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ZAP’s annual San Francisco tasting ushering the arrival of Zinfandel as a serious grape
In 1991, when ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) held the first of its annual tasting extravaganzas in San Francisco, there was little inkling of just how big an event it would become. All the original organizers knew is that Zinfandel – a cultivar singled out by California’s winegrowing pioneers as far back as the 1850s – was in danger of becoming an under-appreciated grape, and they wanted to exhibit an unprecedented show of unity in support of this varietal wine, while offering consumers an opportunity to experience the best of them in one place.
A smash-hit from the get-go, the ZAP festival quickly built up its yearly attendance to as much as 8,000 purple-teethed zin fanatics. In past years, it wasn't uncommon to see Zinfandel lovers brushing their chops in the restrooms, then head out to sample more party juice. With at least 250 producers pouring two to six different zins each, ZAP's yearly event was the highlight of the year for wine lovers who crave the dark, lush, full bodied hedonism of Zinfandel.
Last year, for the first time, ZAP held its "grand tasting" at San Francisco's Presidio, dividing its tasting events into three separate buildings so that Zinfandel lovers can experience the wines in more intimate settings, and carry on conversations with winemakers in more civilized fashion. This year's event takes place at the Presidio on Saturday, January 31, 2015. You can find more information, or sign up to attend, by visiting zinfandelexperience.com.
If you've attended ZAP events in previous years, at the Presidio you will notice the disappearance of the wild, crazy party atmosphere. Zinfandel, if you will, has become a more serious wine. The growers and producers are encouraging consumers to focus more on things like the complexity of the grape, and nuances related to where specific bottlings are grown (what the French would call terroir).
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, after all, has always been a non-profit, member-based, educational 501(c)(3). Proceeds from events like the yearly San Francisco tasting go towards the preservation and recognition of Zinfandel as America's heritage wine; and particularly, ongoing research, with the help of U.C. Davis, on clonal strands of this variety of Vitis vinifera.
One thing we do need to say, especially to Zinfandel naysayers: tasting big zins is not especially hard. Even average quality Zinfandels offer plenty enough juicy fruit qualities that cushion the palate just fine, despite alcohol levels as high as +15%. Aficionados of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, or Australian, French, Italian or Spanish red wines need hardly hold up their noses; since when you actually look at most of the red wines being produced around the world today, you see that almost all of them now average over 14% alcohol – not much different than your typical modern day Zinfandel.
If anything, contemporary style Zinfandels are beginning to shed excess weight, and are getting sleeker and zestier each year. A lot of this is because consumers as well as critics have been recently giving more credence to balanced, elegant styles that avoid ultra-ripe, raisiny or over-oaked tastes. Zinfandel growers have been responding by farming to achieve all the flavors Zinfandel lovers love, but at lower grape sugars –which translates into lower average alcohol levels – and winemakers have been working hand in hand to craft more subtle styles of the varietal in the winery.
Attention, Lodi AVA wine lovers: between 11:45 AM and 3:15 PM at the January 31 grand tasting, lodiwine.com's Randy Caparoso will also be conducting a series of small workshops focused on the regional styles of California Zinfandel, co-sponsored by The SOMM Journal. For further details, please visit zinfandelexperience.com/#!sommelier.
Caparoso will start with a tasting of two Lodi Native Zinfandels, with the winemaker/owners of Lodi's m2 Wines (Layne Montgomery) and Macchia Wines (Tim Holdener) chatting about their widely acclaimed project – focused on the more fragrant, feminine style of Zinfandel for which Lodi is becoming better known. In fact, to gain a better perspective on what makes Lodi "Lodi," you might want to sit in on Caparoso's other workshops, which will focus on the Zinfandels from Amador County, Calaveras, El Dorado, Contra Costa, Lake County, Mendocino, and the Rockpile AVA in Sonoma.
Lodi wineries, of course, will be well represented at the January 31 ZAP event. Among the ZAP member/wineries producing Lodi grown Zinfandels:
Fields Family Wines
Gnarly Head/Brazin Wines
Harney Lane Winery
Jessie's Grove Winery
Klinker Brick Winery
LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards
Oak Ridge Winery
St. Amant Winery
Van Ruiten Family Winery