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Travels zap-2011

Published on January 30th, 2011 | by Greg

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A Wide World of Zin

We don’t know where the name comes from for cer­tain, but that hasn’t stopped Zin­fan­del from be­com­ing one of the more com­mon va­ri­etals plant­ed in Cal­i­for­nia vine­yards. And de­spite the de­struc­tion of many of the vines dur­ing Pro­hi­bi­tion, what was for­mer­ly the most com­mon grape plant­ed in Cal­i­for­nia has made a strong come back. Old vine plant­ings still ex­ist, some which have last­ed over 120 years, hence the “old vine” des­ig­na­tion on some bot­tles even though the term doesn’t have any le­gal mean­ing.

De­spite the be­wil­der­ing back­ground, Zin is one of Amer­i­ca’s pre­mier grapes. So we put aside the our per­son­al tastes, which tend more to­wards Pinot Noir, and vis­it­ed Fort Ma­son to­day for the an­nu­al Zin­fan­del Ad­vo­cates and Pro­duc­ers Grand Tast­ing- if we want­ed to get a taste of Zin, this was the place. We ar­rived to a packed event, full of folks wait­ing to try vi­no from over two hun­dred winer­ies, most lo­cal but some from as far afield as Italy. Each of the small ta­bles typ­i­cal­ly fea­tured two or so dif­fer­ent wines, all of them Zin or Zin blends. When you ar­rive, you’re hand­ed a glass, a pro­gram, and pro­ceed around the hall sip­ping and pour­ing and tast­ing, and try­ing to scratch notes on each pour- a try­ing task due to a lack of open table space, chairs, and the press of time/lim­it­ed con­sump­tion. De­spite our best ef­forts, we man­aged to hit on­ly forty or so of the ex­hibitors, in­clud­ing the fa­vorites from our last ar­ti­cle, Acorn Win­ery. Prices on the bot­tles ranged from a bit un­der $10 to $50 or so, and most were re­cent vin­tages, 2007 or so on­wards.

Be­fore we move on to men­tion­ing the in­di­vid­u­al pro­duc­ers, it is worth not­ing that the pro­gram broke up the group in­to many dif­fer­ent lists, in­clud­ing nor­mal ones like pric­ing and ap­pel­la­tion, to more in­ter­est­ing ones such as how many gen­er­a­tions a win­ery had been in the fam­i­ly and even the wine­mak­er’s hair col­or! Since they were ar­ranged al­pha­bet­i­cal­ly though, we’ll sort that way as well. The spe­cif­ic vin­tages are not list­ed, pri­mar­i­ly for space and be­cause most winer­ies of­fered on­ly a cou­ple. For in­stance, the Ha­Gafen Cel­lars wine we tried was from Na­pa, and it tech­ni­cal­ly is called the 2005 Prix Re­serve Moskowite Ranch Block 61… oof! If in doubt, con­tact the pro­duc­ers di­rect­ly and they’ll al­most cer­tain­ly know. And note that many of the wines may not be wide­ly avail­able.

An­cient Peaks was one of the first that grabbed our noses- a fruit-front, fair­ly spicy fin­ish, clas­sic Zin that al­so was a good val­ue at $16 or so. By com­par­i­son, the Artezin (a pun which we could for­give if there were not quite so many very sim­i­lar), of­fered tast­ings that felt not quite ripe. And while Bartholomew Park was pass­able, one of the worst of the day was one we re­al­ly want­ed to like- the bio­dy­nam­ic and or­gan­ic Beaver Creek. We agreed that the an­ti­sep­tic nose and off-taste were one of the worst of the show, and bare­ly drink­able in the on­ly one we tried from them, the 2007. Of course, wines vary wide­ly from year to year and area to area, and some mak­ers of­fer vast­ly dif­fer­ent ver­sions- for in­stance, Beaver Creek’s 2007 Zin was from Lake Coun­ty, while their 2008 Zin came in­stead from Rus­sian Riv­er Val­ley.

Two more that were of note in the B’s were Brazin, which at the very least of­fers dis­tinc­tive and in­ter­est­ing pack­ag­ing. And Brown Es­tate had a wine whose name drew our at­ten­tion- Chaos The­o­ry- but proved to of­fer a cou­ple of wines draw­ing mixed re­cep­tion. De­scribed as warm and fuzzy, they were sim­ply a bit non-de­script. Cake­bread Cel­lars seemed a bit over­priced at $40+, but was at least dis­tinc­tive- a brassy, cop­pery Zin that ac­tu­al­ly end­ed up warm­ing in­to some­thing smooth and mem­o­rable, if not easy-to-en­joy. Cedarville of­fered a vanil­la/oak com­bi­na­tion that was fair­ly en­tic­ing, but Cel­lar No. 8 drew us clos­er with their talk of a wine that matched well against pep­per­oni piz­za. Odd­ly, it end­ed up be­ing their more ex­pen­sive, 2006 $25 bot­tle in­stead of the 2007 $10 bot­tle, but we liked it nonethe­less.

Not ev­ery wine stands out be­cause of some­thing spe­cif­ic. D-Cubed of­fered a bal­anced Zin, that was one of our over­all straight-for­ward fa­vorites- it was just drink­able, light and fruity, of­fer­ing depth but easy pair­ing op­tions. By con­trast, Danc­ing Bull ‘s 2007 was one of the jam­mi­er wines, and with a weird twist of earth on the nose that made it work bet­ter than many full-fruit wines. Danc­ing La­dy and Dashe couldn’t quite com­pare in our eyes (or mouths).

Fontanel­la was an ear­ly top con­tender for our best and one more like­ly to buy. It had an old world feel, smooth and with a hint of tof­fee or caramel that had us think­ing about it lat­er and nod­ding our heads hap­pi­ly. Gnaughty ap­peared to be all mar­ket­ing- the wine was on­ly so-so and un­re­mark­able. But that was bet­ter than Ha­Gafen Cel­lars man­aged- their Zin­fan­del felt and looked wa­tery and of­fered a fla­vor pro­file clos­er to card­board. The Head­banger wasn’t ac­tu­al­ly so pun­ish­ing- it sim­ply felt a bit over-ripe. Lu­cas Win­ery from Lo­di, though, re­pelled us com­plete­ly- a sin­gle sip had us snack­ing on bread and run­ning to clear our palates (which we were able to do quite nice­ly, thanks to San­Tasti wa­ter- more on that in an up­com­ing re­view)

We tast­ed grape­fruit and leather, a sur­pris­ing­ly good com­bi­na­tion, from Mike and Mol­ly Hendry Wine (yes, re­al­ly). And Ma­trix seemed flo­ral to us, in a nice way, that wasn’t over­pow­er­ing or per­fume-y. Sap­phire Hill’s Zin brought out the to­bac­co notes that can be found in some Zins, but it was Mantra Wines that knocked our socks off. The sin­gle most dis­tinc­tive wine we tried at the show was theirs, a 2007 that they men­tioned off-hand­ed­ly was smoky. It turns out to have been a year of for­est fires in Men­do­ci­no, and the re­sult is a wine that is in some ways more like whiskey. It’s not a clas­sic Zin, it might not age well, it would be hard to pair and easy to dis­like- but it’s in­ter­est­ing, chal­leng­ing, and pret­ty darn good if you can for­get that you are drink­ing Zin­fan­del.

Sledge­ham­mer wasn’t so strong as it was herbal, but quite de­cent, and Sto­ry­book was sim­ply dis­ap­point­ing. Tal­ty of­fered a toasty-to-jam ex­pe­ri­ence in each sip that was quite good- a wine we’d def­i­nite­ly try again. The Fed­er­al­ist’s (warn­ing, link caus­es au­dio to play au­to­mat­i­cal­ly) cos­tumed char­ac­ter was no­table; their wine, de­cent and well-tuned though sparse, was not-so-much. One of the best val­ues we saw at the show was from The Oth­er Guys, for­mer­ly part of Se­bas­tiani and mak­ers of Plunger­head and Leese-Fitch. Sure, the names might not draw you in, but the $10-$12 price per bot­tle for a husky, throaty, full-bod­ied wine should.

Thanks to ZAP- the Zin­fan­del Ad­vo­cates and Pro­duc­ers- as well as the in­di­vid­u­al winer­ies par­tic­i­pat­ing in to­day’s event. A va­ri­ety of oth­er events hap­pen through­out the year, in­clud­ing cruis­es, events in Kansas City and Austin, and of course next year’s event which we are al­ready look­ing for­ward to.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.



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