Cline zinfandel smack down. Sort of.

By The New Guy

The Editor has always been a bit of a boozing anomaly. He likes it plenty and has suitable genetics (mom Irish, pops Scottish) but at various parties he’s snubbed kegs of Miller Lite for tap water or soda, and poured glasses of cheap, oak-laden chardonnay discreetly down drains. Those that have noticed the behavior have called him a snob, which is far from the truth—the Editor has enjoyed a wide spectrum of debauchery. But as he’s grown older and his work life forced him into a more sedentary lifestyle, he’s watched his waistline expand and he’s taken more seriously the philosophy of John Moore, the owner of Barley John’s Brew Pub in New Brighton, Minn.: It’s not worth the calories to drink for drinking’s sake, it’s gotta taste good. Further, he hates a morning headache and time wasted on account of over-indulgence.

Still, even with increased efforts at the gym and some paltry results to show for it, he has a hankering to occasionally drink un-needed calories. While preparing a simple spaghetti dinner the other night, he pulled from the stash a bottle of Ancient Vines Cline Zinfindel, 2007. The standard Cline zin is fine, just fine, but the Editor, who is generally fond of Cline products, saw the Ancient Vines (more expensive) version on sale for $12 and thought he’d give it a shot—again. The first time he had it (at full price), he found it unremarkable, less satisfying than its cheaper sibling. Here’s the notes:

Hollow is the word that came to mind. Sure, it has all the healthy nose characteristics a zin should: black cherry/currant up front followed by wafts of white pepper and tinges of vanilla and such—and heat. Yeah, zins have a good amount of alcohol, and this one was 14.5 percent. It was on the mouth that the emptiness was felt. Started off fine, the whole dark berry/plum-y fruit and pepper-y, allspice-y notes, but there was a surprising bitterness that quickly knocked out the fruit. The Editor doesn’t think of zins as bitter. And no, this was not a tainted bottle. Finish was notable for tannins and the alcohol heat. But he was left with a big ol’ gap in the mouth, if that makes sense. The Editor let it breathe a bit more and swished his mouth out before giving it another shot. The result was the same.

In a way, it’s a trademark zinfandel, they’re not BIG in every aspect (fruit, acidity, tannin and alcohol) like a good cabernet sauvignon—that’s part of their charm, and for that reason can make some absolutely sublime and surprising food pairings.

Still, the Editor felt good about not paying the regular $18 tag for it. Was the wine unpleasant? No. But dollar for dollar, the lower-rung Cline zin is a better wine, in his humble opinion. Perhaps he’ll purchase another bottle of Ancient Vines and stick it in the cellar (read: basement) for a couple years and see what shakes out—both the Clines can be cellared for a time, or drunk immediately. In no way does the Editor consider himself a wine expert, but, in his opinion, given that wine’s hollowness, no amount of aging will fill that in. Maybe the tannins would mellow and allow some acidity to shine? Who knows. The Editor doesn’t. Maybe it was a tough year for those vines producing those grapes? One nice thing about wine, one can always buy another bottle for a second (or third) opinon.

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