ZAP is the Grand Canyon of wine tastings. There's no way to experience everything, and you're certain to leave overwhelmed (in this case, drunkenly). With 250 wineries pouring nearly 1000 wines for thousands of visitors, you need a strategy.
This year, mine was to concentrate on single-vineyard wines from wineries I thought might be good. The flaw in this was that I tasted almost no wines in the affordable $10-$20 range. Single-vineyard Zin goes for $25 and up these days, and those wines aren't selling, so for many consumers this list is completely beside the point.
Why did I do it? Hedonism. I wanted to taste the best Zins from the best places from the best producers. Why not? It's my tongue, not yours.
How did I choose the wine booths to visit? Anybody who had made wines I liked in the past, I tried them again (that's me and Kent Rosenblum in the photo). That's a lot of wineries. I also tried all the new wineries who were making single-vineyard wines. (I have something to say about this worthy of its own post, so I'll write it tomorrow.)
I skipped wineries I haven't liked previously (sorry). I didn't bother with "brand" wines -- wines with cute names made from grapes from all over the place. I mostly avoided corporate wines, though I'll say again that Ravenswood's single-vineyard Zins are, as a group, still as good and as interesting as anyone's in California.
I tasted a LOT more wines than the ones listed below, but in order to keep moving, if I didn't think a wine was worth 90 points I didn't spend any time on it.
A few general observations:
* 2007 was a very good year for California Zinfandel. Dry Creek Valley in particular had an excellent '07; I didn't realize this until I looked though the list of wines I liked best.
* I'm still not a big fan of Sierra Foothills Zins or Lodi Zins, not in this league anyway. Napa Zins are a good bet.
* Balance is coming back into vogue, at least at the high end. Just last year I wrote "hot and sweet" in my notebook a lot, even in this price range. Not this year.
* However, spiciness is still an exception, which is a shame because that's a taste characteristic I like in Zins. Most winemakers seem to be going for all fruit and shying away from pepperiness.
* That said, I have to stipulate that I'm not the average Zin drinker. Matt Cline told me on Friday that he once took a stuck-fermentation wine to ZAP to demonstrate what could go wrong with Zinfandel, but because the flawed wine was sweet, everybody loved it. I was thinking of that at one booth where I grimaced at an unpleasantly hot and sweet wine and a woman next to me said, "This is my favorite wine so far!" So if you like your wines big and sweet, you're wasting your time reading my notes.
* Here's my favorite ZAP moment: Hagafen Cellars was pouring a reserve labeled "Prix," not Hagafen. I asked if 'pricks' [rhymes with Trix] was a different winery. Taken aback, the winery rep huffed, "We call it 'pree' [as in Grand Prix] when it's our reserve wine." I chuckled. "Oh, thaaat's how you pronounce it. Of course it is!" Good luck with that one. Just remember, Prix aren't for kids -- unless you're a priest (you know, 'cause they have the communion wine. Of COURSE that's what I meant.)
Moving right along, here are the wines I liked best:
Bedrock Wine Company Bedrock Vineyard Heirloom Sonoma Valley 2008 (NA): Intense blackberry, dense but not rich, with pretty violet notes and some white pepper. Leaves a lovely blackberry finish. Bedrock Wine Co. is the first project for Morgan Twain-Peterson, the young prodigy son of Ravenswood winemaker Joel Peterson. The Petersons own the vineyard, which is a mix of more-than-100-year-old Zinfandel vines planted by George Hearst and a grab bag of whatever other black grapes were popular in the late 1800s. This is a field blend, and a great one. 92
Bedrock Wine Company Lorenzo's Heirloom Dry Creek Valley 2008 (NA): Complex wine with great black and red fruit and some pepper. Interesting old-vine field blend, mostly Zinfandel with Carignane and other mixed blacks. 91
Bella Vetta Jack's Cabin Rockpile Zinfandel 2006 ($35): Strong minerality anchors this wine, which also offers plenty of Blackberry and raspberry and a nice cocoa note. Tannic on the finish. 91
Bradford Mountain Winery Grist Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2006 ($34): Packed with great blackberry fruit, it's intense but not hot. Good acidity keeps it lively. 91
Brazin Cellars Fall Creek Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($24): Superb value in a single-vineyard Zin; best in its class at the Chronicle Wine Competition, and it showed well again at ZAP. Nice raspberry fruit, quite spicy, well-balanced, and pretty blueberry on long finish. 94
Brazin Cellars Monte Rosso Sonoma Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($34): Slightly baked cherry fruit with light tannins and a long finish that elevates it. 90
Brazin Cellars Sommer Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($22): Fairly straightforward blackberry fruit, pleasant and easy to love. 90
Carol Shelton Wines Wild Thing Cox Vineyard Mendocino County 2006 ($28): A spicy wine with cherry fruit and notes of cinnamon and chile pepper. Made with uninoculated yeast, hence the name (sorry, Mitch Williams fans). 91
DH Gustafson Family Vineyards Estate Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($36): Intense blackberry with a nice cocoa note. This new winery was built by a Minnesota construction magnate atop a mountain and is architecturally and visually stunning. It's nice to see that the young vines are as impressive as the site. 90
Dashe Cellars Florence Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($32): Nice blueberry fruit, medium weight, straightforward for Dashe, but in a pleasurable way. 90
Dashe Cellars Todd Brothers Ranch Old Vines Alexander Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($32): Packed with deep dark fruit, yet an elegant mouthfeel. Density without heaviness. Excellent. Michael Dashe said, "At the house we're drinking Todd Brothers '99s. They age so well." I believe it, but you don't need to wait. 93
Downing Family Vineyards Fly by Night H&H Vineyard Oakville Zinfandel 2006 ($24): Well-balanced wine with blueberry and blackberry fruit and some appealing earthiness from a CCOF-certified organic vineyard. 91
Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($37): Full-bodied wine with dense blueberry fruit and plush tannins. 91
Hendry Block 28 Napa Valley Zinfandel 2006 ($30): Dark cherry and mocha fruit with thick tannins; nice blackberry on the finish. 90
Klinker Brick Winery Old Ghost Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel 2007 (NA): An unusual wine, savory with a salted pork note, though there's plenty of cherry fruit. Some oak on the finish. Give it a couple years in the cellar. 91
Kokomo Winery Mounts Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($27): Mounts Vineyard grapes are naturally high pH, and nobody handles them better than Kokomo winemaker Erik Miller. You get delicious blueberry fruit, ripe and soft, but not flabby. Curvaceous, if you will. 91
Kokomo Winery Perotti Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($34): Long-lasting taste with intertwining cherry, pepper and earth flavors. 91
Kokomo Winery Timber Crest Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($32): My favorite of a very strong lineup. Blackberry fruit with great acidity, so much that it hints of citrus. Tremendous balance makes this an excellent food wine that you could drink right away or cellar for a decade. Masterful. 94
Outpost Estate Wines Howell Mountain Zinfandel 2007 (NA): Spicy and peppery, with cherry fruit in the background. A savory finish. Excellent food wine that promises to stay interesting throughout the bottle. 93
Papapietro Perry Timbercrest Farms Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($45): Couldn't be more different from the Kokomo wine from the same vineyard, but also excellent. Spicy, even briny, wine with raspberry fruit and lots of pepper. Complex and savory, with a long finish. 92
Peachy Canyon Winery Especial Paso Robles Zinfandel 2007 ($40): Made from a block of vines in the Mustang Springs Vineyard that are clones from the original Peachy Canyon Vineyard. A very good wine in the big style, with blackberry fruit, a violet note and an appealing jamminess on the finish. 91
Pellegrini Family Vineyards Eight Cousins Vineyard Russian River Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($26): Black plum and cherry; all fruit with an elegant mouthfeel. 90
Perry Creek Winery Altitude 2401 Fair Play Farms Sierra Foothills Zinfandel 2006 ($28): Nice cherry fruit with some earthiness. Well-managed tannins. 90
R&B Cellars Zydeco Bingham Ranch Napa Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($29): Nice ripe cherry fruit with an interesting smoky note; long finish. 91
Ravenswood Bedrock Vineyard Sonoma Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($50): Winemaker Joel Peterson owns this vineyard, and he and his son Morgan make very different wines from it. Here, Joel goes for fruit and gets it -- nice black cherry with a pretty, perfumey note, great acidity and a long finish, albeit with tannins that imply a few years in the cellar would be a good thing. 92
Ravenswood Dickerson Vineyard Napa Valley Zinfandel 2007 ($35): Dense, with great cherry fruit and intensity, and a very long finish. Still pretty tannic and needs some cellar time, but the history of this wine shows it should drink well for more than a decade. 94
Ridge Benito Dusi Ranch Paso Robles Zinfandel 2007 ($30): Straightforward but delightful, this wine delivers very bright cherry fruit with some pomegranate. Soft tannins on the long finish. 91
Rock Wall Wine Company Monte Rosso Reserve Sonoma Valley Zinfandel 2007 (NA): Clean cherry and raspberry fruit with good balance and plenty of fruit on the finish. 90
Rubicon Estate Edizione Pennino Rutherford Zinfandel 2007 ($45): Blackberry fruit intially, turns a little brambly, as if you can taste the berry skins. A hint of mocha on the nice finish. 91
Sbragia Family Vineyards Gino's Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2006 ($28): Interesting wine with cherry fruit, some bacon fat and baked bread and a long finish. 92
Scott Harvey Wines Jana Old Vine Napa Valley Zinfandel 2005 ($35): Made from century-old vines from the Korte Ranch north of St. Helena. This wine delivers nice ripe cherry fruit with notes of cherry tobacco. Excellent balance. 93
Scott Harvey Wines Vineyard 1869 Amador County Zinfandel 2007 ($45): A few other wineries make wine from this vineyard -- which holds the oldest known vines in the state -- but Scott Harvey always does the best job. He should; he used to live there. This complex, potent wine has flavors of cherry, cinnamon and earth and a lingering finish. 92
Seghesio Family Vineyards Home Ranch Alexander Valley Zinfandel 2008 ($36): Always a favorite of mine, this wine offers dense blackberry fruit with a pretty violet note and nice acidity. 92
Seghesio Family Vineyards Rockpile Zinfandel 2008 ($36): Pretty yet packed with fruit, this wine has dense black cherry with the slate minerality and good acidity that Rockpile is famous for. Superb. 94
Storr's Winery Rusty Ridge Santa Clara County Zinfandel 2006 (NA): Balanced and elegant, with nice cherry fruit and some chocolate on the finish. 92
Three Wine Company Evangelho Vineyard Contra Costa County 2007 (NA): Nice blackberry fruit with some baked earth and a pretty violet note. 91