San Francisco's biggest public wine tasting -- ZAP -- is, like many of today's Zinfandels, completely over the top. With 250 wineries pouring, it's impossible to try them all.
I'm here to help. I got a sneak preview Thursday night at Good Eats, my favorite part of the annual Zin fest, in which about 50 wineries poured a couple of Zins each. Every winery paired with a different gourmet food purveyor, making it not just an orgy of overdrinking, but a total pork fest, and I mean that in the best possible way.
I can't comment on the 200 wineries that will be pouring on Saturday who weren't at Good Eats. But these were my favorites from the 50 who were there, and they will also be around at the main event.
Artezin Wines: 2006 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel
Carol Shelton Wines: 2006 Wild Thing Mendocino County Zinfandel
Edmeades Winery: 2007 Ciapusci Vineyard Mendocino County Zinfandel
Scott Harvey Wines: 2005 Jana Old Vine Napa Valley Zinfandel; 2007 Vineyard 1869 Amador County Zinfandel
(That's Scott and wife Jana in the photo)
Klinker Brick Winery: 2005 and 2007 Old Ghost Old Vine Lodi Zinfandel
Outpost Estate: 2007 Howell Mountain Zinfandel
Peachy Canyon Winery: 2007 Especial Paso Robles Zinfandel
R&B Cellars: 2007 Zydeco Bingham Ranch Napa Valley Zinfandel
Ravenswood: 2007 (and 1997) Dickerson Vineyard Napa Valley Zinfandel
Ridge Vineyards: 2007 Geyserville
Rock Wall Wine Company: 2007 Monte Rosso Reserve Sonoma County Zinfandel
Storr's Winery: 2006 Rusty Ridge Santa Clara County Zinfandel
A few observations:
* Kent Rosenblum sold his eponymous winery to Diageo and is now making wines with his daughter at Rock Wall, while still representing Rosenblum Winery at events. He had to walk back and forth across the hall Thursday to pour on both sides. Both wineries made a 2007 from Monte Rosso Vineyard. For me, the Rock Wall wine was significantly better. I found the Rosenblum Winery version to have a cough syrupy finish, while the Rock Wall wine had cleaner, brighter cherry fruit. Follow the man, not his name.
* Speaking of which, the pourer at Rock Wall said to me, because I started with the Monte Rosso and moved backward, "You're going in the wrong order." I said, and fully believe, "Zinfandel drinkers are never wrong."
* In a different outcome of corporation-swallows-winery, Ravenswood continues to impress me with its single-vineyard Zinfandels. The 2007 Dickerson Napa Valley might have been my favorite wine of the night: dense, with great fruit and intensity, and a very long finish. The wine is still pretty tannic and needs some cellar time, but the beautiful 1997 Dickerson that winemaker Joel Peterson poured alongside it proved that it should be worth the wait.
* Normally I prefer Ridge Geyserville to Lytton Springs, and this was the case again Thursday. Geyserville is the most elegant of Zinfandels (it's sometimes not listed as Zin because it's a field blend that drops below 75% Zin some years) and therefore should be food-friendly. That said, with the outstanding Filet Mignon Steak Tartare served up by Lark Creek Steak, the Lytton Springs was better, because the steak tamed that wine's tougher tannins. This puts the lie to the idea that the elegant wine is always better with food. (I'd still rather have a bottle of the Geyserville, though).
* R&B Cellars makes a very nice $12 Zin from Lodi, the 2007 Swingsville, an old Bargain Wines favorite of mine. But if I'm not paying for the bottle, give me that single-vineyard Napa Zin.
* I tried a Zinfandel I disliked as overripe -- Port-like, raisiny and a little sweet -- and then tried it again with Moroccan-spiced lamb, and suddenly it was actually pretty good. Maybe that's the secret to rescuing over-the-top wines: throw lamb at them.
* I get tired of reading older wine writers complaining about how Zinfandel was better back when they were younger. Yes, there are sweet, hot, over-the-top Zins. But you can spit them out. I found plenty of Zins to enjoy at this event, and there will be 5 times as many wineries pouring Saturday. If you can't find something to like there, you can't call yourself a wine lover.