Wine Review: 2011 Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin

gnarlyheadzinWhen tasting wines I’ve learned it is best and most enjoyable to go into the experience without any expectations. Too often have I lifted and swirled a glass only to find that a wine’s nose belied what it presents to the palate. Too often have I taken a first sip of an unfamiliar wine while operating, unknowingly in many cases, under erroneous preconceptions about its body or level of sweetness, tannin, and such. While I’ve derived more pleasure than displeasure from having had my wrongness exposed to me in these instances, some of them have been downright jarring. In at least a handful of cases, it’s been distracting enough to take me out of the moment, wresting my attention away, however momentarily, from the act of evaluating what’s in my glass, and preoccupying me, at least briefly, with how I managed to get it so wrong, with whether I’ve just sampled a tainted wine, with whether I did in fact just make that sound that Scooby Doo makes when he’s confused, out loud for everyone around me to hear.

I don’t know to what degree those less-than-fondly-remembered tastings can be chalked up to my own misguided anticipations or to my having simply sampled a poor representation of a particular wine. I don’t pretend to be enough the expert to guess. What I do know is that when a wine not only represents every characteristic that should please anyone who enjoys that varietal or blend, but shouts those characteristics from the rooftops, it is a good time to be a wine lover. Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin has shouted at me, and I have answered its call.

I knew before tasting this wine that Lodi AVA, where Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin is produced, is home to some of California’s best and oldest Zinfandel vineyards. Having learned from past mistakes, though, I resist the inclination to let that knowledge color my perception, determined to expect nothing of the wine as I uncork it and pour. As I swirl it, the wafting of black fruit, tobacco, and leather notes along with a meaty odor element suggestive of antipasti provide all the color I could have hoped for. Aromatics of smoke and oak declare their presences as well, less boisterous than their louder brethren, but present and warranting acknowledgement.

Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin smells like rites of passage: I smell the smoke and tobacco of lighting up for the first time, the savory smoked meat notes of antipasti and seared red meat in a first lavish meal bought with money earned. I smell leather banquettes and oak tables of the imaginary supper club where all these fantasy amenities are being enjoyed. I smell faint cilantro garnishing platters of smoked and cured meats, and berry essences perfuming the upheld glasses of celebrants about to embark on life-altering journeys. And I’m feeling pretty celebratory myself.

On the palate, Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin is full-bodied and teeming with robust bursts of plum, black cherry, and vanilla, and a pleasant, bracing level of acidity balanced by silken tannins. It sneaks in quiet implications of earth and mineral on its medium-long finish, revealing more of its character the more of it one enjoys, doling out its secrets like a wary informant going to great length to bring you the information. And I, pleased with my new status of its trusted confidante and willing co-conspirator, am all ears. This Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin purchase will not be my last.

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