SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Long ago, there was a time that I had great ambivalence toward Zinfandel. Now this was back in my younger post college days when my homies were either unemployed or engaged in entry-level positions. Zinfandel was the wine of choice for their backyard BBQs – mass market cheap stuff. I hated it and saw no redeeming value to the grape. Every time I was poured a plastic cup’s worth of the stuff my nose hairs would bristle. The swill burned my mouth and tasted more like Hawaiian Punch concentrate than wine. That was SO long ago. As a tipsy friend said to me the other day while we were throwing back a few bottles of hard cider, “Youth is wasted on the inexperienced.” Hmmm? Well, it sounded good at the time.
Today, from my current perspective as a mature wine consumer, I look back on those youthful times and cringe. We weren’t drinking real Zinfandel. And, years later, when I finally had the chance to sample high quality, finely crafted Zin made by passionate winemakers, I fell in love with the grape that I now find intensely alluring and unique unto itself.
I could try to describe this grape via poetry. After all, the wine from which it is made has many faces and personalities – perhaps more than most others. It can be masculine or it can be decidedly feminine. It is the chameleon of wines. It can be bold and full-bodied or innocent, frail, and ever so delicate. But once you try a good one – I mean a fine Zinfandel – you will be forever changed.
Zinfandel is grown across the USA but the majority of it is grown here in California. As I have already eluded there is great variety of wine that comes from this versatile grape. Some producers make a late harvest dessert version while others make it as a Rosé. Some prefer to use the grape to make Beaujolais-style light reds or very robust reds and fortified wine in the style of port. Much of this depends on the climate, location, and age of the vineyards and, of course, the winemaker’s talent.
If you’re tempted to discover this wonderful grape (or rediscover it if you’ve never been poured a well-made glass) allow me to make a serious recommendation.
Every year, Zinfandel Experience (aka ZinEX) returns to San Francisco. This year, it takes place Feb. 23-25, 2017 and will be held in three inspiring venues: One Market, Bently Reserve, and Pier 27. This is your chance to taste hundreds of Zinfandel styles from all over California’s growing regions. It’s a great way to pin down the styles that you like best and the styles that just don’t thrill you. I promise that you will make some landmark discoveries here. I certainly have over the years. This is one of my favorite California wine events. It brings together winemakers and enthusiasts; the novice taster and the connoisseur.
The weekend’s main event is Saturday’s Grand Tasting where attendees meet winemakers during the most comprehensive showing of Zinfandels in the world. At this tasting you will also enjoy food samples from restaurants and winery chefs plus opportunities to meet and taste with celebrity winemakers. Prior to the Grand Tasting are several showcase events including a "Welcome Reception" and "Farm-to-Table dinner" at One Market on Thursday. On Friday there is a seminar-style tasting and prestigious Winemakers Auction and Dinner at Bently Reserve with proceeds Benefitting ZAP’s programming, education and Heritage projects.
Tickets are available to individual events while VIP packages provide special access for an entire weekend of Zinfandel. For details and ticket pricing visit ZinfandelExperience.com. I promise you will love this event and find numerous producers who are making dream wines!
NOTE: Here are a few of my favorites who will be in attendance: ACORN Winery, Ballentine, Dry Creek Vineyard, Frank Family, Grgich Hills, Hartford Family, Opolo, Ravenswood, Rombauer, Seghesio Family, Carol Shelton Wines, Zialena Winery!
And, if you have the time, here are some others that you might try: Elyse, Francis Ford Coppola, Limerick Lane, Ridge, Robert Biale, Saddleback Cellars, Sbragia Family, Tres Sabores...
Explore, taste, and enjoy...
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