Posts Tagged ‘zinfandel advocates and producers’

Judges Pick: Pican’s Pork Tacos at ZAP Grill-O-Rama

August 14, 2012

Food and wine are natural partners. One usually tastes better with the other.

I found that universal truth at work during the ZAP Grill-O-Rama food and wine event last weekend.

A panel of wine and food writers, myself included, selected grilled pork tacos from Pican as the best food presented during the event. The people’s choice — by a popular vote of attendees — was the beef short ribs prepared by Tyler Stone, a celebrated personal chef from Sacramento.

Zin, Wine for All Seasonings

Zinfandel holds up well with all the grilled foods served  at Grill-O-Rama with wines poured by 32 wineries representing ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers group.

I enjoyed a glass of Mauritson Dry Creek Valley 2010 Zinfandel — a blend of several different vineyards, including vines grown in the celebrated Rockpile appellation of Sonoma County, with a “beef lollipop” made from short ribs of beef prepared by Chef Stone.

The beef was prepared “sous vide,” which is a slow-cooking method in which the meat is sealed in plastic and then submerged for hours (or days) in a hot water bath. Briefly finished on the grill,  each serving contained a single chunk of tender meat presented on a thick skewer with a mild chimichurri sauce.

I tried a glass of a 2009 Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel from Brazin Cellars ($17) with Pican’s shredded pork, served on a soft tortilla with spicy tomatillo sauce and a sprinkling of crumbly queso fresca cheese. I really liked the addition of pickled onions, which gave the plate a definite acid bite.

Sonoma Smokehouse served an enjoyable grilled pork slider on an open-faced bun with hot and mild tomato-based sauce. It paired nicely with a 2009 Zinfandel  ($20) from Contra Costa County made by Three Wine Company in Clarksburg. The wine carries characteristic blackberry high notes plus some extra stuffing provided by 12 percent Petite Sirah. There’s just enough tannin to balance the fruit nicely.

Oakland’s Bocanova restaurant presented grilled chicken skewers with a delicate mole sauce. I tasted it with a wine I’d never drunk before from Napa, the Green and Red 2007
Tiptop Vineyard ($28).

I’d go out of my way for another bottle of this Green and Red offering that features pure Zinfandel flavors. Don’t be fooled if it’s a bit shy on the nose. It goes down so easy, a second glass is inevitable.

If you went to the tasting, please let me know what wine was your favorite. If you didn’t attend, who made the last bottle of Zinfandel you enjoyed?


It Means Orchard Tender in German

August 2, 2012

Roughly translated, Bumgarner is German for an orchard worker or gardener. It’s also the name of a  Giants pitcher and a not-so-Giant winery in the Sierra foothills.

The family owned Bumgarner Winery in Camino has an interesting lineup of red and white wines, with several on tap in the tasting room plus a delightful hard apple cider.

I found this quaint little winery by accident, thanks to my wife’s urging to stop at a thrift store off Highway 50 while driving home from a visit to Lake Tahoe.

As luck would have it, the winery sits directly behind the Snowline Hospice Thrift Store, where I got a great deal on a pair of $3 blue jeans.before strolling next door to taste some wine.

Tapping into High-Altitude Juice

Wines offered on tap are sold in a re-usable 750-ml  bottle with a resealable top. Bring the bottle back, and they knock $5 off the price of a re-fill.

My favorites included the 2010 Chardonnay and the 2008 Eldorado Tempranilllo. I also liked the apple cider, made from Pink Lady fruit in a delightfully dry style that I found refreshing.

The Chardonnay carries the vein of apples forward on a much lighter and delicate note. This was clean Chardonnay fruit without any heavy oak attributes.

The Tempranillo is made from a Spanish varietal that presents a solid, earthy backbone with leathery overtones against blackberry fruit and  bouquet.

There are some good tannins at work in the Tempranillo alongside significant acids which make this wine a particularly great match for hearty foods involving tomato-based sauces or grilled meats and sausages.

Get Your Grill-O-Rama On in Alameda

If you’re a Zinfandel fan and enjoy grilled foods, head for Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 11. I’ll be there to help judge the entries and write about the results.

ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) is sponsoring  the Grill-O-Rama, an amazing cook-off competition pairing Bay Area grilling artists (like John Ledbetter from BocaNova in Jack London Square, chef Tyler Stone, Dawn Wofford from Sonoma Smokehouse, and Sophina Uong from Pican in Oakland) with wines from 32 different California Zinfandel producers.

Bay Area wineries like Rock Wall, R&B Cellars and Dashe Cellars will be pouring their wines alongside a host of other top producers from Lodi, Napa, Sonoma, the Central Coast and Sierra Foothills.

Advance tickets are available online for $50 and $60 at the door.

Brown Red Rates Zin Win at ZAP

January 31, 2012

They don’t give awards at the annual Zinfandel Advocates and Producers Grand Tasting, but if they did I’d nominate Brown Estate for the top spot in 2012.

I rated Brown’s 2010 Rosemary’s Block Vineyard Zinfandel ($55) as the top wine of the event, which drew close to 200 wineries pouring their most recent releases for the public last Saturday.

The estate-grown wine, from a five-acre plot in Napa’s Chiles Valley, exhibits a solid core of sweet red fruit and that lingered for a full 30 seconds on the palate. It was as smooth and creamy as it was delicious, with a lovely floral nose that was intoxicating. The wine spent a year in oak, half French and half American with 30 percent new barrels.

Crowded Field for Second

Several wines competed for second on my list, including a barrel sample of Acorn Winery’s 2010 Zinfandel from its Alegria Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.

This $40 Sonoma wine did not have quite the concentration and ripe fruit of the Brown Estate, but it did show a bit more complexity. I’d expect it to be even better upon release to the public.

Frank Family Vineyards 2009 Napa Valley Zin was another favorite. This spicy, deep purple wine comes from a Napa winery that’s used to excellence in both its red and white wine programs. The zinfandel showed beautiful, bright red fruit flavors (raspberries and plums come to mind) married with a streak of acidity needed to provide balance.

Gregory Graham‘s 2009 Zinfandel from his Crimson Hill Vineyard in Lake County also showed well at ZAP. Red and black fruits combined for a luscious taste in this $24 bottle that includes five percent petite sirah. Click here to read more about Gregory Graham.

I’m a long-time fan of Paso Robles Opolo Vineyards, but I had never tasted any of their reserve wine until the ZAP festival.

I love the Opolo 2010 Reserve Zinfandel ($45) which is as complete a zinfandel as I have tried from the Central Coast. The finely focused red/black fruits come in a smooth-tasting package with just enough spice to make it interesting. Tannins are seamless.

It’s ready for drinking now, but will surely get even better with another year or two in bottle.

Another first-time taste from a legendary producer caught my eye. It was the 2009 Carmichael Ranch Zinfandel, one of 11 zinfandels made by Ridge Vineyards.  This is a very smooth offering from Sonoma County with no hard edges.

The flavor profile edges into plum/cherry territory and it’s a delightful mouthful of juice that includes eight percent petite sirah.

Valdez Family Winery worked magic with the 2009 St. Peter’s Church Vineyard Zinfandel from Alexander Valley.

The wine, made from a plot of century-old zin vines owned by the Catholic church in Cloverdale, is an exquisite bottle of red wine. It shows hints of mint and spiciness plus rich red fruit from the low-yielding vines.

Two Easy-Drinking Bargains

Sledgehammer’s 2009 California Zinfandel, made mostly from Lake County fruit, is a great buy at $16. It’s fruit-forward, but not over the top with too much sweetness.

Another bargain sipper comes from Chronic Cellars in Paso Robles. The Purple Paradise ($15) is mostly zinfandel with some petite sirah blended to give it a bit more backbone.

Try either of these wines with grilled burgers, pasta or pizza to elevate the meal without blowing your budget.

Festival Season is Upon Us

March 25, 2011

We’re right in the midst of my favorite time in wine country. Festival season.

I’ve got info to share on two wine-tasting events in San Francisco and Oakland/Alameda, but first a quick report on a really nice sauvignon blanc.

A bottle of 2009 sauvignon blanc from Franciscan Estate in Napa found its way into my kitchen (the winery sent me a sample) and I’d actually forgotten about it until a desperate need arose for a white wine to pair with a salmon dinner.

Too lazy to tramp down to the cellar, I frantically searched the kitchen wine cabinet and then sorted through the 12 or so bottles stashed on various tables, counters and shelves.

The Franciscan was the only white in sight, so I slid it into the fridge for a 20-minute cool-down while I pan roasted a delicious filet of coho salmon marinated in olive oil and fresh Meyer lemon juice.

SV Hits the Spot

I like a crisp glass of sauvignon blanc in the summertime, on a hot night or at the beach, and also sometimes with steamed crab. I don’t believe I’d had any memorable SV with salmon before, since chardonnay is generally my “go-to” wine with salmon.

A glass of the tasty Franciscan changed my mind. It paired beautifully with the juicy pink fish, served over a bed of white and red quinoa with a side of sautéed red and dinosaur kale.

This agile wine showed a lime-centric core wrapped in layers of melon and a touch of something pleasingly tropical.

It’s a definite keeper at $17 a bottle.

Damn the Torpedoes, Festival Season Ahead

I’ve already reported on the 2011 versions of ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and there’s a lot more wine event action ahead.

Rhone Rangers Report

This weekend, the Rhone Rangers hold their yearly grand tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

There are events on both Saturday (March 26) and Sunday (March 27). Here’s a link to details, with the featured tasting scheduled from 2-5 p.m. Sunday. Prices are $45 at the door.

This group is focused on promoting American wines with strong ties to the Rhone Valley of France. Rhone-style wines can be made from 22 different varieties of grapes, including syrah, grenache, mourvedre (all red) and viognier, roussane and marsanne (all white).

If I were picking California’s leading Rhone-style wine producers I’d be sure to include these two Central Coast stars:

Tablas Creek, which is owned by the same family that owns one of the Rhone’s greatest estates — Chateau de Beaucastel.

And, Zaca Mesa, a delightful winery in Los Olivos that started planting vines in 1973.

Both wineries will be pouring at the Rhone Rangers event in San Francisco.

East Bay Action

The East Bay Vintner’s Alliance puts on its annual Passport event next Saturday (April 2). Tastings are grouped at six urban wineries in (naturally) the East Bay.

Tickets are $40 and that includes a free shuttle bus between the wineries, BART and the Oakland Ferry Terminal.

There are 21 wineries pouring samples. Public transit is definitely the way to go, unless you’ve got a designated driver!

Tasting stops include: JC Cellars and Dashe Cellars — which share a building near Jack London Square in Oakland; the brand new Cerruti Cellars tasting room in Jack London Square; Periscope Cellars, an Emeryville producer that has moved its tasting room to a new location at Linden Street Brewery in Oakland which I wrote about in one of my earlier blogs; Rock Wall Wine Company, located in an old airplane hangar in Alameda; Rosenblum Cellars, which still has a tasting room next to the Alameda Ferry Terminal; and Urban Legend, a small winery located in an old commercial building on Oakland’s 4th Street.

For a full list of participating wineries, click here.

What’s Next?

I’ll be reporting on lots of wine tasting events over the coming months, from Monterey to Mendocino. Here are a few of the major attractions on my radar:

April — East Bay Vintners Association Passport

May — Santa Lucia Highlands Gala

June — Auction Napa Valley 2011, TAPAS Festival (Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society),  Taste of Mendocino

If you have a favorite wine festival, tasting or other wine-related event coming up over the next few months, please let me know about it.


Zinfandel Takes Center Stage

February 2, 2011

Every year, about this time, thousands of zinfandel devotees assemble in San Francisco for a chance to taste the latest offerings from the best producers in the country.

This past Sunday marked the 20th anniversary of the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) grand tasting, held at Fort Mason.

ZAP Media Room Bottle Lineup


More than 200 wineries poured more than 1000 different wines at this event. Out of the 127 wines that I tasted, here are my favorites:

A for Acorn

The Acorn Winery 2008 zinfandel from heritage vines on their Sonoma estate is a $32 keeper. It’s slightly jammy, but not over the top. The mouthfeel is smooth and the flavors run to the plum side of zinfandel. There are some blackberry fruit highlights mixed in for good measure. This wine got better with each sip and I think it would improve with a bit of bottle age or aeration.

The 2008 Dawn Hill vineyard bottling from Baldwin Wines, a small Sonoma producer, was a stunning example of dry-farmed zinfandel grown near Sonoma Creek. This $28 bottle tasted of fresh raspberries and was very smooth and easy to drink. It’s predecessor, the 2007, won gold medal honors at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in 2010.

I also enjoyed two wines poured by D-Cubed Cellars, a Napa winery with a steady hand when it comes to zinfandel. Both the 2007 Napa Valley blend ($27) and the 2007 Korte Ranch (32) showed well with a streak of wonderful cherry fruit that wouldn’t quit.

Goodness Runs in the Family

Fields Family Wines showed again why Lodi continues to be a hotspot for good zin. A bottle of 2007 old vine zinfandel from the Sherman Family Vineyard, showed a smoothness and almost pinot noir-like femininity that belies the area’s reputation for big, high-alcohol wines. Ryan Sherman, whose family owns the vineyard, is also the winemaker for Fields. Controlling the yields, which can easily reach 6-7 tons per acre if left unchecked, helps keep this $24 wine under control and in good form.

Another family-run outfit — Frank Family Vineyards — earned its reputation as a premium cabernet producer, but they did a great job with zinfandel in 2008. Their Napa Valley zinfandel ($34.50) was one of the smoothest tasting wines to pass my lips at the ZAP get-together. It blended a nice nose of blackberry and violet with black fruit flavor and a peppery nuance that gave the wine just enough zip to stand up to a grilled steak or red-sauced pasta. Click here for our video of a recent visit to Frank Family Vineyards.

The Rued Winery is also a family affair that has been in the California wine business for 125 years (six generations!). They farm a lot of chardonnay plus a bit of merlot, cabernet and pinot noir, but it is their wine made from a four-acre plot of zinfandel grown in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma that caught my attention at ZAP. There’s a bit of baking spice on top of some delicious blackberry fruit that tastes great for this $25 bottle from the 2008 vintage.

Wines For the Future

Several wineries offered barrel samples of wines not yet ready for release. Two stood out as wines with outstanding potential.

Bedrock Wine Company’s 2010 barrel sample of old vine zinfandel from the famed Monte Rosso Vineyard in Sonoma is a great wine that’s going to be even greater. It’s a field blend with 70 percent zinfandel and 30 percent mixed red grapes. It is fruit forward (think sweet blackberry) with a touch of mint on the nose and on the tongue. No word yet on pricing, but check with the winery for timing of this release.

Robert Biale Vineyards 2009 Black Chicken, a deep, dark zinfandel, is going to be a great wine. It’s already good as a barrel sample with ripe blackberry and raspberry flavors plus a nose of sweet fruit. It will cost $40 upon release. I’ve had several vintages of this wine, which has yet to disappoint. Check with the winery on release dates.

Two Famous Chefs, Two Great Wines

Not everybody who’s good in the kitchen, is also good in the vineyard. But, don’t tell that to Pat Kuleto, famed restaurant designer, and celebrity chef Michael Chiarello.

Kuleto Estate Winery made a fantastic 2008 Napa Valley zin ($35) that featured ripe, sweet fruit and rich red berry flavors.

Chiarello Family Vineyards’ 2009 “Giana,” named for one of the famous TV chef’s offspring, is a delightful wine that comes down on the plum side of zinfandel. It’s a smooth-tasting red wine ($35) that earned a 93 rating from Wine Spectator.

Stack of baguettes for ZAP wine tasters


Central Coast Star

I have also enjoyed the zinfandel from Opolo Vineyards on the Central Coast. It’s an extra-friendly establishment, with an emphasis on personal hospitality that’s refreshing. Even better is their just released 2009 Mountain Zinfandel. This $28 wine, made from grapes just up the hill from the Paso Robles winery, featured a hint of cranberry alongside raspberry flavors tinged with spices. Opolo’s Summit Creek 2008 zinfandel offered a different take on what this grape can do. This is a decidedly more masculine wine that pushes the jam factor up a couple of notches, but not too far to make it over-sweet. Delightful!

Best Buy in a Box

Bota Box offered a 3-liter box of California zinfandel for $19.99 — that’s $5/bottle for some pretty good juice. The wine was a moderate red color and it was tasty, leaning toward raisins and plums in the mouth, but not too sweet . There’s just enough acid to balance the taste out. I’d gladly pair this with barbecued pork ribs, burgers, pizza, or a ham and cheese sandwich.

Two Big Tasting Events Ahead

January 21, 2011

There’s a wine competition of some sort nearly every week, but the San Francisco Chronicle’s massive judging of American wines is something special, giving Bay Area imbibers a chance to sample the biggest all-USA wine list in the country.

The  SF Chronicle Wine Competition winners — and many of the other entries — will be featured in a one-day event scheduled Feb. 19 at Fort Mason. Advance tickets and all the details about the tasting are available online for $65. Tickets at the door, if available, are $80.

Six sweepstakes winners were announced earlier this year. There were 5,005 entries from wineries in California and 22 other states.

SF Chronicle Sweepstakes Winners

Four of the top wines were made in the Golden State, including three from Paso Robles — Thatcher Winery’s 2008 Triumvirate (zinfandel, $36), a 2008 cabernet sauvignon ($32) from Ecluse Wines and a late harvest sauvignon blanc dessert wine (2009, $30) from Alapay Cellars.

The other California sweepstakes winner was Sonoma’s Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, which drew high praise for its 2006 brut rose ($42), the competition’s top sparkling wine. I reviewed the 2005  vintage, another winner in my book, in an earlier blog.

A New Mexico gewurztraminer, St. Clair’s 2009 ($11), surpassed all other white wines in the judging while a $12 2010 rose of sangiovese from Washington’s Barnard Griffin was chosen as the best pink wine of the competition.

Warning: 20th ZAP Ahead

The 20th edition of the world’s biggest tasting of zinfandel wine is coming up in San Francisco next weekend.

The Zinfandel Advocates and Producers grand tasting at Fort Mason runs from 2-5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 29. Tickets are $70 ($60 for ZAP members, who get in an hour early). 

More than 250 wineries will pour their finest offerings at the grand tasting. ZAP also sponsors a series of more intimate (and expensive) events in the two days leading up to the main affair.

Here’s the schedule of events leading up to the grand tasting:

ZAP Warm-Up

Good Eats and Zinfandel, 6-9 p.m., Thursday January 27, Fort Mason Center. More than 50 different wines are paired with food from 50 different restaurants. Tickets are $140 for the pubilc; $100 for ZAP members.

Flights!, 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday January 28, 2011, Westin St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco. SOLD OUT

Evening with the Winemakers, Dinner and Benefit Auction, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. ”  Westin St. Francis Hotel. Sit down to dinner with the world’s top zinfandel winemakers and bid on auction packages to benefit ZAP charities. Tickets are $225 (includes one-year ZAP membership) in advance.

New Oakland Wine Bar — Punchdown

There’s a new, fun place to taste wine in downtown Oakland, the Punchdown at 2212 Broadway.

The menu showcases a nice selection of about three dozen wines by the glass, carafe and bottle at reasonable prices. The focus is on “natural” wines, made without excessive manipulation and/or chemicalization. A limited, but tasty menu, is served all day.

Punchdown took over the same storefront that was vacated several months ago by the Franklin Square Wine Bar.

It’s a comfortable location with a nice vibe to it that made me want to come back and try more of their offerings. There are regular tasting flights of three wines each for reds and whites plus a ‘mystery flight” of three different wines selected by the house for $12. The flight is free — if you can identify all three of the wines.

Pouring All Zins, All the Time

January 31, 2010

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).

Celebrating Zinfandel — America’s Wine

January 29, 2010

The annual Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) weekend is an All-American event featuring delicious red wines from all over California.

The human headliner of the 19th annual ZAP festival — a celebration of all things zinfandel — is chef  Beverly Gannon, one of Hawaii’s most influential cooks and proprietor of the world-famous Hali`imaile General Store on Maui.

Chef Beverly Gannon

Chef Beverly Gannon

Gannon, an advocate for regional Hawaiian cuisine, was just one of many chefs whose dishes were paired with wines from about 50 different producers at the ZAP “Good Eats and Zinfandel”event held Thursday at Fort Mason.

This affair served as a warm-up for the public grand tasting on Saturday when wines from about 300 wineries will be poured. Tickets are available online for $59.

Gannon lived up to her reputation, based on the positive reaction to the dish she prepared for the Good Eats and Zinfandel crowd — Joe’s Favorite Meatloaf with Hawaiian Sweetbread Roll.

Two words — absolutely delicious!

The meatloaf matched up well with  the 2007 Old Vines zinfandel from Three Wine Company. This fruit-forward blend ($18) is made from 76 percent zinfandel,  nine percent petite sirah, eight percent alicante bouschet, five percent mataro and two percent black malvoisie.

Finding other great wines in this group was more of a challenge.

Out of nearly 80 wines that I tasted on Thursday, only a few were truly memorable. A lot of the 2006 wines were decent, but not spectacular. The 2007s, overall, were much better and the 2008s are just being released.

Stellar Wine from Selby

My favorite wine of the night was from Selby Winery in Healdsburg. Selby’s 2007 Bobcat ($34) is made from hillside vineyards in the Alexander and Dry Creek valleys. This extremely smooth zinfandel has no rough edges. It’s decadent, deep flavored, with a dartk fruit core that held everything together — simply delightful to drink.

The Selby Bobcat was a great match for a beef daube with parsley potatoes and gremolata prepared by Relish Culinary Adventures, a catering company in Healdsburg.

Another interesting wine, the 2007 Old Vine Reserve Alexander Valley fzinfandel came from Mantra Wines of Healdsburg. This was everything a zin should be with a briary mouth feel and red fruit flavors. This $30 wine paired quite nicely with a delicious braised beet and carpaccio panzanella, a type of Italian bread salad, from San Francisco caterer Graffeats.

Sublime Wines from Sonoma & Lodi

The famed Monte Rosso vineyard in Sonoma — once owned by the Martini winemaking family —  is the source of Rancho Zabaco’s premier zinfandel, available only at the winery. The 2007 Monte Rosso ($50) exhibits classic zinfandel characteristics — briary, brambly flavors along the blackberry spectrum with a fine backbone of tannins.

One of the most unexpected pairings of the evening matched the 2007 old vine Lodi zin from St. Amant Winery with a salad tossed with chocolate vinaigrette prepared by Philadelphia’s A Chef for You.

The salad featured Maytag bleu cheese, dried cranberries, and brownie croutons. The $24 zin, from Marian’s vineyard, was fresh, approachable and fruit-forward. It was ready to drink as soon as the cork was pulled. I’d also recommend the Mohr-Fry Ranch bottling, also 2007, for $18.

The weekend of ZAP activites continued Friday with an auction dinner and smaller comparative tastings before Saturday’s main event when close to 300 wineries particpated in the grand tasting at Fort Mason.

2009: A Good Time for Wine

December 24, 2009

With the economy on the way back up this year, the wine business is awash in unsold bottles and discounts are making great wines more accessible to more people.

We are blessed in the Bay Area with access to world-class wines grown within an easy drive from where we live. Napa and Sonoma are home to hundreds of small, medium and large winemaking operations, but they are not the only sources of award-winning wines.

We also find great wines coming from Mendocino as well as the Livermore Valley, Lodi and the Santa Cruz mountains plus Suisun Valley, the Claksburg region and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The choices sometimes seem endless.

I’ve been fortunate to taste hundreds of California wines over the past year from all of these wine-growing regions. Most have been good. A few have been awful. And, a few have been wonderful. Here are some of my personal favorites:

Superlative Sparkler

With New Year’s coming up fast, I’d better start this list with something festive. The creamy Royal Cuvee from Gloria Ferrer fits the bill perfectly. The 2002 vintage, a blend of 65 percent pinot noir and 35 percent chardonnay, is a $35 bargain. This wine tastes of apple and baking spice, caressed by a fine stream of tiny bubbles.

Zesty Zinfandels

Make no bones about it. I’m a big fan of zinfandel.

Each year, I look forward to the annual ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) tasting in San Francisco. Fort Mason is transformed into a zinfandel lovers paradise with hundreds of wineries putting out their best bottles for sampling. Mark January 30, 2010 on your calendar if you love zinfandel or want to find a reason to fall in love with this versatile red wine grape at the 19th ZAP Grand Zinfandel Tasting.

It was too hard to pick the best zin from everything I tasted in 2009, so I’m going to mention two.

First, the 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Napa zinfandel ($35) was spicy, vibrant and vivacious —  a winning combo.

Biale may be the only family owned winery operating within the city limits of Napa, but what makes it special is access to great zinfandel grapes and an ability to get the most interesting flavors out of the vines. I found this bottle earlier this month on the list at Teatro Zinzanni, the circus-themed  dinner show/restaurant in San Francisco.

The second top zinfandel was the 2003 Rockpile Road from Rosenblum Cellars. This wine, long since sold out at the winery, earned a 94 rating from Wine Spectator and was the No. 3 entry on the WS Top 100 Wines of 2005. Poured from magnum, the wine was all about jammy blackberry fruit with a long finish and a briary note in the bouquet that made it hard to resist a second glass.

Mauritson Winery in Dry Creek Valley also makes several good wines from Rockpile vineyards fruit. Check out the 2006 Cemetery Vineyard ($39) or just click on my blog about Mauritson.

Cabernet — California’s King

There are lots of good  cabernets in the marketplace today, making it hard to choose a clear winner.

I really enjoyed visiting three iconic cabernet-producing wineries in Napa Valley — Beaulieu Vineyards (BV), Silver Oak and Far Niente. Each winery provides an impressive backdrop for tasting some exceptional red wines.

The Georges de Latour cabernet is the top of the line offering from BV. The 2005 ($115) is a delightful wine featuring mocha overtones with rich black cherry fruit. Click here for more bout BV.

Silver Oak makes just one wine at its Napa winery– all cabernet and almost always great. The current release, 2005 ($100), is no exception. I liked the brambly berry taste with some mocha highlights. The tannins are smooth and it’s ready to drink now.

Far Niente’s cabernet is another perennial favorite. Expensive, yes, but a real value based on the quality of fruit and the commitment to quality. The current vintage (2006, $100) is the 24th in the winery’s history and it’s another winner, tasting of black fruits and chocolate with a long, sweet finish.

Little Wines, Big Tastes

I stumbled by accident on Jocelyn Lonen’s wines at my local wine store, where the wines were featured at a tasting. Lonen produced a terrific 2006 cabernet sauvignon, ($35) with a large portion of the grapes coming from the prestigious Stagecoach vineyard on Atlas Peak. Click here to read more about Lonen.

Last week, I mentioned a nice little cabernet that I’d tasted but couldn’t recall details of who made it. I found my notes and reconfirmed the wine in question was a 2004 Napa cab from Clos Valmi.

This wine, from a small  hillside vineyard owned by the Astorian family in Yountville,  is on the less expensive end of the price spectrum ($24) but it had all the characteristics of a much pricier bottle — smooth cherry fruit, integrated tannins and a long, delicious finish.

Only 59 cases of Clos Valmi  was produced and it’s in limited distribution. I bought my bottle at V Wine Cellar in Yountville, which offers a treasure trove of desirable Napa cabs along with a wide selection of other wines.

Here’s hoping the holiday season and the new year provide you with lots of opportunities to explore new wines and wineries in Wine Country. Drop me a line with suggestions about your favorite wines and wineries and I’ll do my best to check them out in the weeks and months ahead.