High alcohol wines, are they built to last?

Over the holidays, Mrs. Vino and I dipped into the Vino cave to pull out some older bottles of Turley Zinfandel. With great anticipation, I uncorked the 1997 Duarte Vineyard (it had a damaged label–had to put it out of its misery; find this wine).

In the glass, the wine was an odd brick red in color rather than the vibrant purply inky hue of young zin. The aroma was old and tired. Prunes, raisins and a whiff of nasty. I tasted some. Big mistake. It put me in misery with port-like tastes. But that’s actually an insult to port to have any association with the wine that was so obviously past its prime.

So I spit and drank some water and returned to the cave. Hmm, double down on Turley? Why not. I rummaged around to find something younger. I extracted a 2000 Old Vines (find this wine).

Returning to the kitchen, I uncorked it. Surprisingly thin in color, again. I was disappointed to get some of the old, dried fruit stew aromas again. But there was a whiff of cracked black pepper too. I had hope and sipped. It had some structure–prunes, a crack of pepper, then it teetered on the edge and took a swan dive into nasty land. Pl-ugh! I made Mrs. Vino take a sip for good measure. She hated me the rest of the evening. ;-(

We were in the mood for a big wine and ultimately turned to the Gran Araucano 2002 from Chile, which was very good and quickly emptied (it took a glass just to get the Turley taste out of my mouth; find this wine).

I should add that I purchased both of the Turleys from the producer when I was on their mailing list. The previous week we had opened a 1998 syrah, also purchased from the producer and stored right next to the Turleys. It tasted wonderful and seemed to still have quite a few years ahead of it.

Robert Parker frequently states that zinfandel produces a wine best enjoyed in its youth. But should he be more direct and advise drinkers NOT to age zinfandel? Should a wine of Turley’s quality (and price) not be age-worthy?

Since zinfandel is perhaps the most emblematic of the current wave of “hedonistic fruit bomb” wines–inky, extracted, approachable soon after release and high alcohol–it is reasonable to call into question the age-worthiness of the whole style. Even though the trend is not really that old, do you have experiences that would make you question whether these types of wines can be aged? Any old monster shiraz out there?

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18 Responses to “High alcohol wines, are they built to last?”

  1. Sorry to hear of your troubles with the Turley Zins, Doc (particularly the reaction of Mrs. Vino). I tasted the 2000 in 2005 and thought it was interesting, if a little on the hot side. The 2001, tasted this last October, was a touch better but still past it’s prime. You really need to drink Larry’s Zin’s in their youth.

    If you want some aged Zin, the only ones I’ve had that made the cut were from Ridge.

    Tim Elliott

  2. howdy tyler,
    I’m with you on the high alchohol thing, especially with zins.. I did however drink a couple of mid 90’s vintages of sky napa zin over the holidays and they were very drinkable, and some actally quite good… but speaking of crap older wines, I worked a vertical of Ausone and opened 3 cases of a number of older, ‘classic’ vintages including ’82, ’95, ’96 and ’98. Yuck, same dark, thin, cooked fruit that you had when you were ‘Turleyed.’ I know Rolland started in ’95 and i guess i shouldn’t be surprised that the best of the bunch was the 2002… guess you can’t have it both ways… those wines built to be accessible in their youth often don’t age very well..
    Happy new year,

  3. That’s a real shame about the Turley wines. The 97 tasted pretty good at the winery when I bought mine, but that was at least 4 years ago. I’ll have to pull it out and hope for the best.

    For the New Year, we opened some various wines, two were older Zins. One was a ’97 from a small place I hadn’t ever heard of in Napa (I think Pezzi King, but am a bit addled from that night). The next was a ’99 VGS from Chateu Potelle. Both were really excellent, the Potelle still showing huge amounts of fruit.

    Also opened up a 2000 Onyx from Pine Ridge. It was very good; should have decanted it a bit longer, but was really nice by the end of the meal and went well with my venison. Would probably have been better in 2005, however.

  4. I had a 1991 Ridge Zin from Jimsonmare last week that was amazing, though perhaps slightly past it’s prime. It was very subdued when drank by itself, but when paired with food (coq au vin) everybody who was drinking (wino’s and casual drinkers alike) thought it was fantastic. It may have been the best “food wine” that I had ever had. Perhaps aged Zinfandel needs to be paired to be appreciated?

  5. I had a similar experience, but not quite as bad with a 1997 Ridge this year. My wine was drinkable, but just flat and unexciting. It lost all the qualities that I enjoyed when I bought it.


  6. Bill,

    I love it — “I was Turleyed.”

    I should make T-shirts!

  7. Tim and Mike,

    I’m not surprised that the Ridge zins could hold up. That Paul Draper knows what he’s doing. I guess I was holding Turley to the same standard–not anymore! But interesting even his were fatigued at the 15 year mark.

    Kevin–drink up! (And have a back up ready)

    And to all–
    Anybody want to buy a miscellaneous collection of two cases of Turleys, 1996-2002? From a Northeastern doctor, impeccable storage, purchased upon release directly from winery, yadda yadda.

  8. I had a 97 Turley Zin last year that was fantastic. It’s all in the cellaring folks.

  9. Alder, perhaps. The most recent review on cellartracker.com for this wine reads:

    “Almost port like. Has lost a lot of its fruit and is not very interesting at this stage.”

    As I mentioned in the original posting, I had a 1998 syrah that had been in the same cellar conditions and it was drinking beautifully.

    As far as the broader question goes, do you have any more tasting experiences of monster zins or shiraz with 10 years of age on them?

  10. Generally I’m of the mind that high-alcohol blockbusters like Turley Zins won’t age well, but have to admit that the 97 Tofanelli I pulled out the the cellar a week before Christmas was far better than I might have imagined it. Perhaps because of the braised short-ribs I ate with it, but the alcohol didn’t seem at all out of balance (unlike the alcohol on some younger Turley wines), the fruit wasn’t explosive, but it was bright, and the wine had, dare I say it, finesse. Wish I had another bottle to pull out next year.

  11. I don’t have much experience of Zin as it’s hard to come by in NZ but it sounds a lot like a wine that is designed to show well when it’s young and being entered in shows/tasings.
    In a way it is nice to have wines that should be drunk young rather than having to cellar them for thirty years to get an idea of their potential. But is this perceived as a mark against its quality by the consumer?

  12. I had a 94 Ridge Geyserville in Jan. 2006 – it was not yet “Turleyed”, but certainly tired. If that is supposed to be amongst the most age-worthy of Zins, don’t wait.

  13. I am thinking that it isn’t the high alcohol alone that is the culprit, but the “high extract” fruit bomb approach. Remember that to get this extract you have to drain away the water. What’s all that extract gonna do but drop out of suspension and that’s the end of balance. And unbalanced wine is, well, you know…bleachkg.

  14. Dr. Vino,

    You have made me very nervous. I have a case of 1980 Northcoast Louis M.
    Martini Zinfandel. Any suggestions?

  15. Hey Jerry,

    I’d say, bottoms up! Unless you are hoping to sell it as a complete case one day. (lots of 11 bottles are heavily discounted)

    But if you ever plan to pull a cork, I’d say pick a fun evening in the near future and have a crack at it. And let us know how it goes! The key issue may be *extraction,* as Bob points out above, not the high alcohol per se. In 1980 nobody really made super-extracted wines like the Turleys I had. And the alc may not have been as high as now. So it could still be good. Let me know either way!



  16. This weekend I Google-searched articles on aging Zin and linked into the Dr. Vino blog. I see I’m a little late to the party, since you guys were posting last January — but Doc sent me running to my cellar for my ’02 bottle of Turley Zin from the Dusi Vineyard. Get your hankies — it had turned. What a disappointment! I’d bought this wine from the winery on a trip in October, 2005 — a trip for which I have fond memories. The color was ok, so I was encouraged. However, although I could taste cherry flavors, it was musty and, well, nasty. So I ran to open a bottle of 2003 Ridge, one which is a meritage of mostly Zin. It had held up just fine, and I’m drinking it now to assuage my sorrow over the Turley debacle. You probably saved all the other bottles of Zin in my collection, so, thanks! Cheers, Julia

  17. […] “hedonistic fruit bombs” gaining speed? Previously in the year we’ve noted that they don’t age, a retailer who refuses to sell wine over 14.5% alcohol, and a Napa winemaker who said “higher […]

  18. […] “hedonistic fruit bombs” gaining speed? Previously in the year we’ve noted that they don’t age, a retailer who refuses to sell wine over 14.5% alcohol, and a Napa winemaker who said “higher […]


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