June 2008                               


ZAP!   2008

 by Paul DeRose

ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers), a non-profit organization with a mission “to educate the public about Zinfandel and its place in American culture and history,” has held annual wine tastings in San Francisco for more than 15 years. The popularity of these tastings had grown and grown to the point where it was time to put the act on the road. It now stops in many major cities throughout the US, including New York, Boston, Denver, Chicago …., and on May 22 it appeared in Washington, DC. More than thirty wineries participated in the event with each pouring a few of their choice selections.

The wineries in attendance ran the California gamut from Mendocino in the north to Paso Robles in the south and from very ripe, drink me now, to more structured, drink me later styles. Whether a suitor of Napa Cabernet, a lover of elegant Pinot Noirs, a straight Zin fan or just a plain old red wine drinker, you were bound to find something here that you liked. Examples of port and late harvest styles, and even Eizwein (Ice wine) were represented here, all Zins or Zin blends and all Red, no white Zinfandels need apply.

With more than 100 wines on display from some of the top names heralding the grape, the tasting was quite a bargain at $46.50 per person, open to the general public for 2 hours of sampling as many wines as time or endurance permitted, as well as hors d’oeuvres and a ZAP wine glass as a souvenir.

Ridge, Ravenswood and Rosenblum, the Three R’s as I like to call them (being three of the best wineries that both make top notch Zins and whose wines can be found outside of CA) led the varietal processional with some of their best. All three have also been waving the Zin banner as pioneers of the grape for 30 years or more and it’s probably fair to say that the laundry list of terrific Zins promoted by ZAP would not be possible without them. This was an exciting wine event that was really worth the trip, particularly for Zin fans or anyone who just wanted to become more familiar with Zinfandel. So, if you missed it this time around, check back same time next year. For more info go to www.zinfandel.org

Winery accessment and scores for those wines that I had the time and inclination to sample are given below, arranged alphabetically by winery. Price is estimated retail, but many of these can be found for a few dollars less.

Relatively standard fair with good structure and fruit.
84  2006 Mendocino County $18
86  2006 Dry Creek Valley $25

Solid for the price. Most of their wines are from Contra Costa County (near Sacramento), so warmer than Sonoma. Very ripe, tending toward raisiny with dusty flavors. Live Oak and Big Break are interesting examples of single vineyards from the area. These are meant to be drunk young. Their less expensive Zins I find to be decent, but simple and would recommend their Old Vines Mourvedre over their Zins in the $20 range.
85  2006 Sonoma County $23
88  2006 Live Oak $30
87  2002 Big Break $30

Solid, but a little pricey, although the Howell Mtn and late harvest were more interesting.
86  2005 Napa Valley $29
87  2005 St. Helena $32
88  2005 Howell Mtn $40
87  Late Harvest $25 (375mL)

Four Vines
Very good to excellent wines. Mostly about forward, pure fruit, but has excellent acidity to balance and not over-ripe or high-octane.
87  2006 Old Vine Cuvee $14
88  2006 Biker Paso Robles $25
89  2005 Maverick Amador County $25

Decent, but simple with some bitterness.
83  2005 Dry Creek Valley $25

J Dusi
The winemaker is Janell Dusi, who gets the grapes from her grandfather’s Dusi Ranch in Paso Robles. The emphasis here is on pure fruit and the wines are promising and very tasty, particularly the Port which was impressive.
88+  2006 Dusi $32
90+  2004 Port $32 (375mL)

John Tyler
All about fruit, but a little simple and tending towards high octane.
85  2003 Bacigalupi Russian River Valley $36
87  2004 Bacigalupi Russian River Valley $36

This was a nice surprise with fresh strawberry shortcake fruit and very good acidity. Their lesser label is Bonterra.
88+  2004 Mendocino County $24

A Mondavi family spin-off with Michael involved. Solid, but two of the three were standard fair and overpriced, but the Lover’s Lane was special.
86  2004 Pig Pen, Amador County $35
90  2005 Lover’s Lane, Mendocino County $35
85  2005 Hoodoo Creek, Lake County $35

An exciting little winery that concentrates on fruit combined with balance and relatively low alcohol. The Rack ‘n Roll was the buy, but the Zin ice wine (“Fro-Zin”) was very tasty and different.
87   2005 Rack ‘n Roll, Mendocino $14
86   2005 Graffiti Reserve, Dry Creek Valley $32
89+ 2004 Fro-Zin, Sonoma $24

They make 7 Deadly Zins. All of their wines are from Lodi. Very ripe and very good, but too ripe for me.
87  2005 Earthquake, Lodi $28
89  2005 Lust, Lodi $59

Rancho Zabaco
Owned by Gallo, these wines are solid with lots of fruit, but lack distinction. Too expensive for what they are.
86  2003 Monte Rosso, Sonoma Valley $45
86  2004 Toreador Monte Rosso, Sonoma Valley $45

This winery was started by Joel Peterson in the mid-‘70’s. He has since sold it to Constellation Brands, a mega wine group, but has stayed on as head winemaker/master of operations. Terrific wines in a big, structured style, but balanced with reasonable alcohol levels. Here, they put out what are likely their two best single vineyard Zins, as well as an old ringer that really showed the ability of these wines to age and improve.
91   2005 Teldeschi, Dry Creek Valley $35
93+ 2005 Old Hill, Sonoma Valley $60
94   1997 Barricia, Sonoma Valley $35 (current vintage)

Well, Ravenswood wins this round, but this is a fight that I hope goes on forever, because both Ridge and Ravenswood make stellar single vineyard Zins, and they’re always different and distinguished, nothing typical here. Of course, Ridge with Paul Draper at the helm was the original champion of single vineyard Zins, predating both Ravenswood and Rosenblum. Their wines are known for combining balance with complexity.
90  2006 Paso Robles (Dusi) $30
91  2006 East Bench, Dry Creek Valley $30
92  2006 Geyserville, Alexander Valley $35

The last of the Three R’s, their style is definitely more ripe and fruit forward than the other two, but the quality is exceptional, being on a par with their two old competitors.
88   2006 Contra Costa County $18
89   2006 Richard Sauret, Paso Robles $25
90+ 2006 Monte Rosso, Sonoma Valley $45

The Rued family has been growing grapes in the Dry Creek Valley for a long time, but have only recently started making their own wines. They make only one wine at present and it’s distinctive Dry Creek Valley, showing characteristic spice and backbone.
88+  2003 Dry Creek Valley $24
89+  2004 Dry Creek Valley $24

A winery that’s been around almost as long as the Three R’s and has the fans to prove it. Bright, exciting cherry fruit combined with structure are the overarching characteristics of the three wines presented. Not as ripe as the Rosenblums, but all that cherry fruit gives them a sweet edge that some will love.
88   2006 Cortina, Dry Creek Valley $36
89   2006 Old Vine, Sonoma $36
90+ 2006 Home Ranch, Alexander Valley $36

Phew, that was 42! Wines that is. Fortunately, I was spitting.
Overall, an impressive lineup. There were very few that I found to be less than very good and I was really trying to be conservative with the scores. There were quite a few more wines that I wanted to try, but just didn’t get to. So, I guess I’ll just have to come back next year. Twist my arm!

Long Live Zin!!!