If the broad, purple-stained smiles were any indication, the ninth annual Zinfandel Advocates and Producers tasting was a success as big and bold as the grape it celebrates. An estimated 6,000 Zin lovers, from first-timers to veterans of all eight previous ZAP tastings, gathered on Jan. 28 at San Francisco's Fort Mason Center to sample more than 470 wines from 218 producers.
Excitement was high about the new releases from the 1998 vintage as well as the much-hyped 1997 wines. Opinions varied as to which was the better vintage, with some winemakers suggesting that the 1998s were less plentiful but had more fruit and body.
Other producers, such as Tim Olson of Tarius Wines in Santa Rosa, found the 1998 harvest more difficult. "There was a lot of rain, so the wines are more uneven," he said. "You had to be really careful about when you picked."
Crowds gathered around the tables of perpetual favorites such as Ridge, Turley, Rosenblum, D-Cubed, Robert Biale and Howell Mountain Vineyard. Of the 54 new wineries participating this year, those that drew the most attention were family-owned projects producing only a few hundred cases each. The ZAP floor buzzed with raves about newcomers Brown Estate Vineyards, Kunin, Tarius, Outpost and S. E. Chase Family Cellars.
"Too bad it's only one day. This is like the Disneyland of wine!" said Jeanine Burke of San Francisco, who was attending for the first time.
Melissa Jaquish, another San Franciscan attending ZAP for the first time, agreed. "It's great to see such a large event focusing on California's own noble grape," she said.
James Jackson, a ZAP regular and a proprietor of the Napa Valley Wine Exchange retail store in San Francisco, recalled the first ZAP tastings. "It's nice to see how much it's grown," he said, "and yet there's no attitude. It's like being in a neighborhood bar."
ZAP is a nonprofit organization founded in 1992 by a group of Zinfandel producers and enthusiasts. For more information about ZAP or for tickets to ZAP events, call (530) 274-4900 or visit the ZAP Web site at www.zinfandel.org.
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