Ripe and jammy Zinfandels abounded, as usual, by the hundreds as they were poured at this year's Zinfandel Advocates & Producers tasting in San Francisco. But in a sign of evolution at the 12th annual event, traditional-style Zins were sampled along with some novel libations: elegant, claret-style Zins, grappas, dessert wines and even a Zinfandel in a box (and not the white kind).
Interest in Zinfandel continues to grow, if attendance at ZAP is any indication. When the first ZAP tasting opened its doors in 1992, only 22 wineries participated. This year's festival showcased 291 wineries, including 53 new ZAP members pouring for the first time. In all, they poured a total of 776 wines for the estimated 9,000 Zinfanatics who crowded into the Fort Mason Center on Jan. 25.
"Zinfandel is much more respected than it was 10 years ago," said Jeff Cohn, winemaker for both Rosenblum Cellars and his own label, JC Cellars. That respect, according to Cohn, results in better-quality Zinfandels of any style.
Ravenswood winemaker Joel Peterson agreed. "Zinfandel is being made more seriously," he said. "Winemakers are pushing the wine quality at both ends [of the price scale]."
For the 468 wines listed with prices in this year's program, bottle prices ranged from $6 to $60, with an average of about $24. There are still some super value-oriented Zinfandels out there: 17 were priced at $10 or less. But 20 percent of those listed -- more than 90 wines -- cost $30 or more.
In addition to commanding higher prices, Zinfandel has been spreading beyond its traditional California home. (Although Zinfandel has been thought of as an American grape, its heritage is actually Croatian; DNA testing recently proved that it is the same variety as an obscure grape called Crljenak -- also the same grape as Italy's Primitivo.) At ZAP, attendees could sample versions of Zinfandels from Australia, Chile, Italy, Oregon and Baja, Mexico.
While ZAP used to be where vintners debuted their latest vintage, for many the event is now a place to generate interest in the wine that is currently on the market. Joining the barrel samples of the 2002 vintage were Zinfandels from 1997 to recent releases, with the majority of wines from 2000 and 2001.
All the different options available at ZAP might have been dizzying for some, but that didn't stop Zinfandel aficionados from enthusiastically grabbing their loaf of bread and waiting in line to try their favorites.
For those who can't make the California event, ZAP will soon go on the road again. More than 50 wineries will be pouring at tastings in Washington, D.C., Boston, and New York in April and May. For more information, visit www.zinfandel.org.
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