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New Wines and Intriguing Blends from ZAP 2012

I attended the 2012 ZAP Grand Tasting on January 28. It was a good event. There were more than 200 wineries on hand, almost all of them pouring multiple wines. The new venue was excellent.

About the Wine

It’s safe to say that every important Zinfandel growing region and Zinfandel wine style was represented at ZAP 2012. There were released wines and barrel samples. Wineries that produce less than 200 cases of Zinfandel per year poured alongside some making many tens of thousands. Some of the wines sell for under $10. I also tasted some that go for more than $60. The only Zinfandel you couldn’t find there was White Zinfandel. And that’s okay by me.

I tasted about 50 wines. I tried enough of the usual suspects to know that you can count on them to be good again this year. But I also looked for things with which you might be totally unfamiliar.

The Best New Wines I Tried

2009-clopton-vineyard-poppy2009 Wine Guerrilla Clopton Vineyard Zinfandel Russian River Valley
Wine Guerrilla may be a familiar name to you. They’ve been something of an old vine Zinsation since people discovered their 2007 vintage at ZAP a few years ago. Wine Guerrilla has nine different wines available from the 2009 vintage. All but one are single-vineyard. Each features a different — and gorgeous — label designed by Sean Colgin.

2009 is the very first vintage of wine from the Clopton Vineyard for Wine Guerrilla. The vines at Clopton are more than 100 years old. Wine Guerrilla made just 125 cases. The wine oozed berry cobbler and spice with a touch of cocoa. Tannins are moderate and the palate smooth. You can drink it on it’s own, or with food. Highly Recommended. $35

2010 McCay Cellars Contention
I’ve written about McCay before and listed them as a recommended stop at ZAP 2012. They’ make excellent Lodi Zinfandel: complex, balanced and unique. Proprietor/winemaker Mike McCay poured me a barrel-sample from a new single-vineyard wine.

In keeping with McCay’s thoughtful style, the wine was fermented with native yeasts only and is aging in French oak, just 24% new. It will be bottled next month and released during the summer. The nose was a bit sleepy, having been rousted from barrel in the dead of night, but showed intriguing dusty berry aromatics. The palate is concentrated blue and black fruit with notes of spice. The wine will be positioned as McCay Cellars’ top-of-the-line and I expect it be a powerful and age-worthy expression of the vineyard. Look forward to it.

Delightful Zinfandel Blends

I like Zinfandel as a varietal wine, relatively unblended. It has a purity of flavor and sings with one voice. Most Zinfandel-centric, multi-varietal blends use the additional grapes to fill-in gaps in the wine without changing the core. They are still a solo performance, rounded out with some studio mixing. But, even more daring blends can be exciting and even transformative.

2009 JC Cellars The Impostor California
In The Impostor, Zinfandel is the lead singer in a group. Each member contributes something unique and identifiable. You get bold blackberry, but also leather and allspice plus notes of peach and white flowers. The blend is Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier. It’s a complete and engaging wine. Highly Recommended. $35

2008 Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Ancient Vines Sonoma
Bucklin Zinfandel garners complexity from some of Sonoma’s oldest vines. But there are more than 20 background singers too. Most are used in small amounts; some of the varieties aren’t even identifiable in the vineyard. In my glass there was a strong core of integrated black fruit complemented by subtle herb and exotic spice. Chalky tannins and ample acidity indicate this wine will age well for a decade. Highly Recommended. $34

2009 Saldo Zinfandel California
Dave Phinney collects grapes — mostly Zinfandel — from choice vineyards throughout five counties to create a blend that is both high-quality and high-volume (more than 25,000 cases). Made from Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Grenache it reminds me of seared venison with a delectable mixed berry sauce. Highly Recommended. $28

2009 Tres Sabores “Por qué no?”
Serious organic viticulture and winemaking don’t have to result in stuffy, intellectual wines. Tres Sabores’ Por que no? is blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot aged in Bordelais, Burgundian and American oak barrels. And it’s a delightful, crowd-pleasing wine bursting with fruit and spice. Having a couple of bottles on hand, you’ll want to throw a party. Highly Recommended. $24

About the Logistics

The move to The Concourse at 8th and Brannan was a huge improvement. The new spot involves a somewhat greater amount of city traffic in the immediate vicinity. However, there are significant benefits that outweigh that inconvenience.

The Concourse is much closer major freeways than Fort Mason. Getting to the conference by car this year should have been a lot easier for most people. There was more parking nearby and the Concourse is much closer to BART, Caltrain and central San Francisco.

The Concourse was big enough to contain the entire Grand Tasting in one, long hall. At Fort Mason, the tasting had to be split between two buildings. As it happened, that wouldn’t have been a big issue this year because the weather was good. But, in past years that were cold and/or rainy, a single hall would have been very welcome.

The Concourse has a warmer, friendlier vibe. The floors are carpeted and the walls and ceiling much nicer than the cold, concrete warehouse’s dubbed pavilions at the Fort. I’m looking forward to more tastings at The Concourse.

Moving on... the ZAP group did a good job of making sure that everyone attending the trade tasting got a baguette slapped in their hand before getting to the wine. That’s a very good call and I applaud the effort to keep attendees soberish. Along those lines though... they should offer more spit cups! There were too few and they were too hard to find.


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This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Wine label courtesy of Wine Guerrila, artwork by Sean Colgin. All rights reserved.