Zinfandel Advocates and Produces (aka ZAP) always puts on a good show. This year’s Zinfandel Festival in San Francisco was no exception. The festival consists of four different events, all built around Zinfandel–that most American of all varietals. These events area:
- Epicuria, an informal dine-around Zin/food pairing experience where chefs from many of the Bay Area’s best known restaurants and caterers, create dishes around a specific vintner’s wine. Patrons select the wine (or the food) in which they are interested in trying, and taste both as they were intended. Repeat this fifty or so times (for each pairing) and you get the idea;
- Flights, opportunities to taste and compare different expressions of Zin that represent specific themes, with a chance to meet and speak with the producers and other Zin aficionados;
- Grand Tasting, a chance to taste more than 500 different Zins, from more than 150 different producers, in a single afternoon;
- Winemaker’s Dinner, an annual blow-out event that combines a reception, four-course dinner (paired, of course, with premium Zins) and auction into a benefit to fund new ZAP programs and educational initiatives.
This year, we attended two of the events: Epicuria and the Grand Tasting. The Grand Tasting is Zin, Zin and more Zin. Although we are getting a bit old for the packed, all-you-can-drink binges that many huge tastings have become, there is another way to experience such tastings—selectively and strategically. We, therefore, did our research so we could go to the event knowing what we were looking for, meeting a number of small and new producers with whom we were not yet familiar and then, following up with them afterwards.
We have discovered after years of all types of wine tastings that it’s a lot easier to exercise restraint if you have had a chance to experience some of the most interesting wines—along with food–at one of the previous events. We, therefore, warmed up for the big Saturday Grand Tasting by first spending Thursday evening at the Epicuria wine and food pairing.
Epicuria featured roughly fifty food and Zin pairings. Although we could not even dream of sampling, much less doing full tastings of each combination, we certainly came away with our own favorites. Among our favorite wines were those from new discoveries, such as McCay Cellars, Outpost (especially their Howell Mountain) and Z-52 (particularly their Truchard Vineyard Zin). We also visited a number of our old favorites such as Rosenblum (although it seems like we were just at their Summer of Love Open House Barbeque) Wilson and Ridge (especially their Lyttton Estate and Ponzu).
Foods that were paired with these wines ranged from very light Bay shrimp (from Swan Oyster Depot) to a number of different versions of short ribs braised in guess what? Zin! Among our favorites were A16’s duck terrine with pistachios on bruschetta, Wayfare Tavern’s braised lamb shoulder, and Ruth’s Chris’ baby lamb chops. Nor can we forget the air-dried, lightly spiced Ahi and sliced prosciutto from Lodi’s Wine and Roses restaurant.
After all of that preparation, we thought we were well-prepared for the main event.
The Grand Tasting was indeed grand. The problem was, by the time we walked in the door, saw the huge number of interesting Zins that were available, and began getting recommendations from people who seemed to share our tastes, our plans for selectivity went out the window. We ended up sampling a wide range of wines from Paso Robles to Dry Creek and from Mendocino to Amador and Eldorado counties.
Among our favorite discoveries, many of which were totally unanticipated, were: Robert Biale, Edmeades, Machia, Mauritson, Proulx, McNab Ridge, Hendry, J. Richards’, McCay (we enjoyed their wines so much on Thursday, that we broke our own rule and came back for more). We also became reacquainted with some of our old favorites such as Carol Shelton, T-Vine, Chateau Montelena, Mazzocco, Novy, Renwood and Rosenblum.
Oh well, so much for approaching these grand tastings strategically and selectively. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
Luckily, however, we went to the event after a full lunch, partook of the baguettes that were offered as we entered the room and even found a particularly nice cheese (Cambozola) among the many cheese selections interspersed among all the Zins.
We also learned a lesson for next year: reduce the planning, ask even more people for their recommendations and just go with the flow!