Zinfandel Advocates & Producers–ZAP Tasting

Last Saturday Zinfandel lovers and wine enthusiasts gathered in obscenely large numbers for the annual ZAP tasting in San Francisco. The "walk around" tasting is surely the largest of its type. A number of impressions were left upon this attendee.

1. The Urge to Devour
There is an overwhelming urge to taste and see everything when you are confronted with these many wineries all in one place. Something of an "open bar" mentality takes over that at once is very exciting, yet also appears to compel people to move from one winery table to the next is rapid succession, as though they will be penalized for not tasting everything.

2. Hopes, Dreams and the New
I saw a number of wineries that I’d never heard of before, all hoping for many things. Most were small operations, family wineries, that were looking for exposure, distribution, anything. It reminds one of a dog show, where the animals are at their best, yet telling one big greyhound from the next is not all that easy. And the dog owners know it. So, they hope for some sort of a big break. Zinfandel is still a good "entry level" wine for the new, micro winery. The grapes usually cost less than Cabernet or Pinot; there is a cultish quality to Zinfandel that means you might become a darling. Yet in setting where your new Zinfandel is competing against hundreds of other Zinfandels, ZAP may not be the best place to launch a cult, thought there are worse places.

3. My Favorite Zins (in no order)
02 ZAP Heritage Vineyards (made by Paul Draper)
03 Highlands Beatty Ranch, Howell Mountain
04 J Benton Furrow "Heart of Gold" Shenandoah Valley
04 Karmere Vineyards "Empress Hayley", Shenandoah Valley
03 Limerick Lane, Collins Vineyard, Russian River Valley
03 Loxton Cellars, Hillside, Sonoma Valley
04 Macchi Winery "Mischievous", Old Vine, Lodi
04 Ravenswood Old Hill, Sonoma Valley (Barrel Sample)
04 Ravenswood Teldeschi, Dry Creek Valley (barrel sample)
03 Bucklin, Old Hill, Sonoma Valley
02 Renwood "Old Vine", Amador County
03 William Talty Estate, Dry Creek Valley
03 Trinitas "Old Vine" Contra Costa County
04 Valdez Family, Rockpile Road Vineyard, Rockpile
04 XYZin, 100 years, Contra Costa County
03 Z-52. Clockspring Vineyard, Old Vine, Amador Country

4. Big O4s
The O4 Vintage seems to be a pretty big vintage. Extracted, high alcohol, and many being sweet. Lots of prune flavors, lots of dark red fruit flavors. It was very difficult to find a "claret" styled zin in this vintage, thought that may be more a reflection of winemaking styles than the vintage.

5. Deer in the Headlights
While it’s not easy to maneuver through this kind of huge tasting, it’s particularly diffiuclt for the people behind the tables. Many, after a few hours, simply have a "Deer in the headlights" look about them. The constant pouring, the push of people to get at your wine, the barrage of questions can be crushing. One winery owner I observed was moving from glass to glass to glass, pouring, talking with three people at the same time, then, in what was a mistake, stepped back and looked out over the heads of those crowding her table. She stopped. She stared out at people three deep at her table and then began scanning the crowd beyond. All she could see was a sea of heads, moving and shuffling about. I thought the drinkers were going to mutiny. Some looked around to see what she was looking at, but I know they didn’t see the same thing. The winemaker’s sigh was visible. And she returned to three conversations and the hands holding wine glasses being thrust at her.

6. Logistics
Never, ever try to park at the Fort Mason Center where the tasting is held unless you get a spot the night before. Park somewhere else in the city, then take a cab or a bus. Parking is horrendous.

7. No Senior Moments
I know well-made Zinfandel can age into something different,something beyond a jumpy fruit bomb. Yet, finding any well aged zin at this tasting is not possible. This is a shame. What a service it would be to some how demonstrate to the multitude that Zin can work its way into something complex and and refined and interesting with age. But this is not what consumers appear to want. Certainly that’s not what members of the trade attending ZAP are looking for. I rather doubt that consumers are either. And this explains why such wines made no appearance. Still, a shame.

Posted In: Wine Education


5 Responses

  1. Jeremy - January 30, 2006

    Did you stop by? Ouch!
    Kidding. We did have a pretty great response, and I think will be putting the ’03 in places a little closer to you in Napa. When I make deliveries, I’ll have to set up a time for you to taste.
    The coolest thing to watch were the people who cam up because there wasn’t a line with us (I think because we were unknown), and then watch them walk away, take a sip, and then come back with this look like “wait, who the hell are you again?”
    I was amazingly crowded. And for those of us against the wall, they could have given us another foot of room and made things a lot more pleasant.

  2. johng - January 30, 2006

    You’re a brave man, Tom. I can just barely handle the crowd at the Family Winemakers trade tasting, but ZAP sounds just too insane.
    Plus all Zin… I love zin too, but I guess not enough to want to taste nothing but. Now an all Pinot tasting, that would be a different story.

  3. tw - January 31, 2006

    Thanks for the feedback, Tom. Funny that while you observed that there were no older wines being poured so many producers refer to age in their names and on their lables… food for thought, perhaps?

  4. rama - February 1, 2006

    good overview Tom- that all jives with my experience there too. On the big/hot/extracted zins comment, Ridge seemed to have a few offering that were refreshingly not so.
    BTW, did you attend the “trade” hours, or the general public zoo hours?

  5. tom - February 1, 2006

    I was there during trade hours, but toward the end, well, it did get zoo like.

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