Zinfandel is an American treasure. There are great old-vine vineyards around the globe that range from Nero d’Avola in Italy to Grenache in Spain and Malbec in Argentina, but only in California can we find the finest examples of Zinfandel. And when the discussion comes around to Zinfandel and experiencing all it has to offer, one is inevitably drawn to ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers)'s Annual Zinfandel Festival, one of the premier wine-tasting festivals held in this country, and one that just happens to focus on Zinfandel exclusively.
This year’s ZAP Festival will be held in San Francisco from January 27 to 29. There are great seminars but the real attraction has to be the grand tasting, where you can try hundreds of great wines. With so many wines to choose from, it may get a bit overwhelming, but I have been able to secure a sneak peek at many of the wines that will be available and am identifying some of my favorites -- maybe they’ll be your favorites as well! Check out my first top 10 list inside.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Zinfandel is the best domestic wine. Let me define “best” though, because it is undoubtedly not true that Zinfandel fulfills some of the criteria most frequently bandied about when making these sorts of proclamations. It is not the most ageworthy nor the most complex wine, so why you might be asking, is it the best?
From blush wine to port, with virtually all styles in between, Zinfandel is made in a style to please any palate.
While its sheer accessibility might eliminate Zin from many people’s list of top wines, the fact that they are expressive early in their lives, and can evolve well over the course of several years, means that anyone can experience a Zin at its peak. There’s no need for a great cellar, nor does one have to pony up a huge premium for a well-aged example.
With few exceptions, Zinfandel -- even some of the greatest ones -- has remained well within the means of almost all wine drinkers. It’s hard to find such a wonderful selection of wines priced at under $30 that offer such distinction and unique experiences as our own homegrown Zins.
OK, here we are moving from the objective to the subjective, but the fact that Zin has played such a fundamental role in California’s wine industry has to count for something, right? From field blends to supporting roles in varietal wines and great jug wines to great single vineyard wines, Zinfandel has been there every step of the way. This also has led to a sadly decreasing, but still very robust, stock of wonderful old-vine vineyards.
And it’s those vineyards, dotted around the state but heavily concentrated in Sonoma County, that give us one of the great terroir wines of the new world. The diversity of these vineyards, from macro-climate to field blend, are the keys to Zinfandel’s vibrant resurrection over the past decade or two.
As you can imagine, there are tons of great Zins out there, and many, if not most, come from Sonoma County. In fact, there were so many wines to taste for this article that I’ve decided to split the load into two parts. Today I’ll be reviewing the wines from some regions that might be less well known, particularly for their Zinfandel production.
See pages 2-7 for a sneak preview of 32 of the wines at ZAP's Annual Zinfandel Festival this year.