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Zinfandel vs Cabernet Sauvignon

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askins3097

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I’m curious to hear others answers since I’m torn between the two....

Which of the two do you like more in terms of taste?

Which of the two would you rather make, if you’ve made both?

It seems to me like Zinfandel is easier to make a good wine with, and generally I like the taste of a good old vine zin more than most average Cabernets, but a really good Cabernet is in a league of its own. I’ve always made Zinfandel in the past because that’s what the old Italian guys I knew that taught me how to make wine made, but this fall I tried Cabernet for something different. I guess this fall wine will determine where I stand going forward. Curious to hear what others say.
 

CK55

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They are different wines, Zinfandel can be a light but big wine at the same time and tends to be higher in the alcohol spectrum which can be the same for cab sav. Cab can be a really powerful tannic, rich wine but can also be harder to work with because of this and require longer aging.

Its purely down to personal preference and i do like zinfandel more than cab sav, im more into cab franc which is in my opinion more structured and slightly less aggressive than a lot of cab savs I find cab to be in my opinion better for blends. At least ill drink cab sav in blends instead of as a single varietal.
 

baron4406

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Old Vine Zin is by far my favorite, Cab to be is like an comfortable pair of shoes. That being said I make 10X more Cab than Zin
 

winemaker81

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Honestly? I'd flip a coin. Both wines have special qualities, and IMO there is no way to lose.

I'm also with zalcoco. If you have the capacity, make both. You can justify it as you need to conduct a years long experiment in testing how the wines age with respect to each other. ;)
 

CDrew

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The wine world is pretty big. And no need to be caught in the either/or place. And it leaves out many other excellent grapes.

For home winemakers, it's going to come down to what grapes you can easily get, and since cab and zin grapes are widely available, they are good choices. If you live in Northern California then your choices increase 20 fold.

Old Vine Zinfandel is an interesting story. There is not a standard as to what constitutes "old vine". So if your zinfandel was planted last year, you can legally call it "Old Vine". So many wineries and grape growers have "old vine zinfandel" that is basically marketing, so beware. If the vines had to be more than a certain documented age, that would be better. I would love for it to mean head trained and dry farmed, but the yields would be low and there would be little available. But if you are buying grapes back East, and they are called "Old Vine Zinfandel" they are likely the same Central Valley grapes being sold as "Zinfandel" elsewhere and the vines are unlikely to be more than 10 years old. So get specifics when you buy if you are paying a premium.

This is some old vine Zinfandel-we can all agree:
http://palatepress.com/2012/04/wine/the-oldest-zinfandel-of-amador-county-original-grandpere-vineyard/

I'm headed up to Amador today and if I stop at Iron Hub, I'll get a pic of the gnarly old vines. (Iron Hub winery overlooks the grandpere property)
 

askins3097

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The reason I asked for the opinion on the comparison between these two is I think it’s safe to say Zinfandel are Cabernet Sauvignon are the two leading big, full bodied red wines in the United States for both consumers and home wine makers. They’re the most common and easily accessible. I’m sure in different parts of the world, or in California, it’s a completely different outlook with many more close competitors in terms of accessibility and popularity for big red wines. Elsewhere in the US, not so much.

That’s some interesting info about Old Vine Zin CDrew. I was always under the impression “Old Vine” Zinfandel comes from vines that are cloned from the original Zinfandel vines that came over with the Spanish and regular Zinfandel from vines that came over later on. I would never pay the premium for “Old Vine” grapes tho, regardless how they’re made or where they come from. I saw some advertised for $150/36lbs. I’ll get by just find with regular Zinfandel grapes lol.

For those saying enjoy both, I do. This post was just started for the sake of conversation to hear others opinions on them. For those saying make both, unfortunately I only have the space, resources, and man power (myself), to make one kind a year. I just racked my Cab off the lees. For being so early it’s pretty good, but I think I’ll be going back to Zinfandel next fall unless this Cab really changes big after 6-12 months on oak and changes my mind.
 

Johnd

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If I were forced to choose, I’d make Cabernet and enjoy drinking Turley Zinfandels, best of both worlds!
 

CK55

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The wine world is pretty big. And no need to be caught in the either/or place. And it leaves out many other excellent grapes.

For home winemakers, it's going to come down to what grapes you can easily get, and since cab and zin grapes are widely available, they are good choices. If you live in Northern California then your choices increase 20 fold.

Old Vine Zinfandel is an interesting story. There is not a standard as to what constitutes "old vine". So if your zinfandel was planted last year, you can legally call it "Old Vine". So many wineries and grape growers have "old vine zinfandel" that is basically marketing, so beware. If the vines had to be more than a certain documented age, that would be better. I would love for it to mean head trained and dry farmed, but the yields would be low and there would be little available. But if you are buying grapes back East, and they are called "Old Vine Zinfandel" they are likely the same Central Valley grapes being sold as "Zinfandel" elsewhere and the vines are unlikely to be more than 10 years old. So get specifics when you buy if you are paying a premium.

This is some old vine Zinfandel-we can all agree:
http://palatepress.com/2012/04/wine/the-oldest-zinfandel-of-amador-county-original-grandpere-vineyard/

I'm headed up to Amador today and if I stop at Iron Hub, I'll get a pic of the gnarly old vines. (Iron Hub winery overlooks the grandpere property)
Old vine is typically considered 40 years and older
 

CDrew

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Old vine is typically considered 40 years and older
By you and who else? There is not an official standard definition, and so the marketing department took over and calls practically everything OVZ. There is not a standard. I agree, there should be. Like 50 years maybe. But if you go to a wine store, or even Costco you'll see how many old vine zinfandels there are. There are so many, it's clear there are not that many old vines. So look for specifics. But be skeptical. If you want a good, inexpensive, real "old vine" zinfandel get the one from Bogle. It's under $10, well made and great for the price. For a bit more, at Costco, the St Francis is very good and comes in magnums at Christmas time.

Some interesting reading:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/what-defines-old-vines-anyway-and-why-are-they-worth-preserving/2015/04/25/b329942a-ea8e-11e4-9767-6276fc9b0ada_story.html?utm_term=.327c1b1181a6

I really like the idea of planting a mixed vineyard, but you would need to be sure they all ripen at the same time, which mostly makes it unrealistic on a large scale.



I did get to stand in the Grandpere vineyard today. This is said to be the oldest Zinfandel vineyard in California. Planted in 1849 or 1869 depending on who you read. I even ate some of the left over grapes which are almost raisins at this point. Weirdly sweet candy flavors. It's mostly skin and seeds and a little bit of sweet. I'll try and edit with pics.F8B7857C-4A90-451A-AC2F-3F8073A5DC87.jpeg 4C08A098-DEC6-4514-BB1A-50D823F86497.jpeg
 
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CK55

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By you and who else? There is not an official standard definition, and so the marketing department took over and calls practically everything OVZ. There is not a standard. I agree, there should be. Like 50 years maybe. But if you go to a wine store, or even Costco you'll see how many old vine zinfandels there are. There are so many, it's clear there are not that many old vines. So look for specifics. But be skeptical. If you want a good, inexpensive, real "old vine" zinfandel get the one from Bogle. It's under $10, well made and great for the price. For a bit more, at Costco, the St Francis is very good and comes in magnums at Christmas time.

Some interesting reading:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/what-defines-old-vines-anyway-and-why-are-they-worth-preserving/2015/04/25/b329942a-ea8e-11e4-9767-6276fc9b0ada_story.html?utm_term=.327c1b1181a6

I really like the idea of planting a mixed vineyard, but you would need to be sure they all ripen at the same time, which mostly makes it unrealistic on a large scale.



I did get to stand in the Grandpere vineyard today. This is said to be the oldest Zinfandel vineyard in California. Planted in 1849 or 1869 depending on who you read. I even ate some of the left over grapes which are almost raisins at this point. Weirdly sweet candy flavors. It's mostly skin and seeds and a little bit of sweet. I'll try and edit with pics.View attachment 52122 View attachment 52123
Everything i have read states that 40 years and older is considered old vine. And that it is pretty regulated in california that you cant plant vines and literally call them old vine within a few years.

As to that old zinfandel, yeah, thats not too old my family had vines planted in the 1840's like 1842, then my great great great grandfather planted more between 1870-1910 we dont know exactly when. I have a single zinfandel vine mixed in my cluster of 40 year old vines which are all own rooted and from cuttings that came from a vine that probably at the time the cutting was taken was older. Its no longer around to my understanding.
 

winemaker81

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For those saying make both, unfortunately I only have the space, resources, and man power (myself), to make one kind a year. I just racked my Cab off the lees.
This information doesn't change the advice, just the time frame. Do Zinfandel next year. Same result, just takes longer.

I understand what you're asking, however, my opinions on the two varieties aren't going to help you. Which I like more depends on the situation. It changes given what's for dinner. Or if I'm drinking more cabernet, then I like zin as a change. Or I may buy both and like that particular zin more than that particular cab. This is true for a lot of folks, so you'll get more generalities than specific advice.

How large are the batches you are making? If you're making significant quantities so you'll have wine to age for years, you can follow my advice above and make a different grape each year, not limited to cab & zin. As CDrew said, the grape world is a wide one. I hope this is food for thought.
 

skyfire322

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If you asked me a year ago it'd be Cab Sauv, but after my trip to Santa Rosa (specifically Ravenswood), it'd have to be Zin (preferably OVZ). IMO, most Cabs that I've had, though packed with flavor, are a bit on the heavier side whereas Zins tend to be a little lighter and have spicier flavor.
 
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sour_grapes

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From one of the most prominent newspapers in the country (link given above and again found here).
“Old vines zinfandel” has been a marketing phenomenon in the past three decades, but there is no standard definition of “old vines,” and the vineyards where they grow are not always well documented or even maintained.
(Emphasis added.)

From a prominent Bay-area newspaper:
There’s no legal definition for what constitutes an “old vine,” nor are there rules about putting the term on a wine label. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the federal agency that approves wine labels, requested public comment on the matter in 2010, but nothing ever came of it. Other label terms with no legal definition include “ancient vines” and “heritage vines.”

From VinePair.com (albeit admittedly only addressing federal regulations):
It might be surprising, then, to learn that labeling a Zinfandel “old vine” is actually 100 percent meaningless.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) dictates the informationwineries can and lawfully must include on wine labels. There are regulations surrounding: brand name; bottler’s name and address; grape variety; appellation; alcohol content; vintage date; net volume; sulfite declaration; and official health warning (though not all of these categories have to be included by law).

When it comes to the inclusion of the term “old vine,” however, there are no laws.

...[snip]

But given the lack of legislation surrounding the labeling term, it’s conceivable that producers of mass-market Zinfandel could use fruit from younger vines but still label their products “old vine.” This would allow them to produce a greater volume of cheaper wine, yet call it the same thing as those using lower-production centenarians.

From @CK55 :
Everything i have read states that 40 years and older is considered old vine. And that it is pretty regulated in california that you cant plant vines and literally call them old vine within a few years.
I don't want to be guilty of the fallacy of appealing to authority, so CK can you give me a link to the California regulations for this label?
 

CDrew

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So I've got 30 gallons of 2018 Primitivo. I'm going to call the first 15 gallons I racked today "Old Vine Zinfandel". Since the grapes are basically the same, and the vines I know to be 10 years old, the stuff is old. Very old. And the oak I put in it has to be old, right?

All kidding aside, I did see that some wineries use only a small percentage of true old vines, and because of the lack of legal clarity, they call the whole vintage "Old Vine Zinfandel" and even tout the vineyard it came from, even though 90+% of the wine in your glass is the usual stuff.

Anyway, when I see "Old vine zinfandel" on a label, I ignore it. You either like the wine or you don't. Just dont look at "OVZ" as a mark of extra quality.
 

Ajmassa

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Can’t say where I heard it, but always thought 50yrs was rule of thumb.

Learning there’s actually no rules to this is disheartening. Because $$ trumps all. I can only hope there’s minimal exaggerating being done.
It’s kinda like the term “master carpenter” or “master plumber”. That always gets me. There is no king carpenter to kneel before granting “master” status. Anyone can call themselves that.
So having a lifetime in the field and 4 yr apprenticeship training is probably similar for 100yr vine owners seeing 10% 40yr vines deeming their wine “Old Vine Zin”.
Rosè on the other hand- I dig the “no rules”. As long as it’s pink it’s Rosè or blush. Allows for creativity. But OVZ issue is straight up lying.
 

askins3097

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This information doesn't change the advice, just the time frame. Do Zinfandel next year. Same result, just takes longer.

I understand what you're asking, however, my opinions on the two varieties aren't going to help you....

How large are the batches you are making? If you're making significant quantities so you'll have wine to age for years, you can follow my advice above and make a different grape each year, not limited to cab & zin. As CDrew said, the grape world is a wide one. I hope this is food for thought.
I’m not looking for help, just seeking what others thought/felt on the subject. Just for conversation.

I’m making around 30 gallons now each fall. My end game goal is one barrel each year. Probably not fall 2019 but the fall of 2020. I still need to gather some odds and ends this year and some preparation before I attempt to tackle a barrel for the first time.
 

winemaker81

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Strike that. It's not advice, it's what I would do. :)

Most people get bored, drinking the same wine, day after day. I know I do. It's nice to have variety. This morning is a holiday for me, so I'll be going into my basement shortly and racking wines: Metheglin, Elderberry (dry), and Elderberry (port-style). In addition to those I have kits in production: Luna Bianca (heavy chardonnay), Vieux Chateau du Roi (red blend), and Verdicchio (Italian white). I bottled a petit verdot, pinotage, and sauvignon blanc recently -- the reds bulk aged for nearly 2 years. And I bottled a nut brown ale yesterday. As I said, I like variety and this gives is to me.

Hence my thought on doing zin next year, and maybe something else after that. The nice thing about 30 gallons of one wine is you get 150 bottles so the likelihood of letting some age for years is higher.

This is a good conversation. I learned a few things about old vine zinfandel I didn't know.
 

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