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
- 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”
- 2007 Carreras Ranch – “105 year old vine, chocolate, high alc.”
- 2007 Warm Springs Ranch, Dry Creek Valley – “yummy with lamb.”
- 2007 Smith Orchard Reserve, Dry Creek Valley – “Delish on own, WOW with lamb.”
- 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.”
- 2007 Dickerson Vineyard – “LOVED it. lots of nice fruit, very approachable.”
- 2007 Annettes’s Reserve, Redwood Valley Vineyard, Mendocino County – “liked it lots, better with food too.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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’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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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”
- 2007 Forgotten Vines, Sonoma County $32 – “soft zin. rose nose. light-med body. spice, coffee, cranberry raspberry mouth. nice. lingering finish.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
-seriously, didn’t they get the memo from Karen not to wear white to a ZAP event?
- 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.””
- 2007 Dry Creek Valley Reserve Zinfandel – “black fruit and earthy vanilla”
- 2008 Big River Vineyard, Alexander Valley $35 – “100% old vine zin. brighter fruit.”
- 2008 Dickerson Vineyard, Napa $35 – “100% old vine zin. OMG! mouth.”
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.