I am thrilled to announce the winner of two tickets to ZAP’s 20th Anniversary Grand Zinfandel Tasting, the biggest Zinfandel tasting in the world each year, and what many feel to be the crown jewel big event of the entire 3 day, 4 event Zinfandel Festival.

Earlier this week, I announced the ticket giveaway contest, writing

To be in consideration for the pair of tickets to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, name a Mendocino winery that produced a Coro Zin blend in 2010. Leave your submission as a comment to this post. Contest entry submissions will be accepted through noon California time, this Thursday, Jan 20, 2011.

I spread the word using facebook and twitter, and received entries from eight folks, and correct qualifying entries from seven.

For the record, the 11 wineries of Coro Mendocino are Brutocao, Mendocino Vineyards, Fetzer, Golden, Graziano, McDowell, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Pacific Star, Parducci, and Philo Ridge Vineyards. The 2007 vintage was released on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at the Little River Inn on the Mendocino Coast. Coro Mendocino wines from all 11 wineries were poured that evening.

When there were only 6 correct entries, I was going to use a die to determine a winner, each die side representing a contest entrant.

I went looking for my 7 sided die when I received the, just barely in time, 7th correct qualifying entry; but I don’t have a 7 sided die.

From my son’s room, I did find a set of various energy cards from Pokemon, the card game. I chose 7 different energy cards, one to represent each contestant, directly from cellophane packaging. The contest instruments of randomization could not be more fair, more even.

These are the entrants, their qualifying winery, and their energy card:

Robin Miller – Golden Vineyards – Psychic Enrgy Card

Gina Braden – Brutocao Cellars – Lightning Energy Card

Sara Raffel – Fetzer – Darkness Energy Card

Michael McMillan – Graziano – Water Energy Card

Elizabeth McLachlan – Brutocao, McFadden, Parducci – Metal Energy Card

Ian Karch – Pacific Star Winery – Fighting Energy Card

Brendan McGuigan – McFadden – Grass Energy Card

I shuffle cut the cards for ten minutes, chose one at random and it was the Metal Energy Card.

That means Elizabeth McLachlan is the winner of the pair of tickets to ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting. Congratulations to Elizabeth, and thanks to everyone who entered and made this a fun contest.

Tickets are still available for purchase to attend the Grand Zinfandel Tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco on January 29th. Tickets are not available for all Zinfandel Festival events, having sold out, so I would urge anyone considering purchase to hurry and do so.

Cheers!

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Yesterday, I visited Campovida, home to the wines of the Magnanimus Wine Group, to drop off a package.

While there, even without a walk through the gardens, I was wowed by the serenity and beauty, the magic of the place…again.

I took a couple of pictures, sort of abstract for being close ups cropping out background information or clues. I thought of it as a deconstructed view of my visit. Enjoy.

Last week, I gave away two tickets to the Thursday night, January 27, 2011 Good Eats and Zinfandel Pairing event, kicking off the four event, three day Zinfandel Festival in San Francisco, thrown by ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, each year. The lucky winner was, and is, Nancy Howard Cameron Iannios.

This week, you have a chance to win a pair of tickets to the final event of the Zinfandel Festival, the Grand Tasting on Saturday, January 29, 2011, 2:00-5:00PM at Ft Mason’s Herbst and Festival Pavilions in San Francisco. The pair of tickets is valued at $140.

With around 1,000 Zinfandels being poured, learning to spit instead of drink is highly recommended, and because Zin is a big bold high alcohol content, black pepper spiced fruit bomb of a wine, expect some palate fatigue.

It is best to plan ahead, figure which dozen or two Zinfandels you want to taste, then follow your plan – allowing for an extra taste or two to take advantage of wines receiving positive buzz from the crowd. Taste, spit, cleanse palate with bread, repeat. Stop while still sober. Enjoy.

I decided to focus more on the wines from where I live this year in my writing. Sadly, the only four Mendocino County wineries pouring their Zinfandels, so far, at this year’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting are: Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Edmeades, and McNab Ridge. I hope to find wineries from outside the area pouring wines made from grapes from within the county.

I would love to see more wineries from the county pouring, and bringing along their Coro as well.

This year, ZAP is allowing Zinfandel blends to be poured where the companion grapes are ones found in traditional field blends, and these wines will be called Heritage blends. Coro Mendocino is kind of a Mendocentric Heritage, where a participating winery makes a Zin blend, choosing what they feel are the best grapes for blending from Mendocino County’s vineyards to make the best bottle possible. No two Coro are alike, winery to winery, vintage to vintage, but they are all stellar.

To be in consideration for the pair of tickets to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, name a Mendocino winery that produced a Coro Zin blend in 2010. Leave your submission as a comment to this post. Contest entry submissions will be accepted through noon California time, this Thursday, Jan 20, 2011. I will randomly pick, and announce, a winner Thursday afternoon or evening.

Good Luck!

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I was contacted by the folks who make sure that Korbel CA Champagne, and Bollinger Champagne, separately but within a day of each other, about running a piece related to bubbly as we get closer to Valentine’s Day.

Thanks to the marketing folks at Brown-Forman and Terlato Wines, that is exactly what will be happening. Owing to my commitment to focus on wines from Mendocino County this year, I hope to include a bubbly from either Roederer Estate in Philo or Rack & Riddle from Hopland too.

Brut Rosé will be my focus for the upcoming piece. I just wanted to give you all a “heads up” so you could start thinking ahead about the perfect romantic beverage for Valentine’s Night.

A year ago, last January, I wrote a decent piece announcing the three day Zinfandel Festival put on each year by ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. Well, the new calendar brings us to the 20th Anniversary edition of the Grand Zinfandel Tasting.

The dates of this years Zinfandel Festival, themed 20 Years of Zinspiration, run January 27-29, 2011.

Good Eats and Zinfandel Pairing kicks the Zinfandel Festival off in grand style Thursday, January 27, 2011, at Ft. Mason’s Herbst Pavilion in San Francisco from 6:00-9:00 PM. At least 50 top Zinfandel producing wineries will pair their most delicious offerings with food created by 50 of the Bay Area’s top restaurants and purveyors of tasty morsels.

Imagine tasting Carol Shelton’s acclaimed Karma Zin and Black Magic Zin paired with Smoked Elk Loin with Raspberry Compote on a Manchego Cheese Crisp AND Espresso BBQ pulled Pork with Raspberry Salsa and Point Reyes Blue Cheese on Focaccia Crostini prepared by the chefs from Nectar Wine Lounge and Restaurant. Now imagine at least 49 additional delicious wine and food pairings, each intended to showcase how well Zinfandel works in the kitchen.

This is the ultimate tasting event.

Flights! Stories From The Vineyard at the Westin St. Francis on Friday, January 28, 2011 from 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM is a seated tasting led by top vineyardists and winemakers.

This year, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood will speak about the Old Hill Vineyard, David Gates of Ridge Vineyards will speak about Lytton Springs Vineyard, Janell Dusi of J Dusi Winery will speak about Dusi Vineyard, and Steve Tylicki of Steele Wines will speak about DuPratt Vineyard, each leading us on a liquid tasting of that vineyard. Terroir and blending choices are sure to be touched on as stories are told and passions shared.

This was the event I learned the most at last year; although sitting for an hour at lunch after Flights! with Joel Peterson and Morgan Twain-Peterson by pure chance, listening to them share their knowledge, passion, and experiences, was a special treat for me.

Evening With the Winemeakers Benefit Live Auction and Dinner Friday night, January 28, 2011 from 5:00 – 10:00 PM at the Westin St. Francis is your chance to play dress up and enjoy a sumptious meal paired with wines from 27 participating Zinfandel producing wineries.

I have not attended this event, but I have heard that is a wonderful evening for attendees.

Grand Zinfandel Tasting at Herbst and Festival Pavilions, Ft. Mason Center, San Francisco on Saturday, January 29, 2011 from 2:00 – 5:00 PM, with and extra early hour for ZAP members only, is the big daddy of Zinfandel tastings. Roughly 200 wineries show up and pour their Zinfandels. With each winery pouring from one to a dozen Zinfandels, most in the three to five range, there are more Zinfandels to taste than is humanly possible.

In what will likely be an annual posting, I urge you to attend this event. Zinfandel is California’s wine, which pretty much makes it America’s wine (written with apologies to Oregon, Washington, Virgina, and Alaskan wineries not producing quality Zinfandel). The event is as big, as serious while being fun, as the wine itself.

Tickets, and more information, are available through ZAP.

ZAP. To most red wine lovers in the bay area, it conjures up visions of Zinfandel being poured at the biggest tasting of Zinfandel anywhere.

ZAP stands for Zinfandel Advocates & Producers and, according to its mission statement, is dedicated to advancing public knowledge of and appreciation for American Zinfandel and its unique place in our culture and history. Winegrowers, winemakers and wine enthusiasts combine to form the membership. The common focus is the preservation and recognition of Zinfandel as America’s Heritage Wine.

Each year, ZAP has a tasting, really it is three days of tastings – a Zinfandel Festival, but most people only know about the last day’s tasting, the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, an opportunity to taste Zinfandels from more than 200 Zinfandel producers. Most people refer to the last day’s tasting as the ZAP tasting, or ZAP fest. I certainly attended ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting, and I also attended two more tastings in the two days preceding the Grand Zinfandel Tasting.

GOOD EATS & ZINFANDEL PAIRING

On Thursday, January 28 the 19th Annual Zinfandel Festival kicked off with their 16th Annual Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing at the Herbst Pavillian at Fort Mason in San Francisco from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm.

I was accompanied to the event by a long time friend with a wealth of wine experience and a different palate than mine. She is more fond of giant pepper in Zins, while I generally prefer big fruit balanced, not overwhelmed, by spice.

Roughly 50 wineries poured their Zins and an equal number of restaurants provided food samples created to pair well with Zinfandel.

Most wineries were pouring three Zinfandels, and there is no way I could taste every wine, or even one wine from every producer. Here are the wines I did taste, that I enjoyed:

FAVORITE WINES OF THURSDAY

Acorn Winery

  • 2007 Heritage Vines, Alegria Vineyards, Russian River Valley – “lighter, cocoa spice, fruit forward”

Carol Shelton Wines

  • 2005 Karma – “my favorite wine of all three days
  • 2006 Wild Thing – “Liked it.”

Four Vines Winery

  • 2007 Dusi Vineyard, Paso Robles – “nice red raspberry and pepper nose, raspberry and PEPPER mouth”

Grgich Hills Estate

  • 2006 Napa Valley – “Liked it”

Manzanita Creek

  • 2007 Carreras Ranch – “105 year old vine, chocolate, high alc.”

Mazzocco Sonoma

  • 2007 Warm Springs Ranch, Dry Creek Valley – “yummy with lamb.”
  • 2007 Smith Orchard Reserve, Dry Creek Valley – “Delish on own, WOW with lamb.”

Murphy-Goode

  • 2007 Liar’s Dice, Alexander Valley – “Liked it.”

Outpost Estate Wines

  • 2007 Estate, Howell Mountain – “Serena liked it for huge PEPPER, I liked it less but was glad for some nice fruit in back.”

Peachy Canyon Winery

  • 2007 Especial – “dark purple color, vanilla oak clove spice nose, pepper mouth. dark fruit throughout.”

Ravenswood

  • 2007 Dickerson Vineyard – “LOVED it. lots of nice fruit, very approachable.”

Rosenblum Cellars

  • 2007 Annettes’s Reserve, Redwood Valley Vineyard, Mendocino County – “liked it lots, better with food too.”

Selby Winery

  • 2007 Old Vine – “lighter wine of nice balance. Good sipper.”

Storybook Mountain Vineyards

  • 2007 Eastern Exposures, Napa Estate – “nice balance fruit spice pepper. nose leads to the mouth to the finish seamlessly. balance.”

Z-52

  • 2007 Brsada Vineyard, Sonoma Valley – “round integrated, banked, liked it lots.”

In transcribing my wine notes, I realized that virtually everything I tasted had fruit and spice, raspberry, pepper, etc. I cut that out as repetitive and passed on the remaining impressions. I also chose not to identify or list any wines I did not like. My favorite note for a wine I didn’t like, “a wine worthy of uncooked meat.”

It was nice to finally meet Hardy Wallace. Hardy is Murphy-Goode’s Lifestyle Correspondent, and a genuinely nice guy.

It was also great to see Carol Shelton. I used to work with Carol, she made great wines, I sold the great wines she made. I am fortunate to have had so much contact with Carol in the past. Listening to Carol talk about wines is like listening to Virginia Madsen’s character in the movie Sideways.

FAVORITE FOODS OF THURSDAY

Bistro at Villa Tosacano

  • zinfandel infused local wild mushrooms with italian gorgonzola on belgium endive v.fr. – “flavorful and yummy.”

Celadon

  • zinfandel & hoisin braised beef short rib with parmesan & shaved fennel – “this was so delicious, I shuddered.”

City College of san Francisco Culinary Arts & Hospitality

  • venison sausage on rye with dried cherry marmalade – “yummy, just delish.”

Lark Creek Cafe

  • beef barley soup with herb pesto and chanterelle mushroom – “a tasty soup”

Miss Pearl’s Jam House

  • curried goat withmango chutney and root bread – “loved it.”

Murphy-Goode Estate Chefs

  • pork belly sliders with liar’s dice zin bbq sauce – “loved the pork belly. yum.”

Pazzo Petaluma

  • Agnotti Forestal v.fr. – “OMG My favorite food here. pasta suffed with mushroom in a mushroom sauce.”

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

  • lamb lollipops – “Oh can they cook meet!  LOVED, but I love lamb.”

Surfing Goat Dairy

  • local artisan goat cheeses – “the brine and rosemary goat cheese was made of yum, and I loved the pesto chevre.”

Zin Restaurant

  • Zin’s smoked, house made, fennel sausage with crispy winter hash and eastside farm pepper glaze – “loved.”

Just about everything was delicious. There was one item that tasted of the can, another that might have been good but was soggy when we tasted it late, but the worst idea of the night was a chocolate vinaigrette dressing. It may be the worst idea ever culinarily.

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FLIGHTS! A SHOWCASE OF ZINFANDELS

Friday, January 28, at 10:30 in the morning, 150 or so gathered in the Peacock Court Ballroom at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco for the 9th Annual Flights!: A Showcase of Zinfandels  seated wine tasting.

Five winemakers of Zinfandel would talk about Zinfandel blends, field blends and in-winery blends, the history and future of Zinfandel blends, and the place of Zinfandel blends in the market.

When we walked into the Peacock Court Ballroom to find a seat there were rows of long tables set up one behind the other leading from the front of the stage to the back of the room. Set up on each table were placemats and six glasses already with wine.

As I tried to squeeze down a row, finding a chair slightly pulled out, I bumped the table behind me – spilling all six glasses at a place where someone was seated. The someone was Karen Clarke, sales manager and wine club coordinator for Mazzocco Sonoma, and she was wearing, for the first time ever, a brand new white blouse that she purchased in London while visiting her mother. The blouse cost Karen the equivalent of $100, and it now carried a generous addition of the color pink to the once white fabric. I immediately ascertained that Karen was staying at the hotel, and offered to pick up the tab for laundering/dry cleaning. Karen told me that the stain would not come out (oh, where was that bottle of wine away?), so I visited an ATM and gave Karen $100 to cover the cost of the garment. If cleaning really can’t remove the wine stain, then I recommend staining the entire garment evenly in wine; it can still be worn, and a white twin can be purchased.

I was horrified by my oafish and unfortunately costly clumsiness, but I am pleased to say that Karen was really very understanding and sweet about the incident.

I sat next to Lynnell Morgan from Washington on Friday, both at the tasting and at the lunch that followed. Lynnell, it was very nice to meet you.

Anyway, three winemakers spoke, we tasted two wines from each. we took a break while the next four wines were poured, we came back in, two winemakers spoke, we tasted two wines from each, we had a question and answer session, then we had a buffet lunch.

Eric Baugher, Ridge Vineyards

  • 2007 California Zinfandel Paso Robles, 100% Zinfandel, 14.5 alc, $30, ranch of Benito Dusi planted in 1922. – “bright garnet. dried cranberry nose with cherry oak and cedar. wonderful candy cherry raspberry mouth. med body. med  long finish. elegant.”
  • 2007 California Geyserville, 58% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro (Mouvedre), 14.4 alc, $35, single site field blend from vineyards originally planted 1881, with vines from 10 – 120 years old, 60% 40 years or older. – “dark garnet. darker fruits, plum, smooth pepper, berry and cherry nose. more complexity. nice integration. strawberry, cherry, plum, raspberry mouth. light medium mouth. good acidity. long finish. young. lay this wine down. nice stone fruit from the carignane and tannin and color from the petite.”

Matt Cline, Three Wine Company

  • 2007 “Old Vines Zinfandel” California, 76% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, 7% Carignane, 5% Alicante Bouschet, and 2% Mataro, 14.9% alc, $18, the grapes come from the oakley, brentwood, antioch area of contra costa county (53%) and from lodi (47%) – “darker purple burgundy. nice dark chocolate cocoa blackberry nose. lush mouth feel. rich fruit, spice, tannin and acid.”
  • 2007 “Old Vines” Zinfandel California, 40% Zinfandel, 33% Carignane, 12% Mataro, 11% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 2% Black Malvoisie, 14.8 alc, $18 – “purple burgundy. dusty raspberry nose. soft round mouth blend of raspberry, cherry, spice and pepper.”

Morgan Twain-Peterson, Bedrock Wine Company

  • 2007 Bedrock Heirloom Wine Sonoma Valley, 50% Zinfandel, 25 Carignane, 25% many other things, 15.5 alc, $35, a field blend from his family’s Bedrock Vineyards originally planted 120 years ago. – “spicy, smoky, woody raspberry nose, raspberry, cherry, rose, floral spice. This wine would pop right and left at a multi course meal.”
  • 2007 Ravenswood Zinfandel Bedrock Vineyard Sonoma Valley, 15.5 alc, $50 – “beautiful red. smoke oak dark raspberry nose. cherry and raspberry fruit hang on tannin background. acid. long finish. beautiful wine.”

Steve Hall, Robert Biale Vineyards

  • 2007 Aldo’s Vineyard, Napa Valley, Predominately Zinfandel but field blend including Abouriou, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Carignan, Valdiguie, Peloursin, Mondeuse, and Trousseau Gris, 15.3 alc, $52 – “f*** me, that’s good. acid and tannin pepper, smoke, anise, coffee, leather, ripe berry, cherry, raspberry. fit, fruit, fruit. balance, structure. firm. long finish.”
  • 2007 Stagecoach Napa Valley, 15.5% alc, $44, 5 acre Biale Block vines are stressed by steep rocky terrain. – “more vinous, med-full body, round soft lighter raspberry  blackberry cherry pepper.”

Jeff Cohn, JC Cellars

  • 2007 Sweetwater Springs Zinfandel Russian River Valley, 95.5% Zinfandel, 4.5% Petite Sirah, 16.5% alc, $32, not old vine and not head pruned. – “bigger, bolder. black fruit, anise, spice nose, alcohol is evident in mouth. flavors of raspberry blackberry black cherry pepper spice.”
  • 2007 The Imposter Red Blend California, 31% Zinfandel, 33 % Petite Sirah, 31% Syrah, 5% Mouvedre, 1% Carignane, 16% alc, $32, a manufactured field blend – “rich dark purpley color. surprisingly soft round integrated cherry raspberry fruit vanilla mouth. nice lingering finish.”

Best line of the day came from Jeff Cohn: “Why are my wines higher alcohol wines? So you don’t have to drink as much.”

The wines during the seated tasting were all delicious, and averaged 15.3 alc.

The panel were unanimous in the assertion that Zinfandel starts in the vineyard, that growing Zinfandel is far harder than growing Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir will ripen, but the same cluster of Zinfandel that has raisins will also have green unrip grapes. Trying to pick a vineyard of Zinfandel is difficult because of the unevenness in ripeness of the grapes. Further complicating harvesting vineyards intended for field blends are the different ripening rates of the different varietals planted in the vineyard field. Zinfandel must be picked for the average ripeness of the grapes, and the same is true of field blends.

Most, if not all agreed, that stressed vines yield better flavors, and so the ideal where possible seems to be head pruned dry farmed vines.

Turley’s scores from reviewers may be the cause of the invariably jammy, high alcohol sweet round Zins found in the market.

I tasted wines that ranged from 100% Zin to a wine where Zinfandel was not the predominant grape. I wondered when a Zin stops being a Zin. How much Zinniness (yes, it is a real word, I invented it) is required in a wine to be considered appropriate for inclusion at ZAP?

Not really talked about directly, but I think the purpose of the tasting may have been to start a conversation among lovers of Zinfandel about the future.

Winemakers of Bordeaux varietals who don’t make a wine capable of varietal designation, a blended wine, are able to label their wine Meritage, and consumers will have a rough idea of what to expect if buying it from a store or ordering it off a wine list.

What about our Zin based mutt blends? Are there enough of them to come up with an umbrella name for marketing? Would there be more Zin blends made if there was such an umbrella name? What name? Heritage (Rhymes with Meritage), Heirloom (referring to Zinfandel’s long history as a California cultivar), or some other name?

All in all, a really good event…even though it cost $100 for a white shirt I’ll never wear.

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UNSCHEDULED BEST ZAP EVENT

At the buffet lunch, I had a special treat. Joel Peterson and his son Morgan Twain-Peterson sat at our table and shared their thoughts, a 2008 Bedrock Vineyard wine, and answered our questions. They kindly stayed long after the buffet lunch room had emptied, speaking for about an hour.

Joel Peterson is the owner and winemaker of Ravenswood, one of the Zinfandel’s most famous producers. Morgan is Joel’s 29 year old son, and is both the winemaker for Bedrock Wine Company and a vineyard manager of Bedrock Vineyards.

Joel told us, “Zinfandel is California’s own. There is nothing that even comes close. These talks of blending [Zinfandel] instead of Cabernet or Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Heritage, whatever it will be called, will be how we establish ourselves against European wines.”

Joel listed the “three Zin sins: too much oak, too much alc, too much sugar.”

On over-oaking of Zinfandel, Joel said, “typically, wine should be named for the forest [the barrels came from] not the varietal” Morgan offered, “Missouri or Ozark.”

Joel continued, “Wood and sugar? They take away any subtlety.”

Morgan spoke to prices, the economy, markets, “There’s a necessary realignment, QPR, that’s quality price ratio, there’s a lot of $80 Cabernet that needs to go away.”

Joel and Morgan both spoke about the vineyard owner tearing out producing vines to plant to a different “hot” varietal, chasing the boom. On replanting to Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley, Joel shared, “I lost my best Petite Sirah Vineyard or Pinot in the Russian River Valley and they can’t sell their Pinot. What a waste.”

It was amazing just getting to listen to Joel and Morgan. The grape didn’t fall far from the vine. They are both excited, passionate, and knowledgeable. They want to share what they know. Joel is a celebrity, or superstar, winemaker; he has earned his reputation.

If people were stock, I would invest every cent I had in Morgan Twain-Peterson. Morgan is going to be around a long time, making great wines, growing great grapes, and will be an industry leader.

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GRAND ZINFANDEL TASTING

The last Zinfandel Festival event ZAP holds is by far the biggest and most famous, on Saturday, January 30 at both the Herbst and Festival Pavillians at Ft Mason in San Francisco over 200 Zinfandel producing wineries pour their wines for a Zin loving general public at the Grand Zinfandel Tasting.

I have attended three previous times in the past. I remember when the event was smaller and could be held in just one pavilion. I remember when Randall Grahm dressed in the vestments of the Catholic church to pour Bonny Doon’s Cardinal Zin. My brother just reminded me he got a Grgich print signed by Mike Grgich at ZAP years ago.

The general public can come and taste wines between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm; ZAP members may start an hour earlier at 1:00 pm. I can say from experience that the number of people who attend ZAP’s big tasting is huge, the crowds immense. Trade and Media are allowed an earlier start, with a tasting from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm.

I was able to taste as a member of the media. Again, my friend Serena Alexi accompanied me to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting. Here’s the things that I tasted that I liked:

Amphora Winery

  • 2007 Dry Creek $26 – “cherry, raspberry, lovely, drinkable”

Bedrock Wine Company

  • 2008 Lorenzo’s Heirloom Dry Creek Valley – “about 50% Zin, 25% Petite, 25% Carignane, with all the rest too. LOVE! Nice firm dark fruit.”
  • 2009 Stellwagon Vineyard sonoma Valley Barrel Sample – “50% Zin, 25% Carignane, 25 % 18 other varietals in field. dark, black cheery, coffee.”

Chiarello Family Vineyards

  • 2007 Giana Napa – “if I was trying to make a Zin taste like a Napa Zin, it would taste like this. 15.3 alc”

DeLoach Vineyards

  • 2007 Forgotten Vines, Sonoma County $32 – “soft zin. rose nose. light-med body. spice, coffee, cranberry raspberry mouth. nice. lingering finish.”

Haywood Estates

  • 2006 Los Chamizal, Los Chamizal Vineyards, Sonoma Valley $28 – “like it. well balanced. nice acidity. good fruit.”
  • 2007 Rocky Terrace, Sonoma Valley $38 – “afternoon sun and more exposure. quiet nose leads to LOVE. mouth fruit forward, lush, a surprise explosion.”

Hook & Ladder Winery

  • 2006 Station 10, Sonoma County $17 – ” Would be a REALLY good food zin, taste different when paired different.”

Manzanita Creek

  • 2007 Alfonso (select bottling), Shiloh Ranch, Russian River Valley $38 – “bright cherry raspberry fruit with chocolate. acid. really good. ager.”

Martorana Family Winery

  • 2007 Alexander Valley Family – “light med body. nice balance. dark fruit in nose to raspberry and spice mouth. lingering finish.”

Matrix Winery

  • 2007 Dry Creek Valley $45 – “16.1 alc. nose wow fruit. less fruit in mouth. lingering finish.”

Mauritson Family Winery

  • 2007 Rockpile Ridge Vineyard, Rockpile Ridge, Rockpile $35 – “nice fruit. LOVED. must find their tasting room and taste entire rockpile flight.”

Mazzocco

-seriously, didn’t they get the memo from Karen not to wear white to a ZAP event?

Murphy-Goode

  • 2006 Snake Eyes, alexander Valley $35 -“Hardy injured his wrist, or maybe pourer’s fatigue set in, but pours could be heavy, making M-G a popular spot. I like snake eyes. drinkable. very drinkable. *Serena said “that’s what M-G is.””

Pezzi King

  • 2007 Dry Creek Valley Reserve Zinfandel – “black fruit and earthy vanilla”

Ravenswood

  • 2008 Big River Vineyard, Alexander Valley $35 – “100% old vine zin. brighter fruit.”
  • 2008 Dickerson Vineyard, Napa $35 – “100% old vine zin. OMG! mouth.”

Saddleback Cellars

  • 2007 Old Vine, Napa Valley $36 – “85% calistoga, 15% sonoma, 100% zin. fruit and spice.”

Carol Shelton Wines

-I couldn’t get near her wines, the media and trade were 10 deep in front of her offerings.

T-Vine Cellars

  • 2007 Brown Vineyard, Napa Valley $36 – “100% zin from 15 year old vines, which surprised me – there’s a ton going on. perfume rose dark candy cherry fruit. good acid.”

Tin Barn Vineyards

  • 2007 Tin Barn, Gilsson Vineyard, Russian River Valley $27 – ” LOVED. lovely spice and fruit cherry raspberry soft supple, thoroughly drinkable.”

Tres Sabores

  • 2007 Estate, CCOF, Napa Valley $35 – “california certified organic farmer, candied cherry berry. delish. owner Julie Johnson was incredibly sweet and welcoming.”

Turley Wine Cellars

  • 2008 Hayne Vineyard, Hayne, Napa Valley  Barrel Sample $75 – “bottle march, release november. elegant, acid young wood fruit tannin.”
  • 2008 Old Vines, California – “release march. spice pepper cedar wood vegetal undertone, cranberry, smooth raspberry cherry anise. light soft finish.”

V. Sattui Winery

  • 2007 Gilsson Vineyard, Russian River Valley – “spice anise dusty cocoa leather veg spice and fruit. shorter finish.”

I am grateful to Serena Alexi for accompanying me to the ZAP events at Fort Mason on Thursday and Saturday. Thank you for the incredibly thoughtful book, and for introducing me to a great restaurant – next time I am getting the #19. Thanks also to Julie Ann Kodmur.

DISCLOSURE: I received press passes to the events I attended. Additional passes were made available for my guest, and 4 more tickets to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting were made available to me to use in contest giveaways for my readers.

I grew up with Zinfandel. When I was a kid, my dad Charlie and his friends would hunt almost every weekend; duck hunting, pig hunting, deer hunting. Our freezer was always full of meat. I grew up thinking that everyone was Italian, and that everyone hunted. My folks never took me to see Bambi.

My dad was part of a group of about 20 guys who went in together to lease large pieces of property to hunt. Their hunting clubs were scattered all over Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. For a long time, we hunted the 12,500 acre Rockpile Ranch straddling both Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, being the largest piece of property in either county. I remember my dad taking me for weekends to the club. I would ride in a jeep or truck during the day as the men looked for a large pig, or buck. Lunches would invariably be Salumi and Cheddar on hard French bread rolls. Any game taken would be field dressed, then cleaned and hung back in camp at the end of the day. After cleaning up after the day’s hunt, the men would cook a big dinner. Polenta, meats, Italian sauces, pasta, vegetables, salad, Zinfandel.

Growing up, all the Italian men I knew drank Zinfandel. It came in jugs, it wasn’t complex, it was good and it was cheap. It went into the food, and into coffee cups and high ball glasses, styrofoam cups and complimentary collector jelly glasses from the gas station – free with an 8 gallon purchase.

I crushed Zinfandel grapes when I was my son Charlie’s age, just 12 years old, and the juice was made into wine that I was allowed to taste with food.

Zinfandel has been my first wine love, my longest loved wine, my favorite wine for most of my life.

Big, bold, very red, often high in alcohol, with flavors of brambly raspberry and black pepper spice; Zinfandel is as big as Cabernet Sauvignon in body, structure, and flavor profile but more affordable. Although DNA tests have shown Zinfandel is really the grape varietal Crljenak Kaštelanski from Croatia, and also Identical to Italy’s Primitivo grape, it has been thought of as California’s grape by generations of California’s wine drinkers.

Years ago, I attended the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and producers) tasting, a tasting of Zinfandels put on at Fort Mason in San Francisco in January. Hundreds of Zinfandels to taste. Thousands of people tasting. A perfect day spent tasting some iconic Zinfandels, like Carol Shelton’s Rockpile Zin, and discovering new stars.

ZAP is marking the 19th Zinfandel festival this year with the theme Zin in Paradise, and it isn’t just the incredible Saturday Grand Zinfandel Tasting, but three days of events. Tickets are still available for most of the events.

http://www.zinfandel.org/

The festival kicks off Thursday evening with the Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing at Fort Mason’s Herbst Pavillion. Celebrity chef Beverly Gannon will be serving up Hawaiian Regional Cuisine with Zinfandels, along with 49 other chefs and wineries. As I read the list of wineries, restaurants, and dishes being served, my mouth goes into watering overdrive mode, and I am actually excited about attending this event. The list is too long to print here, but go to the event page and look at the amazing bounty of food, and the participating wineries, and get yourself to this event! If you are looking for me, I’ll be the very happy, short, round, bearded man in line in front of you for more yummy food and wine.

On Friday, I am going to sit down with a group of about 150 people at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco for Flights, a showcase of Zinfandel.

The panelists will discuss blending, Zinfandel’s uniqueness, preferred blending varietals, and each panelist will bring a proprietary blended Zinfandel to pour and discuss.

The wineries, panelists and Zinfandels include:

  • Ridge Vineyards, winemaker Eric Baugher, 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles and the 2007 Geyserville
  • Three Wine Company, winemaker and proprietor Matt Cline, 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel, California and 2007 Old Vines, California (Field Blend)
  • JC Cellars, founder and winemaker Jeff Cohn, 2007 Imposter Blend and 2007 Sweetwater Zinfandel
  • Robert Biale Vineyards, winemaker Steve Hall, 2007 Aldo’s Vineyard Zinfandel and 2007 Stagecoach Zinfandel
  • Bedrock Wine Company, winemaker and proprietor Morgan Twain Peterson, 2007 Heirloom Wine, Sonoma Valley and 2007 Ravenswood, Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley

Friday Evening, also at the Mark Hopkins, is an Evening with the Winemakers, Benefit Live Auction and Dinner, where Chef Beverly Gannon will prepare:

  • Asian Duck Tostada
  • Blackened Ahi with Sweet Thai Chili Sauce, Wasabi Micro Greens, Tobiko, Mashed Potato in Filo Cup
  • Smoked Salmon Pinwhhels with Chipotle-Chili Fresh Fruit Salsa
  • Kalua Pork and Goat Cheese Won Tons with Mango Chili Sauce
  • Terrine of Foie Gras, BBQ Eel, Potato Pineapple Compote, Vanilla Syrup and Spicy Micro Greens
  • Lamb Shank Canneloni with a Poached Fig Demi-Glaze Double Cut Lamb Chop, Lavendar Honey Glazed Baby Carrots
  • Chocolate Macadamia Nut Tart

I had the opportunity to take part in a high end food and wine dinner like this when I helped winemaker Carol Shelton, who had the Best in Class Zinfandel at the California State Fair – a Zinfandel with four gold medals – pour her Zinfandel and other favorite wines at the best Meet the Winemaker dinner I have ever attended. The dinner was at Susan and Drew Goss’ Zinfandel restaurant in Chicago’s River North area, near the Fonterra Grill and Spago. Without exception, the sold out (it sold out in under 3 hours, a record for the restaurant) 110 seat restaurant’s diners enjoyed one of the best dining experiences of their lives. Many hundreds of bottles were opened and consumed (I helped Carol taste them all earlier that day and found all 5 TCA tainted corked bottles – unlucky me) and Susan Goss prepared a multi course menu around Carol’s wines that amazed, delighted and thrilled everyone who attended the dinner.

This is going to be one of those kind of once in a lifetime dining experiences and Beverly’s menu looks even more fantastic than Susan’s menu. In addition to the incredible sit down mind blowing meal with Zinfandels poured to pair with each course, there will be 25 or so one of a kind Zinfandel themed live auction lots to bid on during the evening.

ZAP’s Zinfandel Festival culminates Saturday with the epically huge Grand Zinfandel Tasting in both the Herbst and Festival pavilions at Fort Mason in San Francisco from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., ZAP members get an hour start on the general public and can taste from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Over the years, ZAP’s Zinfandel festival has grown, more than doubling in size. The number of Zinfandels poured couldn’t be tasted by any one person, be they veteran wine reviewer or liver compromised bum.

Plastic lined garbage cans are provided throughout the festival and serve as giant wine spittoons. I hate spitting out perfectly good wine, but it is the only way to go as an attempt is made to taste as many Zinfandels as possible before my palate is completely blown out by the plethora of high alcohol hugely bodied monster Zinfandels.

I am thrilled to be attending this years Grand Zinfandel Tasting, and getting an early 10 a.m. start as part of the media tasting. I will have my red wine notebook and pen with me.

It almost goes without saying, but eat before, during and after the event, be safe, and consider public transportation.

DISCLOSURE: ZAP is covering my attendance to events with a press pass. I love this event and would have gushed about the event if I was paying out of pocket to attend. I will be writing a couple of articles after the event. One will focus on the events generally, the other will include tasting notes for Zinfandels tasted over the weekend. Full disclosure requires that I think Julie Ann Kodmur is an angel.

Contest #1: for the first pair of tickets, simply tell me why you should get them. Has life been getting you down and do you need a ray of sunshine? Are you the greatest fan of Zinfandel in history? Are you attracted to short, bald, bearded, round, old wine bloggers? Is January 30 your birthday? In 150 words or less make me laugh, make me cry, make me blush, make me want to give you two tickets. I’ll award the tickets to the person who offers me the best reason to give them to you. To enter contest #1, enter your 150 word, or less, reason as a comment to this blog entry.

Contest #1 Entry A
You should give them to me because I know where the bodies are buried. Christ, I helped you bury a lot of them.

Okay, I liked this entry, it was short, assumptive, and made me laugh. But it didn’t really hit on enough cylinders.

Contest #1 Entry B
I want to go to ZAP 2010 to see how this heritage grape is doing in it’s latest releases. I like to write about the wines I taste and am judicious in making even and consistent notes and highlights. This is a grape event to point out, talk with grape growers and winemakers and truly understand their science and art.

I love ZAP, Zinfandel and this yearly event is something that beckons that wine is still alive in keeping in these challenging times. Wine reminds us there is something that brings us together; it is the social glue that binds.

Well this entry was more worthwhile, I’m getting a strong sense that the entrant would benefit from the experience.

Contest #1 Entry: C
Ok, I am a poor little wine blogger. I’m new, and frankly, wine cognoscenti scare me. My wife was just last year diagnosed with a horrifying genetic disorder, and while we deal with that (it’s called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) i am putting her through graduate school for a PsyD in Clinical Psychology. And oh. my. god. I love Zinfandel. LOVE IT.

Wow, hitting on a bunch of cylinders. A desire to learn, a genetically disordered wife, sacrifice working to put her through school, avowed Zinfandel love. When I wrote “life been getting you down” I was thinking of a temporary unemployment, but I got an American Idol audition, complete with an immediate family medical issue.

Contest #1 Entry D
I should get the tickets because even though I am in the biz I have never been to ZAP and my birthday is also 1/25; I have the ID to prove it

Sharing a birthday does count for a lot, but unfortunately not a strong enough plea. Sign up for Trade passes!

Contest #1 Entry E
You should give the tickets to me but I can’t make it next weekend so the next best thing is to give them to Hans Dippel, the King of the Limerick. He made me laugh and I know him from Facebook…

An interesting plea, but this entry will not win this contest, and this isn’t the contest for Limericks.

Contest #1 Entry F
I’m a virgin and I really need to get cherry popped. A big, bold Zin with a eye-brow, raising long finish was THE varietal responsible for my love affair with wine. Pair it with a bit of melt-in-your mouth, eye fluttering Belgian dark chocolate and heaven is found. It’d be a shame to miss out on swinging with other Zins.

Wow! I did write “make me blush” as a possible pathway to the tickets, and I believe you made my heart beat a few beats a minute faster with your entry.

_____

So for me it came down to a contest between entries C and F, and entry C just had a ton going on in just a little paragraph.

The winner of contest #1’s pair of tickets is Steve Paulo from notesfromthecellar.com

Honorable mention goes to Sarita Moreno of saritathewinegal.blogspot.com

EDITED TO ADD: Steve can not attend the event because his wife accepted a wedding invitation, Steve asked that the tickets go to the next best entry, so the NEW winner of contest #1 is Sarita. Congratulations!

__________

Contest #2: for the second pair of tickets, write a poem about Zinfandel, with as few as 5 lines (limerick) up to a maximum of 14 lines (sonnet). I’ll award the tickets to the person who submits my favorite original poem. The madly talented Randall Grahm, who does not need tickets anyway, is not eligible for this contest. Poetry skill points will be given for weaving “Julie Ann” and/or “Zinfandel” into your poem. To enter contest # 2, leave your poem as a comment to this blog entry.

Contest #2 Entry A
There once was a man from Nantucket,
Who daily drank Zin by the bucket.
Wiping Zin off his chin,
He said with chagrin,
“If I can’t go to ZAP, well then…bummer!

plus 3 bonus poems from the same entrant:

JC is a guy who loves Zin,
To most, we don’t think it a sin.
It does make you think,
How much Zin he can drink,
But explains why he wears such a grin.

There once was a guy named JC,
Who had Zin coming out of his pee.
Although meloncholic,
Not yet an alcoholic.
His pee was the source of much glee.

There once was a guy named JC,
For years he sold Zin next to me.
We pitched and we pitched,
But not as much as we bitched.
So I married his boss, Melanie

Contest #2 Entry B
There once was a great Julie Ann
Who of Zinfandel was a huge fan
She offered tickets to ZAP
Which I tried to snap
I hope it’s a super good plan.

Well this came down to someone who doesn’t read the rules or instructions, sends 4 or 5 poems insteead of one vs. someone who read the instructions and included “Julie Ann” and “Zinfandel” in their poem for higher style points; and the winner is…The rule breaker by a mile.

A Shakespearean styled 14 line sonnet would have won this over just about any limerick, but I had to go with what I had and Hans’ rule breaking, instruction ignoring purposely non rhyming poetry entry was a winner. It reminded me of some of my favorite wines that also break rules,  surprise and delight.

Hans Dippel of cigarBQ.com has won contest #2 and the second pair of Zap Grand Zinfandel Tasting tickets.

_____

Thanks to everyone who entered, and congratulations to the two winners.


There IS a Santa Claus, and her name is Julie Ann.

Julie Ann is a publicist in St. Helena, CA, and has offered me two pairs of tickets to give to my readers for the 19th Annual Grand Zinfandel Tasting on Saturday, January 30 from 2:00 until 5:00 p.m. at the Festival and Herbst Pavillions at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Over 200 top wineries will be pouring their Zinfandels. Tickets are regularly $59 each, $69 at the door.

http://www.zinfandel.org/default.asp?n1=14&n2=474&member=

I have been to this event several times in the past, and I have said it before: this is my favorite tasting event. If you like red wine, better still if you love Zinfandel like I do, everybody pours their Zinfandels at this event. It is just incredible. Now you have an opportunity to find out for yourself just how great the ZAP Grand Zinfandel Tasting is…Free! That is a savings of $118-$138 per pair of tickets.

How do you get your hands on the tickets? You have to win them in a contest.

The terrific news is there are two contests.

Contest #1: for the first pair of tickets, simply tell me why you should get them. Has life been getting you down and do you need a ray of sunshine? Are you the greatest fan of Zinfandel in history? Are you attracted to short, bald, bearded, round, old wine bloggers? Is January 30 your birthday? In 150 words or less make me laugh, make me cry, make me blush, make me want to give you two tickets. I’ll award the tickets to the person who offers me the best reason to give them to you. To enter contest #1, enter your 150 word, or less, reason as a comment to this blog entry. Preface your comment with “Contest #1 Entry” and include your email address or other contact info for if you win.

Contest #2: for the second pair of tickets, write a poem about Zinfandel, with as few as 5 lines (limerick) up to a maximum of 14 lines (sonnet). I’ll award the tickets to the person who submits my favorite original poem. The madly talented Randall Grahm, who does not need tickets anyway, is not eligible for this contest. Poetry skill points will be given for weaving “Julie Ann” and/or “Zinfandel” into your poem. To enter contest # 2, leave your poem as a comment to this blog entry. Preface your poem submission with “Contest #2 Entry” and include your e-mail address or other contact info for if you win.

My birthday is Monday, January 25, and birthdays are for gifts, so that is the day I will be awarding these tickets. Only 1 entry per person per contest, entries accepted up until 2:00 p.m. on January 25. I will announce the winners of the two contests by 5:00 p.m. on January 25, and arrange for your your tickets to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting to be available under your name at the event.


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