Pouring All Zins, All the Time

There was an ocean of wine flowing beside San Francisco Bay at the world’s largest celebration of all things zinfandel, the 19th annual ZAP festival.

The funnel was Fort Mason, where about 300 wineries uncorked their best bottles for Saturday’s Zinfandel Advocates and Producers grand tasting — the culmination of a long weekend of zin-focused wine and food events. Hawaiian chef Beverly Gannon was the headliner and I especially enjoyed her island-themed meatloaf with sweet barbecue sauce served at Thursday’s “Good Eats and Zin” event, also at Fort Mason.

Alcatraz through the wine glass from Fort Mason

ZAP at Fort Mason

Good zins from Napa, Sonoma, the Central Coast, the Sierra Foothills and Lodi popped up alongside one red herring — an impressive European import with a link to California zinfandel.

The Accademia dei Racemi’s 2007 Sinfarosa from Puglia ($26)  tasted great and showed a true zinfandel fruitiness and blackberry backbone. The grape is known in Europe as primitivo, but it’s genetics are the same as our homegrown zinfandel.

Vintners mostly poured wines from the 2006 and 2007 vintages, but they also showed some 2008s, including many wines that won’t be released until later in the year.

I’m looking forward to Robert Biale‘s 2008 Monte Rosso Vineyard zin, a wonderfully fresh, approachable wine from one of Sonoma’s premier vineyards that will be bottled and released in a few months. A barrel sample was ripe, round and ready to drink.

The Monte Rosso Vineyard, first planted in 1938 by the venerable Martini wine family, is now owned by Gallo, which sells fruit from this site to more than dozen winemakers.

Let’s Dance and Drink Zin

One of my favorite wines at the tasting was from Dancing Lady Wines in Healdsburg, a winery I’d never run across before.

Winemaker Gia Passalacqua squeezes a ton of cherry fruit flavors topped by a twist of spice out of grapes for the 2007Della Costa Family Vineyard zinfandel ($27),which may even be surpassed by the unreleased 2008 version from the same Alexander Valley vineyard. Look for the 2008 to take the taste meter up another notch!

From Amador County fruit, Folie a Deux Winery in Oakville fashioned a great 2007 zin at a great price of $18. There’s a fine balance between just enough fruit and just enough tannic tartness to bode well at table with tomato-based sauces and lighter grilled meats.

Wine for Tonight

If I had to pick a wine to take home frdinner, it would be any of the following three wines poured by Hendry Wines. George Hendry grows wine on 117 acres divided into50 blocks of vines on his property in southwestern Napa. He nurtures several different red and white varietals, including some really great zinfandel.

The 2007 Hendry Block 7 & 22 zinfandel ($30) hasn’t been releasedyet, but it’s ready to go in my book with classic Napa zin credentials — cherry/berry fruit, a touch of smoke and enough tannins to hold everything together.

The 2006 Block 28 zinfandel ($30) showed some cabernet-type character, basically muting the fruit a bit and upping the tannins, still in balance and perfect for a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings.

Even the HRW ($15), a second-label blend of several Hendry zinfandel lots that don’t make the top-line assemblage, is a great everyday wine.

Jam Time

From the jammier side of the fruit spectrum comes Opolo Vineyards in Paso Robles. I’ve been drinking their wines for years and am a big fan of two 2007 offerings that were poured at ZAP.

The 2007 Opolo Mountain Vineyard ($28) has a big grape jam taste and structure that cries out for a sizzing steak or pork chop with a  sour cherry glaze. The 2007 Summit Creek ($20) was almost as fine with a streak of blue/red fruit spread across an equally enjoyable framework of integrated tannins.

The Bargain Corner

One of the best bargain wines of the tasting was the 2008 Immortal, a $13 quaffer from Peirano Estate Winery in Lodi.

In the $10 and under the category, I really liked the 2007 Wily Jack, another new brand from Napa launched last summer by Diageo Chateau and Estate Wines. This $8.99 bottle had great fruit and fine structure for a California blend.

Up Next:  New Napa Cabernet Releases

A slew of Napa wineries will be unveiling their newest cabernet offerings with special events next weekend.

On Saturday (Feb. 6), check out the festivities at Silver Oak in Oakville where they will debut the 2007 estate cabernet. That same day, similar events are planned at Flora Springs Winery in St. Helena (where the 2007 Trilogy will be on center stage), Bennett Lane in Calistoga (where the 2007cabernet will be previewed), Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena (where the 2006 cab will be celebrated) and Raymond Vineyards in Oakville  (where the 2006 Generations cab will make its debut).

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