Anyone who knows me will be astonished that I include this wine in my record of ‘interesting wines’. A rich, sweet-fruited touching 16% abv monster from a warm part of California? Steve, you’re going gaga in your old age. However, remember this is about interesting wines – not wines I necessarily like. Having said that – this does have a certain appeal to me.
What’s interesting about this is that it’s a wine made by a producer in a less trendy region, trying to make wines which fit there, which characterise their place of origin, and which – within those limits – are honest and well-made. And the story is good. Why the ‘Old Ghost’? Because the owner, Steve Felten, went out into the vineyard one foggy morning with his head trained vines barely visible; they peered as apparitions through the mist and it seemed as if a ghostly farmer had been working them. The label is a pretty good representation of this. The wine region is Lodi, in the Central Valley of California, the hot, irrigated centre of cheap wine production in the state (although having said that I remember Robert Mondavi saying that Lodi sits directly in line to a break in the hills leading out to San Francisco bay – so it benefits from some the cooling Pacific breezes swirling through the gap). The point is that here is a producer who acknowledges that what they do best is hot climate, bold, dynamic wines, and within that context wants to make a balanced, representative wine. They are committed to old vines, and it seems that these zinfandel grapes come from stock which is over 100 years old. They are, to their credit, also trying to create some momentum for this approach and for regional identity in their part of California – a cooperative commitment which I admire. They have the standing to do this: the family are fifth generation, having grown grapes since the end of the 19th century.
So, what of the wine? It fits expectations. Quite deep – though not opaque – appearance, which is typical of zinfandel. Very intense brambly red and black fruit aromas, a touch of dusty oak and a bit herbal. Very sweet oak on the palate, only moderate tannins but extremely full bodied with a very warm finish but great length and a hint of bitterness. Powerful and bold are overused wine adjectives – but they are correct for this.
Having said all this, let’s have a disclaimer. The wine is represented by (amongst others) one of my former students, Jacylyn Stokes, who comes from Lodi and is passionate about developing the reputation of the region including her own family’s business. You can use this to dismiss what I say as biased if you want.