120-Year-Old Vines and a Great American Zinfandel
I won’t soon forget the afternoon I spent with Zin master Matt Cline, whose penchant for preserving the oldest, most significant Zinfandel vineyards in America is why we are able to offer his opulent Zins today. When translated to bottle, Cline’s historic sites yield dramatic offerings, loaded with class and lush, dark-berry fruit. The 92-point “Mazzoni” Live Oak Zinfandel is case in point. Standing in the New Delhi sands amidst the 120-year-old vines in Contra Costa County the produced the 2014 “Mazzoni” made clear why this is one of the most spectacularly concentrated, ethereally complex Zins in California. The vines produce miniscule berries — very few at that — with the kind of complexity that can only come from vines this old. There’s just nothing else like it out there. Don’t just take it from me — Wine Enthusiast found the 2014 Mazzoni “decadently rich,” with a “velvety texture.” I call it the most delicious version of American history you can bottle. Just $21 per bottle — 40% off — while a mere 200 bottles last.
It’s easy to take Matt’s extravagant black-fruit reds simply for what they are — America’s best answer to the bargains of the southern Rhône. But even if you made the trip down to Oakley just to see these improbable ancient-vine plantings, you could fail to understand the history behind them — and the significance of what is in the glass. There are no signs or plaques to commemorate the hard work of the Portuguese and Italian immigrants who carved 6-inch budwood into Delhi sand on cold winter mornings in the late 19th century.
Matt Cline called Live Oak Vineyard, “the crowning achievement of ancient-vine Zinfandel in America.” The veteran vines never eke out more than a few tiny-berry clusters per shoot — rarely more than 1.5 tons to the acre. In 2014, the fourth consecutive drought year in California, Live Oak shined like the bright California sun. The resulting 2014 “Mazzoni-Live Oak” — named for the family that planted the vineyard in 1885 — strutts the kind of deep-rooted concentration and complexity that only ancient vines can produce.
Silken and lush, this over-delivers on its humble price tag by miles.
Cristaldi has worked in the wine industry for nearly a decade as a professional writer, critic, and educator. His published work has appeared in national print and online outlets including Food & Wine, Los Angeles Magazine, SOMM Journal, and many others.