Thanks mostly to the 1 Wine Dude 2012 Zinfandel Festival Giveaway, I had the pleasure of attending my first Zinfandel Festival, an unabashed three-day Zinfandel spree, put on by the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (“ZAP”). I say mostly because, I won (guess I can’t say I NEVER win anything anymore) tickets for two to two of the four events put on by ZAP – Epicuria; Food & Zin pairing, and the Grand Tasting, which I attended with my wife. Since I attended with my wife, fun was in order, so no tasting notes for those two events (It’s a lot more work, than fun to taste and write up a bunch of tasting notes at such events). I also attended Flights – a seminar style tasting, which explored the different styles of Zinfandel.
For this, the 21st annual Zinfandel Festival, Flights and the Grand Tasting were held at a new venue – The Concourse in San Francisco.
You’ll find a few of my favorites wine and food pairings from Epicuria, detailed tasting notes from Flights, and my recommended Zinfandel producers from the Grand Tasting.
Epicuria – Food and Zin Pairings
Zinfandel is a grape with naturally moderate to high acidity, yet it’s not typically considered among the pantheon of food friendly wines. But my personal experience is that Zinfandel has very good “foodability” (new phrase picked up at ZinFest;-) It’s so much more than a burger and ribs wine! The event featured pairings of 50 Zinfandel wines with creations from master chefs.
My favorite Food and Zin pairings were:
- Duck prosciutto, pistachio goat cheese mousse and citrus from Taste Restaurant paired with Terra d’Oro 2008 125 Year Old Vines, Deaver Vineyard, Amador
- Tortellini Porcini with Black Truffle Cream from Il Davide Cucina paired with Starry Night Winery 2009 ,Alexander Valley, and 2009 Old Vine, Nervo Station Vineyard, Alexander Valley
- Mojama (Cold-smoked Ahi Tuna) from Wine & Roses Hotel Restaurant, Spa paired with McCay Cellars 2008 Equity Zinfandel, Lodi
Flights – Forum of Flavors
Flights was an educational tasting to showcase different styles of Zinfandel. There were three flights of wine, each representing a different style of Zinfandel, and each having a separate panel of winemakers. The panels were moderated by Joel Peterson, Winemaker Ravenswood Winery, founding BOD and 2-time President of ZAP.
Joel Peterson stated that Zinfandel is the “Rodney Dangerfield” of wines. In many respects that’s true. It’s frequently characterized in the press as a high alcohol, ripe and overly jammy “monolithic” beverage. In my mind Zinfandel is no different that other wines in that its produced in a variety of styles. My other take-aways from the panel discussions were as follows:
- Zinfandels are great weeknight wines
- Zinfandel a very tough grape to grow because of uneven ripening
- The lower alcohol style of Zinfandel are more versatile food partners
- The higher alcohol style of Zinfandel may not be as food friendly, but again like other wines, sometimes the wine is the treat, and consumed either before or after a meal
- Finesse style Zinfandels around 14% ABV may be thought of as comparable to Cru Beajolais in style
- Moderate style Zinfandels between 14-15% ABV comparable to Italian Tuscans in style
- Big style Zinfandel over 15% may be thought of as comparable to Southern Rhone style.
- Big Zins love simple foods
- High alcohol wines not necessarily unbalanced wines. Dave Phinney mentioned an 18.1% ABV dry Grenache from France that was very balanced. He submitted that his wife, who is sensitive high alcohol wines, enjoyed it.
- Zinfandel does so well in California does well because it’s planted in the best spots
- Old Vine love is more about the intrinsic value of these historic vines than economics
The “Finesse” Flight – Around 14% ABV
Chris Leamy – Winemaker; Terra d’Oro
Doug Nalle – Winemaker/Founder Nalle Winery
Julie Johnson – Owner/Winemaker Tres Sabores Winery
- 2008 Montevina Zinfandel Terra d’Oro – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County
Light garnet color with fruity, spicy red fruit aromas. On the palate light-bodied, with good acidity, and raspberry, strawberry, and baking spice flavors. Medium finish. 13.5% ABV Suggested retail $11.99 (86 pts.)
- 2009 Nalle Zinfandel – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
Light garnet red color with sweet red cherry, pomegranate, dust, and pepper aromas. On the palate, light-medium bodied with cherry pomegranate, and spice flavors, and well integrated fine tannins. Good balance with a medium finish. 87% Zinfandel, 9% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignan, 1% Mourvedre, 1% Alicante Bouschet and Golden Chasselas. 13.6% ABV Suggested retail = $36 (87 pts.)
- 2009 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel – USA, California, Napa Valley
Light-medium garnet red color with spicy savory red fruit aromas. On the palate light-medium bodied with raspberry, boysenberry, red currant, and spice flavors. Approaching medium finish. 77% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah, 1% Carignan. 13.6% ABV Suggested Retail = $27. (86 pts.)
- 2009 Tres Sabores Zinfandel Rutherford Estate – USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
Medium ruby color with mixed dark fruit, pepper, and spice aromas. On the palate medium-bodied refined, and deftly balanced with boysenberry, raspberry, faint white pepper, and bramble flavors. Medium-plus finish. 14.2% ABV Suggested Retail = $35 (89 pts.)
The “Moderation” Flight – Between 14-15% ABV
Tim Bell – Winemaker; Dry Creek Vineyard
Randle Johnson – Winemaker; Artezin
Dr. J Bernard Seps – Tractor Driver/President/G.M./Winemaker Storybook Mountain Winery, and founding ZAP member
These Zins are the predominant style and alcohol levels in the marketplace. This style is sometimes referred to as the “claret” style.
- 2008 Ravenswood Zinfandel Teldeschi – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
Medium ruby color with dark fruit, spice and cedarwood aromas. On the palate medium-bodied, with a nice vein of acidity balancing out the fruit and tannins with black cherries, cassis, and vanilla spice,flavors. Medium + finish 75% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignan, 2%Alicante Bouschet. 14.5% ABV Suggested Retail =$35 (88 pts.)
- 2009 Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Spencer’s Hill Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
Medium ruby color with fruity cherry, cranberry, and white pepper aromas. On the palate medium-bodied with black cherry, black raspberry flavors supported by firm tannins. Short-Medium finish. 80% Zinfandel, 9% Petite Sirah, 8% Syrah, 3% Grenache. 14.9% ABV. Suggested Retail = $38 (87 pts.)
- 2010 Artezin Zinfandel Mendocino County – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County
Deep ruby red color with dark red fruit, spice and pepper aromas. On the palate, medium-bodied with supple but firm tannins and raspberry, dark cherry, and spice flavors. Medium+ finish. 89% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, 1% Carignan. 14.5% ABV. Suggested Retail = $18 (87 pts.)
- 2009 Storybook Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel Estate Reserve – USA, California, Napa Valley
Dark ruby-red color with tight red fruit, baking spice and a hint of chocolate aromas. On the palate medium-bodied with tart raspberry, and pomegranate flavors. This on is still young. Short-medium finish. 14.7% ABV. Suggested Retail = $60 (86 pts.)
- 2007 Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Old Vines Louvau Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
Deep dark garnet black color with aromatic mixed berries, and sweet oak aromas. On the palate, medium bodied, intense, smooth and structured with well-integrated fine tannins and blackberry, red currant, black raspberry, and clove. Medium-long finish 98% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sirah. 14.8% ABV Suggested Retail = $32 (91 pts.)
The “Big” Flight – Above 15% ABV
Dave Phinney – Owner/Winemaker; Orin Swift Cellars, and Flying Winemaker
Tegan Passalacqua – Winegrower; Turley Wine Cellars, and founding member of Historic Vineyard Society
Jeff Farthing – Asst. Winemaker; Michael David Winery
These are the “Big Boys” of Zinfandel big, bold, ripe and intense which are often scored 90+ points
- 2009 Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel Rockpile – USA, California, Sonoma County, Rockpile
Dark garnet color with dark red fruit, sweet oak, earth, and dust aromas. On the palate medium-full bodied, intense with black cherry, pepper, and a touch of vanilla spice. Medium finish. 15% ABV. Suggested Retail = $38 (88 pts.)
- 2009 Orin Swift Zinfandel Saldo – USA, California
Dark garnet color with strawberry black cherry and a touch of funk aromas. On the palate full-bodied, voluptuous supple tannins and dark cherry, blackberry, chocolate flavors. Long finish. 80% Zinfandel, 9% Petite Sirah, 8% Syrah, 3% Grenache. 15.5% ABV. Suggested Retail = $28 (91 pts.)
- 2009 Robert Biale Zinfandel Aldo’s Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll
Dark black-red color with aromatic dark red fruit, dust and baking spice aromas. On the palate full-bodied, with velvety mouthfeel, and black cherry, boysenberry, and baking spice flavors. Medium-long finish. 98% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sirah. 16.1% ABV. Suggested Retail = $75 (90 pts.)
- 2009 Turley Zinfandel Mead Ranch – USA, California, Napa Valley, Atlas Peak
Dark garnet color with tight aromas of fresh dark red fruit. On the palate intense, brambly, and hedonistically creamy with blackberry, plum flavors. Medium-long finish. 16.1% ABV. Suggested Retail = $35(88 pts.)
- 2010 Michael-David Vineyards Zinfandel Earthquake – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
Deep carmine color with dark red fruit, cedarbox, and chocolate aromas. On the palate medium-full bodied with dark cherry, blackberry, pepper and vanilla flavors. Medium-long finish. Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. 16% ABV. Suggested Retail = $26 (89 pts.)
- 2008 Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel Reserve Monte Rosso Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
Dark nearly opaque black red color with dark fruit, clove, and sweet oak aromas. On the palate medium-full bodied with vivid fruit flavors of boysenberries, vanilla and spice with a long, smooth finish. 16.4% ABV. Suggested Retail = $45 (90 pts.)
Grand Tasting – From A to Zin
The Grand Testing featured 197 wineries (probably 400 wines). All were from California, which isn’t surprising given that Zinfandel is California’s heritage wine, except three, one each from Arizona, Italy and South Africa. I tried 75 wines before tapping out. I highly recommend the following producers, whose lineup I tasted through and found all to be excellent:
The Usual Suspects – Bedrock Wine Co., Dashe Cellars, JC Cellars, Ridge Vineyards, Robert Biale, and Woodenhead
New to me – Black Sears Estate Wines, Tres Sabores, and Valdez Family
This was a fun and educational event. It’s been my experience that Zinfandel’s “foodability” is vastly underrated, so it was great to see it paired with a wide range of foods. Flights gave me a chance to experience the “rainbow” of Zinfandel styles, and learn a few things about making Zin, and the Grand Tasting was like a great reunion with my epiphany wine!