Fire up the barbecue. Zin is in.
In 1991 the popularity of Zinfandel wasn’t a speck of what it is today. Wine lovers either didn’t know what it was or didn’t understand the grape. Therefore, in 1991, a passionate group of true believers formed ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. This group is made up of winemakers and Zinfandel lovers alike. Their mission is to educate the world about the greatness of Zinfandel and help it achieve its rightful place alongside other lauded varieties. ZAP throws an annual event in San Francisco, Zin-Ex, which has become the go-to destination for wine drinkers who love Zinfandel. The three day experience is the largest of its kind dedicated to one grape. I attended the entire three day event this year and found it to be a remarkably well run, focused and fun time for those who worship Zinfandel. Grand Tasting
There are four consumer events over three days. One can choose to attend everything, or pick and choose single events that speak to them If you really love Zinfandel and want to taste as many as you’ll ever find in one place, this is the weekend-long event you need to attend. More than five hundred Zinfandels are poured by over 100 wineries. Most often the winemakers stand behind the wines and talk about them. Old vintages, current releases and even a few barrel samples are available at this tasting. Local chefs are on hand cooking and dishing out signature dishes aimed to pair with Zin. Over the course of the weekend I sampled an eclectic swath of Zin produced in a wide array of styles. Single vineyards, cuvee offerings, current releases and library selections were all on display. The wide breadth of Zinfandel was there for all attendees to experience. Particularly impressive was how well the older vintages that were poured are holding up. These put the lie to the idea that Zinfandel is meant only for youthful consumption. On the contrary, like all great varieties, Zinfandel grown in the right spot and treated appropriately is indeed age worthy. Here are some of my favorites from the weekend’s events.
One vintage after another Mother Clone is a classic example of Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. Dark fruits and toast lead the nose. The palate shows off bramble and berry fruit along with an underpinning of spices. Continuing berry fruits are joined by bits of dark chocolate and black peppercorn on the solid finish. Firm acid makes this a versatile food wine. Mother Clone continues to be one of the single best values in Zinfandel. Grab a case and make it your house red.
This is genuine old vine Zinfandel from a historic ranch in Dry Creek Valley that’s been family owned for more than a century. In the glass this wine is dark, nearly inky. Dark fruit aromas follow along with bits of plum pudding spice. Blackberry, plum and black raspberry flavors are all evident on the juicy, bold, but proportionate palate. Bits of chocolate sauce, black pepper and earth are all evident on the long finish.
The fruit for this wine came from three vineyards within Dry Creek Valley. Red raspberry, vanilla and black pepper notes are all evident on the nose. Cranberry, blackberry and oodles of spice are strewn through the palate with shows depth and complexity while being light on the tongue and quite graceful. Earth pepper and hints of chocolate sauce mark the solid finish. Gino’s Zinfandel is a perfect partner for a traditional Italian Sunday Dinner.
The fruit came from the Florence Vineyard in the Rockpile appellation, way up north in Sonoma County. Bright red berry fruits, hints of toast and wisps of green peppercorn are evident on the nose. Dark plum, blueberry, spices, leather and dark chocolate notes are all evident on the bold but balanced palate. Oodles of spice, hints of mission fig and a touch of vanilla present on the long finish. Racy acid keeps this fresh and lively.
This Paso Robles Zin is loaded with bramble and peppercorn on the nose. Oodles of red cherry, spice and wisps of black olive are evident on the bold palate. A hint of peach fuzz emerges on the finish along with chicory and earth. If you need a wine to pair with smoked brisket, look no further.
Ridge 2014 Lyton Springs ($40)
Fruit for this wine came from the namesake Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. This one is only 67% Zinfandel with Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Mourvedre making up the balance. The bright nose is appealing with cracked black peppercorn, anise and black cherry aromas. The even keeled palate shows off a combination of black and red fruits intermingling. Dusty dark chocolate and wisps of roasted espresso are evident on the lengthy finish.
The fruit came from Alegria Vineyards in the Russian River Valley. Red and black raspberry aromas are joined by hints of eucalyptus on the welcoming nose. Boysenberry and black cherry lead the charge on the fruit driven and somewhat intense palate. Boysenberry, spice and bits of leather are evident on the finish.
The fruit comes from their Estate Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. It’s a true old school field blend that features 18 varieties. It was planted back in 1890. Black fruit, vanilla and pepper spice are all evident on the nose. The palate is a who’s who of dark flavors with blackberry, boysenberry, sweet dark chocolate and more all chipping in. Bits of kirsch liqueur and continuing spice notes round out the lengthy finish. ACORN consistently produces some of the best wines in the Russian River Valley, this Zinfandel is no exception.
All of the fruit came from their Napa Valley Estate. Vanilla and ripe wild strawberry light up the inviting nose. The still rich and fruity palate features tons of red cherry, continued strawberry and spice. The prodigious finish is earthy and spicy with a dusting of cocoa. At nearly 14 years old this Zinfandel still has plenty of life ahead of it.
A compote of rich berry aromas emerge from the nose. The palate is soft, lush, and eminently approachable. Black cherry notes are in evidence but beginning their descent as secondary and tertiary characteristics such as earth and leather are rising. Black peppercorn and hints of olive tapenade round out the long, elegant finish.