Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ephemera: Special ZAP Edition

About every eight or nine years Zinfandel is predicted to be the next big thing. There was a time when Syrah was regularly predicted to be the next big thing, but Syrah’s thing seems to have withered and fallen off. Zinfandel is wine’s eternal bridesmaid—so close to the altar, yet so far. And it seems Zinfandel is, right on schedule and according to Jon BonnĂ©, and others, poised to take its rightful place in the Millennials’ marriage bed, once again more cherry than raspberry. I doubt it. Will folks replace their single-vineyard Pinot Noirs with Zinfandel? I don’t see that happening.

There are routine and reliably dull articles that most newspaper wine critics, very much an endangered species, so please don’t buy any black market horns harvested from any of them, are forced to produce. How many “Winemakers to Watch” articles can we stand? All those gifted young people striving to make wines that allow the vineyard to speak! I live in wine country, it’s fucking noisy with all these damned vineyards expressing themselves. I wish those vines would just shut the hell up. Yet another regularly scheduled article focuses on the critic gazing into his crystal ball and predicting what the next wine trend will be. Oh and there’s the wine and chocolate article at Valentine’s Day, the Thanksgiving article on what wine pairs with turkey, and the annual wistful essay about the meaning and romance of wine. I love those. They rarely mention getting drunk, but you sense the critic is pretty much trashed as he’s writing it. It’s not the critics’ fault the columns are so predictable. Readers demand that sort of comfort article, and it’s their job to crank it out. So every eight or nine years, an article appears about Zinfandel, predicting that it will finally get its due. Zinfandel has had so many breakout years it’s the measles of varieties. But it won’t become a big thing this time either. And I’m glad. And Zinfandel just doesn’t care.

People who have been around California wine a long time have seen Zinfandel cycle through styles over and over. High alcohol Zinfandel--you know what I’m talking about, that gigantic, extracted, very ripe style that some folks call hedonistic but I call Pennzoil--comes into and goes out of fashion on a regular basis. I’m not talking about balance, really, I’m talking about big, chewy, sweetly-textured Zins, which might be huge and loaded with alcohol but are still balanced. Not my favorite style. I think of a lot of those wines as parodies of Zinfandel—like they were made as a joke, an exaggeration. I appreciate parody, but not in wine.  Balance comes in many shapes and forms. Does the wine have balance like Baryshnikov? Or is it more like the elephant doing a headstand?

Lots of elephants at ZAP, but, it seemed to me, fewer than four or five years ago. There weren’t as many wineries doing Turley impressions—not even Turley. One of my favorite Zins of the day was the Turley 2013 “Vineyard 101” Zinfandel from Alexander Valley. It was scintillating Zinfandel, with great aromatics (aroma is the first thing that suffers when a Zin is hugely extracted, at least to my way of thinking), almost delicate aromas, but powerful and authoritative on the palate showing black and blue fruit with a bit of pepper and herbs. Not the Turley style I remember from the ‘90’s at all. It seemed much more sophisticated, though sophisticated Zin is sort of like a monkey in a tuxedo.

I started looking around the tasting for other Zinfandels that featured pretty and compelling aromas. As usual, Bill Easton’s wines were gorgeous Zins, some of the best arguments for Zin from the Sierra Foothills. The Easton 2011 Estate Zinfandel from Shenandoah Valley was another favorite of mine from ZAP. It’s really beautiful Zinfandel. Just like a great book, you want to keep your nose in it. But it’s never a surprise that his Zins are terrific. Easton gets Zinfandel, understands that it’s a grape that needs finesse.

Probably because of the vintages being offered, there were a lot of great Zinfandels at ZAP this year. I tasted about sixty wines (there were around 100 producers, most of whom had several Zins to taste, so I only scratched the surface)—my usual mix of great producers that serve to focus my palate, and wineries completely new to me. It’s an engaging way to taste at a large tasting. Some classic, never-miss Zin producers followed by a rookie. And sixty wines in about three hours is more than enough. Truthfully, it’s a terrible way to judge wine, to fix a wine with a number, and I’d urge you to ignore anyone who scores a lot of wines from a tasting like ZAP. It’s intellectually dishonest, and simple ugly human hubris. It’s like judging a dog show only you’re drunk.

My favorite Zinfandel from a new producer was Zialena 2012 Alexander Valley Zin. Zialena is the brand from the Mazzoni family, longtime growers in Alexander Valley. Mark Mazzoni makes the wines, and the Zinfandel is just gorgeous. Everything I want from Zinfandel—it’s a little bombastic, but shows the restraint that great Zinfandel has (think Ridge Geyserville). It’s polished, but not showy. I’m not sure why anyone would buy wine on my say-so, but this is damned good Zinfandel.

I’ve rambled on too long. My favorite Zins, aside from the ones already mentioned, and in alphabetical, not numerical, order were Bedrock 2013 Heritage VineyardElyse 2010 Black Sears Vineyard, Hartford 2012 Fanucchi-Wood Road, Hendry 2011 Block 28, Limerick Lane Anything but especially the 2012 Bedrock Vineyard, Quivira 2012 Dry Creek Reserve, and Talty 2011 Estate.

And, lastly, ZAP was a pleasure to attend this year. There’s a point where it gets pretty damned crowded, but that’s the nature of a huge wine tasting on a beautiful day. It was well-organized, with lots of interesting seminars (none of which I attended, but that’s probably a good thing for the speakers), great food trucks, and plenty of volunteers policing the areas. To the ZAP organizers—Well Done! Much improved over last year. Thanks for letting the HoseMaster attend, and without a name tag! That saved my ass.


Quizicat said...

Did you spit, or were you trashed by the end? I can imagine rolling through that many big Zins could leave you with the sensation of having your tongue hit with a 2 by 4 made of Oak. Write on!

Unknown said...

Ah Ron. so disappointed.. why didn't you taste 250 wines in an hour and rate them 9.5 9.0.. it's is so informative when Walder does it.. love the line sophisticated Zin is like a monkey in a tux.. reminds me of my pool playing days when Minnesota Fats said putting a pool player in a tux is like putting whip cream on a hot dog.. sounds like a great tasting.. people don't realize the amount of differences you can find in Zin..

Don Clemens said...

Between the elephant handstands and the well-dressed monkey, I wasn't sure where this one was going. But, as always - I was entertained. And, I'm going to get some of Bill Easton's Zin.
Thanks, Ron!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Of course, I spat. And tasting 60 Zins at ZAP isn't any different than judging 60 Zins at a wine competition, except for the noise and the sweaty bodies--wine judges are notoriously loud and aromatic. Not all of the Zins were huge, in fact, there was more noticeable restraint in the Zins I tasted. But I rather studiously avoid the gigantic, extracted, high alcohol Zins. As I said, they aren't Zin to me, they're parodies.

Ratings and scores might be useful, but applying them in that kind of setting is intellectually dishonest. It would be like reviewing music in an elevator.

I love the Minnesota Fats line.

And ZAP is a lot of fun. People complain a lot about large tastings, but it's what you bring to the tasting, your expectations, that define it.

Zin, like any interesting variety, comes in many styles. I think I can appreciate all the styles, even the parodies, but I definitely prefer Zin with a bit of restraint.

Thanks. "Ephemera" gives me the chance to step away from the HoseMaster voice and talk about wine, or things that bother me about the wine business. It means a lot that you found it entertaining. I'm sure others will disagree.

Bob Henry said...

All those extracted, chewy, very ripe, sweetly-textured, gigantic, high octane “new style” Zinfandels from vineyard that wish to speak?

They put the phony in cacophony.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

And they took the "terr" out of "terroir" and put it in "terrible."

Marcia Macomber said...

My fave? "I live in wine country, it’s fucking noisy with all these damned vineyards expressing themselves. I wish those vines would just shut the hell up." As a marketer I can appreciate your frustration with all those damn stories out there.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
There are so many days it feels like the quality of the Story trumps the quality of the wine. Maybe you can make up a great story; it's a lot harder to make a great wine.

Bob Henry said...

I thought it was the Poodles's writing style who took the "terr" out of "terrier" and put it in "terrible"?

Bob Henry said...

Ridge bottled a 2012 "Three Valleys Sonoma County" red blend comprising 79% Zinfandel, 12% Carignane, 8% Petite Sirah and 1% Alicante Bouchet.

Under the 75% grape variety composition law, it qualifies for designation as a Zinfandel.

But that's not how they labeled it.

WineKnurd said...

Ron how are those classic 2005 white zin's coming along? Should be firmly within their drinking window by now. And I hear the upcoming 2015 vintage should be a great year for both white zin and beaujolais nouveau.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

There was a special seminar led by Larry Anosmia MS that featured classic white Zins. Larry pointed out that none of them were actually white. The 2002 Sutter Home was splendid, showing aromas of something dead behind your wall. But everyone agreed the wines were every bit as good as when they were first released.

Every year is a good year for White Zin, Knurd. As for Beaujolais Nouveau, I don't know. In the words of the great Clara Peller "Where's DuBoeuf?"

Batmang said...

I am always interested in trying wines that come with good recommendations but it can be frustrating when said wines are sold out. I suppose I just saved myself some money so what the heck...I'm sure I'll find something good to drink that I've already paid for.


Unknown said...

I lived in San Francisco when I first discovered wine. We would go to Napa and Sonoma to taste. No matter where we tasted, Zinfandel would always be last, and it would always be our favorite. As my palate matured, I would cycle through a lot of favorite varietals. But these days, I don't live in California anymore, and when I come back to visit, my favorite wine to drink is Zinfandel. love the unapologetic California fruit. I love how every region (Napa, Sonoma, Sierras, Mendocino) has its own style. I love Oregon Pinot Noir, but I do miss California Zinfandel.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Nathan,
I get it. And you're right, it's annoying to find a wine you want to try is unavailable. I never really think anyone is ever going to take my recommendations seriously or I might try to be more careful. I was simply listing the wines I liked the best on that particular day at that particular event. I probably couldn't buy most of the ones I liked either.

Zin and I have a long but tempestuous relationship, too. When I was a sommelier, I tasted a lot fewer, and didn't buy that many for the resataurant. But right now Zin is speaking to me again, and so ZAP was a blast.

Unknown said...

Sounds like Zin is poised for a breakout

Ron Washam, HMW said...

No breakout here. I been Zinoculated!