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2009 Zinfandels Promising at ZAP Tasting

Notes on favorite wines and vintage impressions from the 20th anniversary of the annual San Francisco event
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 31, 2011 12:00am ET

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.

Tim Eyster
Roseville, CA, USA —  January 31, 2011 4:14pm ET
Really? $75 for a California Zin? It may be the best of the year but in this economy and competition from great values such as Spanish Viojas & Portuguese Douros; Zinfandel producers need to show more discipline in their pricing related to taste not just the label. I'll bet Cedarville's El Dorado 2009 isn't 3 times less in quality or taste so that wine would be the VALUE where I would be most inclined to start in your listings.
What price would a restaurant put on the Turley to sell? With this kind of pricing discipline, no wonder COSTCO & the "Cameron Hughes-types" are selling so much through their organizations.
Terrance Rooney
San Francisco, CA —  January 31, 2011 4:16pm ET
Biale Black Chicken 2009
Brown Estate Chiles Valley 2009
Carlisle Martinelli 2009
Hartford Highwire 2009
Klinker Brick Old Vine 2009 (not Old Ghost, which tasted smoky)
Kuleto 2008 Estate (Kuleto is now owned by Foley, which is buying lots of wineries)
Novy Carlisle 2009
Opolo, a bunch of stuff
Proulx, Willow Creek 2007 (from Paso Robles)
Ridge 2009 Geyserville and Ridge Lytton Springs (best Ridge in a long time, in my opinion)
Turley 2009 Hayne
Jason Carey
willow, ny usa —  January 31, 2011 4:28pm ET
these are a few i found particularly excellent

Ridge Pagani Ranch..liked all the Ridge.. but this one stood way out to me.
Ravenswood Old Hill, Teldeschi
Deloach OFS
Easton Shenandoah.. I found the Fiddletown ones over ripe
Claudia Springs, including the blend.
Hartford Single vineyard wines, esp Jolene's
Gundlach Bundschu
Chateau Montelena.
Seghesio Cortina and Old vine.
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  January 31, 2011 4:43pm ET
Terrance, good selection, thanks for sharing.

Tim, no one likes a value more than I do, so I hear what you're saying. Zin prices are on the upswing, but at the same time many Zin producers pay Cabernet prices for highly regarded old-vines and are as meticulous in the vineyards as any of the high-end Cab and Pinot players. Quality sometimes comes at a high price. Thanks for the note.
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  January 31, 2011 6:28pm ET
Thanks Jason. So many good Zins, so little time.
George Bato
Santa Rosa, CA —  January 31, 2011 9:02pm ET
Agreed Tim, lots of great wines at ZAP. The Good Eats event on Thursday was also a great event. Interesting to taste the different, and in some cases unusual pairings. Shows how versatile Zin can be when well made and well balanced.

Biale Black Chicken
Gamba Estate and Moratto
Rancho San Miguel
Carlisle Martinelli
Mauritson Rockpile
D-Cubed Howell Mtn
Outpost Howell Mtn
Brad Rollin
San Anselmo, CA, USA —  February 1, 2011 8:02pm ET
Tim - wondering if you tried any of the Sextant wines. I hadn't tried them before, but I was really impressed with the craftsmanship that was evident across all six of the wines they tasted. The best wine I tasted all day was the unreleased 2008 Holystone, which winemaker Steven Martell pulled out from under the table after I enjoyed his other wines.

Biggest surprise for me was how restrained so many of the wines were. Sure there were some big wines (especially the Valdez and Carlisle), but many winemakers are clearly demonstrating a more refined touch with this grape. I went through a number of samples before I tasted my first BIG Zin.
Homer Cox
Warrenton, VA —  February 1, 2011 8:18pm ET
Tim- I got two bottles of the Ridge Geyserville last year for my birthday and it hit the mark, exactly the way I like Zin. Sounds from you the 2009 could be another good gift this year.
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  February 1, 2011 10:06pm ET
Brad, a good observation and I agree. Most top Zin makers have been slowly dialing back the ripeness for several years. They pushed the envelope and are now fine tuning. Every vintage is a lesson learned. Early signs of 2009 show good promise for balance and mature flavors. That's not always an easy trick with Zin. Thanks for commenting.
Thomas Kobylarz
Hoboken, NJ —  February 1, 2011 10:08pm ET
I am lucky enough to get offered Carlile and that's about all the Zin I need for the 6 or so I can acquire each year. Balanced and so well made. Good to know the martinelli is a winner.
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  February 1, 2011 10:11pm ET
Homer, I'm a big fan of the Geyserville as long as it doesn't get too ripe. Summers can get pretty damn warm in Geyserville. I think it benefits from being a field blend, with Carignane, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre. Thanks for the comment.
Richard Lee
Napa —  February 2, 2011 10:59am ET
In response to Tim Eyster:

The Turley Hayne Vineyard Zin has been $75.00 for at least 8-9 years. Sadly, it sounds like you have been unable to secure a tasting. It is always a great wine w/aging potential.I agree that the price isn't for all, but it is for some, and the wine always sells out every year. Cheers!
Ari Glazer
Florida —  February 2, 2011 1:42pm ET
I really like Bedrock - so nice to see positive comments. Carlisle is a no-brainer
Homer Cox
Warrenton, VA —  February 2, 2011 3:45pm ET
Tim- After having the first bottle of the Geyersville last year I was really surprised to find that it was a blend, not 100% Zin. Now I know why.
Tim Eyster
Roseville, CA, USA —  February 3, 2011 4:13pm ET
For Richard: I have been to SF ZAP for the last 10 yrs, beginning as a consumer then as part of industry: I do know the pricing & still don't believe Zin producers' business plans account for competitive situations. Proof: Turley has been $75 for many years. If pricing was so perfect a tie-in to quality/price then price should continue to escalate which it isn't despite marketing attempts. Cali producers are caught in an awful mind-trap that they deserve their pricing rather than earning it. There are too many vineyards/wineries having too many problems building on the assumption if they make it, consumers will buy it. Zin is a wonderful California opportunity for those producers willing to weigh-in but elitism rules w/o the focus on an image of the average consumer - I suggest we will continue to see more struggles by producers until more in-depth consumer research and less "let's see how it sells" (only then to move it out in alternative channels due to a lack of turnover). To paraphrase President Reagan's line of reasoning: Will they buy Zin in Peoria? Zins priced >$50, not likely.
Richard Lee
Napa —  February 3, 2011 6:07pm ET
Tim Eyster:
I read your response a few times and still can't/don't understand your point. My original comment spoke of the Turley Hayne Vineyard Zin. The answer is extremly simple,if YOU don't like the cost, don't buy. It makes it that much more available to me and others! Cheers!

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