Saturday, February 2, 2013

ZAP Zinfandel Festival Grand Tasting 2013

The Annual Zinfandel Festival, sponsored by Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP),  is an unpretentious,  down to earth, interesting event that almost any wine drinker should enjoy. On Saturday, February 2nd, 2013 we attended the Grand Tasting event during the 22nd Annual Zinfandel Festival at The Concourse in San Francisco. This was the last of four events, prior ones being the Epicuria Food and Zin Pairings, the Flights Tasting and the Zinfandel Winemaker's Dinner.  We were at the festival from 10 AM to 1 PM during the Trade section of the event, which opened later to the general public at 1 PM.  Our favorite Zins from those we sampled are listed at the end of this report.

Although Zinfandel is often thought of as the quintessential American wine varietal, it did not originate in the Americas. Genetic testing in 2001 demonstrated that the Zinfandel grape is the same as the Crljenak Kastelanski grape from Croatia and is related to the Primitivo grape found in Italy. Zinfandels were brought to the U.S. in the 1820’s and were originally known as Black St. Peters when they were used as table grapes. By 1857, Joseph W. Osborne’s Oak Knoll vineyard in Napa County was being praised for its wine made from the Zinfandel grape. In 1972, Bob Trinchero at Sutter Home Winery accidentally developed some white Zinfandel, a light, sweet, rose wine that became so popular that six bottles of white Zinfandel are now produced for every one bottle of red Zinfandel wine. In 1991, a group of winemakers, including Mike Grgich, Jerry Seps and Joel Peterson, founded ZAP or Zinfandel Advocates and Producers to support education and scientific research regarding the Zinfandel grape. By 1993, it was discovered that the Zinfandel and Italian Primitivo grapes were very similar. By 2001, genetic testing finally proved that the Zinfandel grape was the same as the rare Croatian grape called Crljenak Kastelanski.

Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, Zinfandel is usually associated with unpretentious, reasonably priced wines that are enjoyed by a wide range of people. Zinfandels can be highly variable in their personality, making them something of a chameleon grape. They can be light, soft and fruity or big, spicy and tannic, with late harvest desert wines also fairly common. Zins are now often blended with other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, etc. The Zinfandel grape itself can be highly variable in its characteristics so when blended with other varietals there is an even greater range of possibilities. I can think of no other wine that can be so varied in its presentation. There is a style of Zinfandel to accompany just about any mood or food.

Zinfandel is about as “All-American” as apple pie, bald eagles and the Fourth of July. If there was a U.S. national wine, it would be Zinfandel. People who prefer beer to wine will often only drink Zins. Zin is probably the only varietal, that would not be out of place at a rock concert. This might have been the wine that Harry Truman served to Churchill and Stalin. It certainly is a down to earth wine that Truman would have loved. This is a varietal that is so varied that there is a Zin that can appeal to those who drive Harleys or those who prefer Bentleys. 

The morning session of the Grand Tasting was open to the Press (this time referred to as "Media") and Trade but, unlike last year, there  was no special section where press representatives and wine writers could escape from the crowd and engage in some serious wine tasting by pouring their own wines and having a place to sit down and take notes. (Interesting wines tasted lead to a visit to the winery booth to try more of their wines and talk to the winemaker or representatives.) Even then, though, I was unable to taste all of the hundreds of wines.  I can't taste and spit 200 plus wines without my mouth feeling like a horse stall in desperate need of being mucked out. This year my palate was still fresh at the end, but I simply ran out of time. I had to hold a glass in one hand, spitting cup in the other with the notebook under my armpit while trying to weave in to get a pouring.  Then came the backing out to avoid obstructing others and the search for a place to put things down to take notes.  I kept dropping my notebook and finally abandoned taking tasting notes and simply scored the wines on the 100 point scale. 

I have no idea how the great wine critics are able to take such extensive tasting notes on so many wines at these events, unless they utilize some electronic recording device. Check out the 2012 ZAP Grand Tasting report of Alder Yarrow at Vinography  or the even more detailed notes by Richard Jennings at RJ on Wine (Richard Jennings' 2013 Grand Tasting report is not posted yet and Alder Yarrow indicated he was unable to attend this year.)

If you like wine and are interested in an educational experience that is fun, friendly and unpretentious, you really should consider attending next year’s Zinfandel Festival. There is  nothing else quite like it. Whether it is the Flights Tasting, Epicuria food and Zin pairings, Winemaker Dinner, or Grand Tasting, there is something for everybody and you are sure to have a good time. The Concourse is easy to find with a Google map and there is plenty of parking nearby. Glasses are provided at the tasting with enough food that you will not need a lunch.

500 Zinfandels were offered for tasting from 204 different wineries! There are were many Zinfandels that we did not have time to taste, but of those we did taste, these were my favorites:

Bachtobacchus Favorite Wines Tasted at ZAP 2013
Bedrock 2011 Pagani Ranch Heritage Wine, $37, 92 points
Bedrock 2011 Vineyard Heritage Wine-$36, 90 points
Carol Shelton 2009 Wild Thing Old Vines, MendocinoCounty, $19, 90 points
Charter Oak 2010 Old Vine Monte Rosso, $48, 94 points
Ottimino 2009 Rancho Bello, RussianRiver, $30, 91 points
Ottimino 2010 Biglieri Vineyard, Dry Creek, $38, 94 points
Outpost 2011 HowellMountain, $48, 93 points
Puccioni 2010 Old Vine Dry Creek, $29, 93 points
Ridge 2010 Carmichael, $28, 91 points
Ridge 2011 Geyserville, $38, 91 points
Ridge 2011 Lytton Springs, $38, 93 points
Ridge 2011 Primitivo, to be released 9/13, best U.S. Primitivo I've ever tasted, 95+ points
Robert Biale 2011 Black Chicken, $42, 92 points
Robert Biale 2011 Old Kraft, unknown price, 91 points
Robert Biale 2011 Rocky Ridge, Rockpile, NA, 93 points
Vino Nocento 2008 OGP, $29, 90 points

Much thanks to Julie Ann Kodmur, ZAP’s Publicist, for inviting us to this event. Here is the the Zinfandel Advocate's and Producer's web page: ZAP

Date of visit: February 2, 2013


  1. TJ
    Thank you for trying our Puccioni Old Vine Zinfandel. We appreciate your nice comments.


    1. Hi Glenn,
      Thanks. I picked up exactly one winery card while we were there this year and that was for Puccioni. We might even stray from Napa and do our first Sonoma County winery write up. Cheers, TJ

  2. TJ,

    Great recap--wish I could have been there. You've got me really intrigued with the Ridge Primitivo.


    1. Hi Nick,
      I contacted Ridge to purchase their Primitivo and learned that it had not been released yet. I placed an order for some Ottimino Zins and am in the process of ordering some from Puccioni so will likely write some follow-up Zin reviews. Thanks. TJ


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