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Zapped by Zinfandel

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jan 25, 2007 12:29pm ET

It was sometime around 1990 when Jerry Seps approached me about how Wine Spectator might increase its coverage of Zinfandel.

Seps is the owner-winemaker of Storybook Mountain in Napa Valley and a long-time champion of Zinfandel. A former history professor at Stanford, Seps left teaching to pursue winemaking and, in particular, focus on producing Zinfandels that would age well. He also wanted to expand Zinfandel's fan base.

At the time, Zinfandel had been struggling with an identity crisis. While its core following has always been strong—for many wine lovers Zinfandel rules, Z is the first letter of the alphabet—the grape, and the wine, had undergone a rugged decade.

The red wine version, led then by what I dubbed the Three Rs—Ridge, Ravenswood and Rafanelli—was strong in some areas, particularly single-vineyard expressions of the grape. Yet winemakers were still confronted by a broader market of consumers who thought Zinfandel was a pink wine, as in white Zin.

Many of the best old-vine Zinfandel vineyards had lost their cachet, and their grapes were used for white Zin. Curiously enough, white Zin saved those old vines. Had it not been for the popularity of those "pinkies," most of these gnarly stumps would have been uprooted in favor of the then-hot commodity—Chardonnay or maybe Cabernet.

Luckily those vines survived.

The day I met Seps, I offered to help him. We at Wine Spectator were all big Zinfandel fans, and we felt that the wine deserved to be treated as seriously as any other. In order to expand our coverage, and devote more attention to the wine, we needed to taste as many bottlings as possible. If the Zinfandel community would pull together and submit its wines for review on an annual basis, we’d include Zinfandel as an annual report.

Seps understood. In 1991, he and other Zin lovers formed Zinfandel Advocates & Producers.

Today ZAP has some 300 member wineries, and on Saturday, the organization's annual rally will take place at Fort Mason in San Francisco. The event draws a huge throng of Zinfanatics. Lots of purple-stained teeth. Little spitting. Passion galore, but definitely not for the faint of heart. One year when I arrived at Fort Mason, I thought I had the wrong venue, until I pulled into the parking lot and realized that what looked like a Hells Angels rally was really the Zappers lining up to wet their palates.

If you've never been to this ZAP event, well, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Just make sure to wear your darkest clothes and bring any riot gear you have. It could come in handy.

Coming tomorrow: The Future of Zinfandel

Chris Hilliard
Minnesota —  January 25, 2007 5:22pm ET
Thank you very much, Mr. Laube, for this article. I am one of those Zin fans or fanatics. I am always looking for more info on Zin. Ohhh I just tried the 2003 Paraduxx. Very nice.I know it is a blend, and that was one of the reasons I wanted to try it. Never had a Zin-Cab blend before. Have you been able to try the new '04? I am thinking about getting some. Any thoughts? Thanks for your time.
John B Vlahos
Cupertino Ca. —  January 25, 2007 5:38pm ET
James, zinfandel has to be one of the most versatel of all the red wine grapes. On rare occasions the wine can taste like a fine pinot noir; at other times like a rich cabernet sauvignon. But its at its best when it expresses its own unique zin flavor, rich, fruity and pungent. When I go to a restaurant and can't find anything on the wine list that appeals to me, I will order an unknown zinfandel and almost always I have been more than satisfied. What a wine!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  January 25, 2007 5:46pm ET
Chris, I am impressed by what Paraduxx is doing. This wine allows both the Cabernet and Zinfandel to be on shine on stage without one upstaging the other. Haven't tried the 2004, but it's an excellent vintage, so it should be fine.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  January 25, 2007 5:48pm ET
John, you almost stole my blog for tomorrow...I too often buy Zinfandel when dining out. Versatile, affordable, fun to drink. Unpretentious, too.
Brian Buzzini
NorCal —  January 25, 2007 5:49pm ET
I am becoming more and more of a fan of Zins. Love the spice, florals...one's that aren't too sweet and overly high on alc. I am a HUGE Outpost fan....consider them the premier Zin maker in Calif. I know they don't submit their wines to WS for review....have you had their Zin recently Mr.L? Would love to here what you thought of them.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  January 25, 2007 6:04pm ET
Brian, I liked the Zinfandels as well, but the winery doesn't submit and I haven't tracked them down of late. But working on it.
John Thomas
Annapolis, Maryland —  January 25, 2007 6:22pm ET
I look forward to your future articles about Zin.I currently am holding a number of 2004 Zin but have not seen much in the way tasting notes from WS on Zin over the past year. When will we know who did the best job in 04.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  January 25, 2007 6:30pm ET
John, we ran a small report in the June 30 Buying Guide. Go to our wine search and put in 2004 Zinfandel for our full list of reviews of 2004. More coming as I type.
Gerald Ansel
Fullerton, CA —  January 25, 2007 8:30pm ET
Hello, James. What's up with Rosenblum's Rockpile Road? The latest review on WineSpectator.com is for the 2003, and I have not seen it in any of the wine stores or Web sites I frequent. Is it produced only in good vintages?
Fred Brown
January 25, 2007 8:37pm ET
John, interestingly I agree with nearly all your points except the one about California Connoisseurs. I have been especially disappointed with their reviews of Zins. Granted, they dislike Rosenblum, and we love many of the single vineyard Rosenblums, but I have bought many 90+ and even 95+ wines on their recommendation, and have often been disappointed. I've come to rely on WS, and pretty much ignore the Connoisseur ratings
Chris Hilliard
Minnesota —  January 25, 2007 8:51pm ET
John Wilen, Thank you. I am also going to join the "Paraduxx club" and get some myself. Thanks. Mr. Laube Thank you for the reply.
Dick Neidich
Charlotte, NC —  January 25, 2007 10:24pm ET
James, I saw your rating of 2002 Ch. Montelena Estate Cab at 72, while I also saw Robert Parker at 95 points.Having tried this wine I cannot comprehend why your rating is this low.I could understand 3-5 point swings.What I find amazing is I prefer Parker to your ratings/tasting notes for California, I prefer Suckling to Parker for Bordeax, etc....How can you be that far apart is my question on a quality wine?Please do not respond that you trained your pallet to find TCA when not really detectable...
John Thomas
Annapolis, Maryland —  January 26, 2007 8:56am ET
Gerald, I'm holding an 04 Rockpile Road. Haven't read any tasting notes on it yet. Hopefully WS will catch up on 04 Zins.
Glenn S Lucash
January 26, 2007 8:58am ET
Try Rosenblums Annettes Reserve Zin 04 for a great bottle at 25$. Has not disappointed since the 97 vintage.
Scott C Silton
Mountain View, CA —  January 27, 2007 1:14pm ET
I have to disagree with John W on one and a half things...

1. Ravenswood is a minefield of mediocrity living on past glory. I gave up on them after a number of flawed bottles and a couple that weren't flawed but were a chore to drink. The old R mnenomic is in trouble! (Renwood has been shakier, too).

2. Spicy fare (like much BBQ/SW) and high alcohol wines (like Zin tends to be) aren't often a great match. BBQ that isn't spicy-hot does work with Zin but also goes very well with Syrah and its meaty tones. I've been pleasantly surprised matching Pinot to upscale Mexican / Southwest (but not BBQ).

Question:It seems that neither 05 or 06 had weather favorable to Zin, especially not in Sonoma. Anyone else have insight into Zin vintages looking forward, including from Sierra or Central Coast? Should we stock up on 04 while we still can?
John Thomas
Annapolis, Maryland —  January 28, 2007 9:47am ET
Thanks John in Texas, I am a big fan of Zin and have been collecting a number of 04's. Green&Red, Orin Swift, Turley, and other Rosenblum's. JL has only rated 33 Zins so far so I'm looking forward to a full report.
Branson Lowe Iii
Wilmington, NC —  January 29, 2007 2:21pm ET
I have been a big fan of zins as long as I have been drinking wine. There are lots of good zins and I have enjoyed drinking them. I was recently at a wine tasting we have at our club and one of the distributors reps were talking and I was explaining to him that one thing I liked so much about zins was the great fruit flavors and also the spice on finish. white pepper ect..He told me that recent zins 04' were less spicy and more fruity. Is that true and if so why?I did have one zin that seemed to follow his comments. It was little light on the finish with less spice. Is this a weather related issue or is this a trend of he wineries and how they are now producing the zins these days?ThanksBranson Lowe

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