Sunday, February 12, 2012

ZAP Festival Reflections


 I know I have said it before and you may be tired of hearing it, but I love being in wine country because of the plethora of events available for the “just graduated from slapping the bladder” wine drinker to the most experienced oenophile. I believe it should be celebrated any time an organization can get hundreds of wineries to come together in one space to share their wines. The ZAP Festival was the latest event that deserves such accolades.

Epicuria

This festival kickoff brought together over 50 wineries and local caf├ęs, bistros, and eateries to highlight intentional wine and food pairings. I was impressed with the substantial amount of food being offered. I have attended some food & wine pairings that skimped on the food, especially given the amount of wine being poured. Let’s be honest, the good majority of participants were tasting and swallowing as much wine as they could, so having more than small bites was appreciated. One of my favorite pairing of the night was the lamb with a Zinfandel demi-glace from Ruth's Chris Steakhouse that was paired with Bonneau Vineyards. The wine was used in the demi-glace so it was easy to appreciate the pairing. It wasn’t clear if all the wine & food partners collaborated this much, but for those who did it was well worth it. I felt that this event was made by the small touches. Getting one of those plates/trays with the wine glass holder (do those things have their own name?) was appreciated. Seems like a small touch but made the whole event a little easier to navigate. Also, the partners who knew about what their colleagues were serving/pouring and why they were together was great. I am by no means an expert at pairing food with wine so I liked having them point out flavors to notice. We left Epicuria with a full stomach of delicious food and wine to return on Saturday for the Grand Tasting.

Grand Tasting
 
The ZAP Festival concluded with the Grand Tasting. A collection of 250 wineries pouring already released wines as well as many having barrel samples of their upcoming vintages. The format was similar to other large scale wine events. Rows of tables with wineries organized alphabetically and by region. It seemed that many of the staff at the tables were intimately involved in the winemaking process so it was great to be able to have real conversations about their wines. Some of my highlights of the day were the Chateau Montelena 2009 Zinfandel. With a wonderful floral nose, this wine evolved into flavors of black fruit with just a hint of herbs and spices. Another favorite was the Edmeades Winery 2007 Zinfandel from Perli Vineyards. This was a bit more a robust example of Zin but maintained nice balance that masked the 15.6% abv.
My wife (and unofficial photographer) Katie
So, besides being all about Zinfandel, what set this tasting apart from others? First, as we entered the main hall we were greeted with a sourdough baguette. Offered to all that attended the event, this was another small touch that made a big difference. Although I tend not to swallow most of the wine I taste, I imagine the baguette was a huge help to the non trade/media attendees who don’t carry a spit cup. Second was the live Twitter feed. I saw this once before at Taste of Mendocino but it is a great way to give and get real-time suggestions of where to stop. Third, and perhaps what I found the most impressive was the “Zin Zone.” This will really only speak to wine media but it is worth mentioning. This was a sectioned off area that had many of the wines being poured in the main hall. Media could enter the zone, pour their own glass and taste through lots of wines. After experiencing the main tasting, I went to the Zin Zone and was able to go through many more wines, finding great examples of Zinfandel. Knowing everyone around you was media was also nice as we shared recommendations. For example, I wouldn’t have found the 2010 Mauritson Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley had it not been for a fellow wine writer. For me, this was the wine of the event. Expecting it to be very young, this wine had exceptional balance and approachability. This seemed to be a wine that many people also enjoyed and will be one to try and get your hands on.

All and all, I really enjoyed this event and the little things that went in to making it great. I encourage everyone to check it out next year because with so much variety in Zinfandel being produced. I guarantee you could find something you like, even if you don’t currently put Zinfandel in your favorites category.

Cheers!

Jesse

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