Zinfandel fans are a devoted bunch. Not only has the annual Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) tasting thrived for 20 years in San Francisco, but thousands of Zin buffs lined up Saturday in the drizzling rain for a chance to taste the latest releases from more than 200 producers.
The usual boisterous bash at Fort Mason drew a crowd of about 7,500 and, to mark the 20th anniversary, organizers added several new features. Most notable was a series of 30-minute vintner-led workshops, including one with Joel Peterson of Ravenswood and son Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock discussing Zin blends, and another with winemaker Carol Shelton talking single-vineyard Zins with Michael Brughelli of Kenneth Volk.
Except for a few 2006s and 2007s, most of the wines poured were from the 2008 vintage or barrel samples from 2009. The 2008s remain a mixed bag, with many unbalanced wines, but the best are showing more promise than I expected a year ago.
The 2009 Zinfandels should have wide appeal, at least from my preliminary tastings. After the 2009 harvest, many of us didn’t know what to expect. The vintage was like a good book with a lousy ending. The growing season was long and moderate, with only a handful of modest heat spikes, but the second week of October brought a tempest that dropped six inches in a few days. Growers hustled to beat the rain, knowing the thin-skinned Zin crop would not survive.
The initial 2009 barrel samples seem pleasantly ripe and balanced, offering good structure and acidity. They may seem less full-bodied and showy than the 2007s, but they wear their restraint quite elegantly. “The ’09s have really good balance and more aromatics than the 2007s. There’s a real freshness to the ’09s and a lot of high notes,” Miraflores winemaker Marco Cappelli said.
Since ZAP is not a blind tasting and many of the 2009s are still in barrel, it’s best not to read too much into individual wines. That said, ZAP can be a good indicator of the overall quality of a vintage.
You’d have to be crazy to try to taste from all 200-plus booths, but I sampled about 50 wines, certainly not an exhaustive list but enough to get a good picture. Of those, the following are some of my favorites, listed in alphabetical order, not preference. I would give all of these wines a preliminary rating of 90-94 points, non-blind, or outstanding on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale.
If you were at ZAP, what were your favorites?
Bedrock Russian River Valley Dolinsek Ranch 2009 ($NA) Deep and layered, with supple blackberry, black cherry and licorice notes.
Robert Biale Napa Valley Black Chicken 2009 ($40) Supple and richly structured, with vibrant black cherry and pepper aromas.
Carlisle Russian River Valley Martinelli Road 2009 ($45) Powerful yet balanced, with boysenberry and deep mineral tones.
Cedarville El Dorado 2009 ($22) Dense yet still light on its feet, with focused blackberry flavors.
Dashe Dry Creek Valley 2009 ($24) Crisp and juicy, with layered raspberry and cinnamon aromas and briary tannins that sneak in.
Easton Fiddletown “E” 2009 ($NA) Dense plum fruit meets layered and loamy acidity. Ends on a zesty, briary note.
Rusina Dry Creek Valley 2009 ($NA) Elegant yet complex, with supple raspberry and cinnamon flavors.
Ridge Geyserville 2009 ($35) Deeply structured and supple with exotic notes of black cherry cobbler, pepper and spicy nutmeg.
Turley Napa Valley Hayne Vineyard 2009 ($75) The standout of the tasting. It’s deep, rich and supple, with bold blackberry fruit balanced by a great beam of acidity. Ripe tannins tighten the finish.
Homepage image provided courtesy of ZAP by Wayde Carroll.