chemical compounds inside the grapes, and produce a smaller crop, meaning more of the vines energy go into creating fewer grapes and intensifying each bunch. The most famous growing regions in the world have rock strewn poor soil, the vineyards look picturesque. but the ground itself is marginal for most things other than grapevines. Old vines (there is no legal definition for old vines) because of their advanced age naturally struggle and produce fewer grapes (that’s a good thing) and they don’t have to be situated on very poor ground (remember, that’s good for grapevines). So vineyards that decades ago were considered perfectly good, but not outstanding are now superstars. This Zinfandel was aged on French and American oak and the alcohol content is a ripe 14.5%.
The color is deep, dark, and opaque, maybe more black than Burgundy red. The nose is shows oak influence, toasty vanilla, pepper, some chocolate, along with blackberry, plums and exotic spice. This is a Zinfandel full of tasty spice and rounded ripe fruit, but not over the top, nicely balanced for a big wine. It starts with ripe blackberry, sweet black cherry, black pepper, a bitter dark chocolate, and creamy vanilla (kind of reminds me of crème brûlée). The mid-palate offers a solid slap of spice (the spice is not shy), tart cranberry and soft plum. The tannins don’t get in the way and the body of the wine balances the acidity. The finish is full but fades before long.
The Gnarly Head Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel 2016 is a delicious spicy Zin, I found it on sale for $8 which for a single AVA old vine Zinfandel is a steal. About 10 years ago value-priced Lodi Zinfandels where loud and wild, party-in-a-bottle wines, fun to drink but not particularly sophisticated. Now, fun wines have their place (drinking wine and having fun is good), but these inexpensive Zins have grown up, they are still fun to drink, only now they show balance and refinement. This is an excellent inexpensive bottle of wine.