SF Wine Blog

Exploring wine in and around San Francisco.

ZAP! WHAM! POW! – A Zinfandel Festival Recap

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By Derek Mims

Well, it’s been a couple weeks, and we’ve recovered from the intense experience of the annual ZAP festival.  Three straight days of zinfandel events, lots of wine and food to sample, plus tons of interesting discussions made for a great weekend.  And it turns out that even John found some zins to love (or at least like)!  In short, there are plenty of reasons why you should keep this event in mind when it comes around again next year.

What struck me most was the versatility of zinfandel as a varietal; it is made into everything from white zin (which perhaps not surprisingly–and in my opinion blissfully–did not come up too often ZAP) to port-style dessert wines, with a wide range of red wines in between.  These “true” zinfandel wines vary in texture, acidity, complexity, and spiciness, offering something for a wide range of palates.  All this variety makes the grape accessible and enjoyable to almost everyone.

There were also a wide range of events that were a part of the Festival, giving a lot of different perspectives on Zin.  Thursday night’s Good Eats wine and food pairing was unique in that each winery was specifically paired with a food, and oftentimes the chef had used that winery’s zin in his or her recipe.  This definitely enhanced my appreciation of how the different styles of zin can complement different kinds of food, and again speaks to the versatility of the grape.

On Friday, I had the privilege of attending a seminar discussing different regions and vineyards in California where top Zinfandel is grown.  Joel Peterson (pictured standing), winemaker at Ravenswood, moderated the event.  The vineyards represented ranged from Paso Robles to Mendocino, Russian River to Napa.  Also presented were pure (virtually 100%) zinfandels as well as field blends – wines that contain at least 75% zinfandel and are thus labeled as such, but actually contain as many as 18 other varietals in the blend, with all of the fruit coming from the same vineyard.  A well-known example of a field blend, and my favorite wine of this tasting, was the Ridge Lytton Springs.  The panel also discussed the Heritage Vineyard Project, the goal of which is to research and document the history of zinfandel and identify best practices and profiles for making zinfandel wines.

And of course the Grand Tasting on Saturday: two whole Fort Mason pavilions-worth of zins to try.  John was the man on hand to wade through all those wines, and he was pleasantly surprised.  His take-away was: “Even though I’m not a zin convert, I was impressed with the diverse range of zin out there … places like Biale, Brown Estate, and Bedrock Wine Co. gave me a lot to think about (and enjoy).  And, of course, Ridge and Seghesio continue to shine.”  If you plan to go next year, you should arrive early not only to make sure you’re not fighting the crowds (which may be inevitable — this is a popular event and there was a line outside before the doors opened to the public).  Plus, you may be able to get a sip of some extra special wines that were being poured for the trade / media tasting.

I have mentioned how much I like Biale’s zinfandels (and Rhone varietals) before, and I also liked the Chateau Montelena (though they are better known for their Cab and Chard).  I am also a fan of Seghesio (particularly their San Lorenzo vineyard) and D-Cubed.

Overall, a great (dare I say “zintastic?”) weekend!  Thanks to ZAP for providing tickets for us and our contest winners, and to all our readers who participated!


Good Eats and Flights pictures provided courtesy of ZAP by Wayde Carroll.


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