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Sipping Scene: In grapevines, age brings perfection

Published September 21, 2005

Old vines are like old people: not as vigorous and strong as they used to be, but certainly more complex and distinctive. Old vines don't produce as many grapes as younger vines, but those they do burst with flavor.

As a result, the wines made from old-vine grapes tend to be richer and more subtle, as a tasting at Bern's Fine Wines and Spirits in Tampa recently demonstrated.

The tasting featured wines from Cline Cellars in Sonoma, Calif. The most familiar wine from Cline is the inexpensive Red Truck, a serviceable blend of syrah, petite sirah and cabernet, softened with a bit of merlot.

Served first at the wine tasting, Red Truck, which sells for about $9, does not taste inexpensive, but it was immediately surpassed by Cline's Ancient Vine Carignane, about $15. The Carignane, made of grapes from vines up to 100 years old, is richer and thicker than Red Truck, and certainly bold enough to stand up to pungent gorgonzola or a sizzling grilled steak.

The same was true for the Ancient Vine Mourvedre, also made from old-vine grapes with their thicker skins and deeper color. Mourvedre grapes are associated with the Rhone Valley in southeastern France, but they also grow well in the warm, sandy soil of Cline's vineyards in Oakley, Calif. Cline's Mourvedre, also about $15, brims with an array of flavors, from plum and cherry to exotic spices, and even a hint of chocolate.

But what, exactly, does "old" mean when applied to grape vines?

"To me it means 50 or 60 years old and up," said David Black, manager of Bern's Fine Wines. "Vines produce their maximum yields when they're 30 to 35 years old, but the older vines produce more intense grapes."

And intense grapes produce better wine.

"People used to think the genius of the winemaker produced fine wine," Black said, "but it's the kind of grapes you get."

Bern's Fine Wines is at 1002 S Howard Ave., Tampa, adjacent to SideBern's restaurant. Call (813) 250-9463 for information on upcoming wine tastings or look for listings in Food File, inside this section.

- Tom Valeo is a freelance writer based in St. Petersburg.

[Last modified September 20, 2005, 10:37:05]

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