The entire name is 2011 Big House Cardinal Zin Beastly Old Vines California Zinfandel. The grapes were sourced from multiple vineyards (with 100 year old vines) located in more than one California grape growing AVA. The Cardinal Zin brand had originally been part of Boony Doon wines and sold for around $20, since it was sold off to The Wine Group and put in their Underdog Wine Merchants division (which includes Big House Wines, another old Boony Doon brand) this Zinfandel can be found for under $10. That is not necessarily a bad thing, because the Big House winemaker, Georgetta Dane, can usually be counted on to produce inexpensive wines that deliver beyond their price tag. In the past, Mourvedre, Carignane and Petite Sirah have been added to this Zinfandel, but Big House has not updated their Cardinal Zin notes for the last 2 years. Zinfandel producers make a big deal about “old vines,” 1) because California has a healthy supply of old Zinfandel vineyards and 2) a grape needs to take its time reaching the desired ripeness, to give the wine the complexity that is so prized by wine drinkers. The older the wine gets, the more it struggles to produce grapes, giving the vines ample time to reach their peak. Old vines equal intense, complex grapes and smaller yields. This Zinfandel was aged in oak barrels for a time and the alcohol content is 13.5%.
The color is raspberry red and looks more like a Pinot Noir than a Zinfandel. The nose is stewed plum, pepper, oaky vanilla and a touch of herbs. This is a spicy Zinfandel. It starts with extracted blackberry, raisin spice, sour cherry and a bit of strawberries in cream. The mid palate delivers Altoid’s spice, unsweetened black Twizzlers, black pepper and a final hit of ripe plum. The tannins stay out of the way and the acidity shows up on the finish and propels a mild plum and pepper finish for a decent amount of time.
Well, the Big House Cardinal Zin is definitely not flavor challenged, it has so much flavor that I think this is an under ten buck California wine that needs food to hit its balance. Since this Zin comes in regular 750 ml bottles and 3 liter boxes (about 4 bottles), the box isn’t a bad choice to have cooling in the frig for BBQ season. It drinks just fine on its own, but would be better served with something hot off the grill.