“ZAP leaves a Purple Haze Over the City”
Grapelive Special Report on ZAP Zinfandel Tasting, Fort Mason, San Francisco, CA. Jan. 30, 2010
Zap Zinfandel Fest 2010 “Purple Haze” Recap
By Kerry Winslow
This year was the 19th annual ZAP festival, a Zinfandel celebration like no other and an event for fanatics and professionals alike. Long lines and over indulging seems to be one of the main features, both cherished and loathed, for better or worse, but no one can it is not a fun tradition to gather at Fort Mason, in San Francisco, in January and stain your teeth purple. This year was harder than most to get up for with the economy what it is and the thought of fighting the crowds less appealing with each passing year, though in the end Zap won me over, and I found some new and interesting Zinfandels that wowed me and that gave me that loving feeling again. I arrived at Zap early, when only trade and media types are allowed in, about 3 hours before the massive crowds descend on the unprepared winery owners and winemakers pouring their latest Zinfandel creations, still even at that private time and being it was closer to 10am the place was rocking and buzzing with excitement. I even found it hard to fight my way to certain tables to chat with the winemakers, but then I remembered there was a quiet media only room where we could go to taste and write notes in relative peace and feel like we were being productive, and this proved to be the best way to find some new wines.
Because the event is packed with hundreds and hundreds of new release Zin and because, lets be honest here, the are many that are not so interesting, you really have to be ultra picky to get much done in terms of real reviewing, so I must admit I always miss a couple great wines each year. That said, I did find some awesome Zinfandel this year, and I’m going to focus on those here, and let others go into greater detail overall. I will also note that the “old guard” Zin producers have staged a comeback, I found that both Ravenswood and Ridge Vineyards to have found that magic again and both showed fantastic wines that deserve high praise and critical acclaim, though I tend to search out new small producers these days. Regardless it was nice to see and I must give them kudos for their efforts, especially the Ridge Lytton Springs and the Ravenswood Old Hill, as they were both inspiring and dynamic wines that showed off their terroir and the zinfandel grape to good effect.
While tucked away in the media sanctuary, with other wine writer types, no be left nameless, I was introduced to some unheard of wineries and new producers, some by word of mouth, a little eavesdropping never hurt anyone, or by just shear luck and adventurism. By pure chance I picked up a bottle without a real label that had a photocopy stuck to it that send it was a barrel sample of 2008 Zinfandel, and wow, it was an amazing wine that had it all class, texture and pure Zinfandel charm and flavors. What was this nectar? Who makes it and where are the vines, I had to know, I needed to know, I wasn’t going to be denied. Well, at first, I was, but after plugging in and doing the Google, I slowly learned more, but it took a few days to get all the details. The wine, the 2008 Baldwin Vineyards Zinfandel “Rattlesnake Ridge Vineyard” (Glen Ellen) Sonoma Valley, a barrel sample, not a finished bottle. What I found out later made it all the more impressive; in fact this was the premier release of this wine and from the very first crop of the vineyard! Okay, yeah, are most great Zinfandels from old vines, I mean older than your Grandfather’s father old, well, yes there are, but this wine seems to be the exception from any common wisdom, and it was from a new winery and an equally young winemaker! Beginners luck, maybe, but I think it is the start of a long and bright future for this vineyard and winery, that comes from tasting the wine first and foremost, though I will tell you the owner has a long career of success, so I won’t have any doubt that he’ll make great things happen here too. Gerald Baldwin is the owner and it is his vineyard where he resides, in case the name doesn’t ring any bells, he was one of the original founders of Starbucks and the owner of Peete’s Coffee, as well as many other highly successful projects! I won’t bore you with the list, as it would take up the whole page! Back to the wine, it is coming out later this year and there was only enough juice to make some 60 cases, so even though it might seem pricy at $50 a bottle, it is worth it and I think it would be good to get on his list as soon as possible. He even emailed me to fill in the details on this wine himself, and that was before I know who he was, and I can tell you, he was humble and enthusiastic when talking about this wine and the second Zinfandel his is doing and I was left with a very good impression and excited to taste this wine when it is released. (www.baldwinwines.com)
The best of show was a tough pick between five great wines that for me spoke of what real Zinfandel can be and is, the classic California drinking wine, not for collectors or people that buy luxury label, but an honest wine that you just love to drink with out pretense or fanfare. While many Zinfandels age well and are super editions to any home or restaurant cellar, most of us love the grape and wine because we can drink it now and love it for its fruity and spicy sexy goodness when it is young. So, for me these were the best of show and my top picks of the 2010 ZAP tasting, and I’m sure I am leaving out plenty of Zins that merit attention, please forgive me if I didn’t get around to mentioning your favorite, but these were mine. First up, was the stunning and complex 2007 Tofanelli Zinfandel Napa Valley, which showed richness and elegance that put it at another level than 95% of all the other Zins I tried, it was easily number one in my notes, though a few others were not far behind, like the 2008 Baldwin described above. So at number two, I have the 2008 Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley, always one of my guilty pleasures and a wine that has always stood out for me with intense fruit and a long zesty finish with a thick texture to savor, another fine vintage from this quality winery. At number three I had another barrel sample to go on, but again I trust myself that the finished wine will blow you away, it is the 2008 Biale Vineyards Zinfandel “Black Chicken” Napa Valley, another winery that always impresses me and Bob Biale is a talented guy, no question this is world class wine and a hedonistic Zinfandel with gobs of black fruit and vibrant flavors and superb depth. So then the 2008 Baldwin Zinfandel “Rattlesnake Ridge” Sonoma Valley, number four. Now it is down to my final selection from this years Zap Zin Fest, and this was a tough call, because there were two other wines that were very close to breaking into the top five, the two Sandler 2008 Zins, made by Ed Kurtzman, the talent that also crafts Roar and August West Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay, all of which are great wines, including his two new Zinfandels and the other runner up to number five was the 2006 Talty Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, another wine I had not heard of before and one of the wines I was turned on to by those selfless other wine writers in the media area, that instead of quietly getting their own scoop, happily pushed me in the right direction, thanks guys, that was classy of them. The Talty 2006 was the best of that vintage I found at the show, and a very lovely wine, it would be good to check in on these guys if you get to Dry Creek, I know I will. Also, I must add one more to highlight before getting to final pick, and that would be the J. Dusi Zinfandel Dusi Ranch, Paso Robles, I was lucky enough to get a chance last summer to tour and taste their wine at the Dusi Vineyard and I loved their 2007 at the time, and I gave the 2008 at Zap my top Paso Zin nod. Okay here it is, the last wine and word from the 2010 Zap, at number five, I have to go with the near perfect California Zinfandel and one of my all time weaknesses, the Ridge Vineyards 2008 Lytton Springs Estate, Dry Creek, Sonoma County. There you have it, my top five wines, with out a doubt, all wonderful picks no matter the order and all wines that I will buy this year no question. The Ridge Lytton Springs especially with come home with me many a night or BBQ when it is released this summer, with loads of red and black fruit and peppery spices it really speaks to me and I like the briar and fresh berry tanginess.
Sometimes we in the industry get jaded or burnt out on crowded events and sometimes high volume, rock concert like groupies can put you off, but somehow Zap can overcome theses petty pains and put huge smiles on everyone’s face and give us all lots of fun and pleasure. While Zap makes for a long day and leaves a ringing in your ears, it also leaves you with sense of pride in our grape, the Zinfandel, and it is always a very, very happy place with the most enthusiastic wine fanatics in the world.
Top Five Zins from this years ZAP:
2007 Tofanelli Zinfandel Napa Valley
Most Zin lovers will know that some of the best Turley wines in the past have used fruit from the famed Tofanelli Vineyard and that this small production Zinfandel is one of the most interesting wines made from this grape. This vintage of Tofanelli is near perfect and this Zin shows off all its talents with rich and flavorful layers of dark fruit and polished balance and class, not always found in modern Zinfandels. This wine is everything that Zin can be without crossing that line and being over the top or bloated, it has lush sweet fruit and smooth texture, but still is lively and fresh. The nose is crushed berries and spicy leading to a blackberry, plum, raspberry and currant filled palate that flows in waves in the mouth. There is some tangy boysenberry, briar and wild spices that pop into the mix that adds to the whole and the finish is long and savory. ($36 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2008 Baldwin Zinfandel Rattlesnake Ridge (Barrel Sample)
2008 Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley
2008 Ridge Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley
2008 Biale Zinfandel Black Chicken Napa Valley (Barrel Sample)
Others to watch:
Ed Kurtzman, Sandler Zinfandel, and “The Industrial” Zinfandel tasted very good in 2008 barrel samples and should get even better closer to release later this summer. I also enjoyed the 2006 Talty Zinfandel Dry Creek, and will look forward to trying more of their wines in the future. Old favorites from Ridge and even the old vine Ravenswood showed very well in barrel samples from the 2008 vintage, and Four Vines had their very rich and focused 2007 Biker Zin in the press room and it was a go to wine with snacks. I want to mention J. Dusi as well as this was a chance to try their third release, the 2008 and it was very good and looks to develop further, so be sure to check it out when it is on the shelf, which should be soon.