Way back in 2001, years before I wrote Swirl, I reported on my experience at the democratic drink-fest that was the 10th annual Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) tasting. “How was this possible without a fake ID?” one might ask. And I’m flattered you did.
Here’s an excerpt from my 2002 report, for readers who don’t have the yellowed newspaper-clipping pinned to their wine cabinet: “The crowd outside, still in thrall to the grape, created a scene somewhere between a wedding reception and a soccer riot. I joined others streaming away across the grassy park, feeling a light-headed tinge of pride that Zinfandel, despite its newfound chic, appeared to still be the quaff of choice of the hoi polloi.”
Heady stuff indeed. Back then, Zin was on the up and up, the all-American varietal that was winning hearts and minds with pluck, grit and value. The upcoming ZAP tasting is, by comparison to that double-pier, Fort Mason wine-riot, much smaller. And more expensive. What happened?
“It has transformed rather dramatically,” says Robert Larsen, media point man for the ZAP event.
Now, it’s a three-day slate of fancy dinners, an auction, a seminar and a smaller tasting that still features more than 80 wineries. In: restaurant food pairings. Not-yet-out: the traditional mountain of baguettes. Out: Ravenswood, the one-time Zinfandel-revival leader that’s in limbo after a string of buyouts. Still-in-the-game: Ravenswood-founder Joel Peterson, who leads an educational tasting of single-vineyard Zins.
ZAP’s new focus is on raising both their ticket prices and the price they pay growers to farm Zinfandel—so they don’t rip out this heritage California grape for economic reasons.
“People aren’t willing to pay what it costs to farm Zinfandel,” Kenwood Vineyards–winemaker Zeke Neeley recently told me. “When they have Zinfandel, they love it. But at the same time, they’re only willing to love it at $18.”
For over $18, I loved the olallieberry-fruited, but dry-and-serious, Kenwood Vineyards 2017 Jack London Sonoma Valley Zinfandel ($35). For under $18, 2016 Oliver’s Own Reserve Sonoma County Zinfandel ($10.99) beats a much bigger supermarket brand—2015 Kendall-Jackson Zin ($12.98)—in pretty, typical Zinfandel raspberry aromatics and a more juicy, finer finish. Full disclosure: Oliver’s is an advertiser in the Bohemian. Also: I was maybe a little over 21 at that ZAP tasting.
ZAP Zinfandel Experience, Thursday–Saturday, Jan. 30 to Feb. 1. Grand Tasting, Saturday, Feb. 1 at Pier 27, San Francisco. 11am to 5pm. Members, $75; General Admission $90; more wine, more food, more time, $185. 530.274.4900. zinfandelexperience.com.