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The Best Zinfandel in California: Tasting ZAP 2009

In this tough economic climate, people are spending less on the discretionary side of their budgets. If you had asked me to make predictions, I would have told you that this would likely have led to fewer people attending this year's ZAP Zinfandel festival. Certainly market data are showing us that people are buying less expensive wines, and I would have thought that meant spending $69 for a chance to taste a whole lot of Zinfandel would be hard to justify.

But the line snaking around the edge of the parking lot, and the crowds inside proved me entirely wrong this year. While I won't go so far as to say Zinfandel is recession proof, it ZAP_2009.jpgmight be true that the chance to taste as much of it as you want to in the course of a few hours is just what everyone needed in this fiscal crisis.

It helps that apart from a few exclusive brands, most Zinfandels top-out at $40 a bottle, and most really good ones hover in the $25 to $35 per bottle range. At least that might help explain the hordes of people that (as they do every year) descended upon Fort Mason a couple of weeks ago, filling two huge exhibition halls and bringing a dull roar to that end of San Francisco.

While there didn't seem to be many less people attending, there were definitely fewer wineries showcasing their wares. It's easy to understand that in these tough times, wineries might not spring for the price of exhibiting at such events. But while there may have been a few less exhibitors, there was still way too much wine to taste. I took it easy and stopped at around 150 wines, but even if I had another five hours, I wouldn't have been able to taste even a quarter of the wines on offer.

As many of you know, when I attend these large events, my goal is to taste a lot of wines in order to comparatively score them, rather than making tasting notes about each wine. I educate my palate in the process, and provide (I hope) some guidance for those who are looking to find roses among the thorns, or at least a great wine or two

Note: Many of the 2007 wines below are either barrel samples or just bottled and are not yet available for sale. Most will be available starting in the March/April timeframe. For those top wines that are available for purchase now, I have provided links to find places to buy them online.

2007 Brown Estate, Chiles Valley. $36. Where to buy?
2007 Gamba Maratto, Russian River Valley. $40.
2006 Rosenblum Cellars Lyons Reserve. $45. Where to buy?
2005 Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869, Amador County. $38. Where to buy?
2006 Valdez Simoncini Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley. $35.
2006 Valdez Rockpile Vineyard, Rockpile. $38. Where to buy?
2006 Woodenhead Martinelli Road, Russian River Valley. $45. Where to buy?

2007 Amapola Monterosso Vineyard, Sonoma. $55
2006 Cline Big Break Vineyard, Contra Costa County. $26
2006 Dashe Flowers, Dry Creek Valley. $32
2006 Dashe Louvau Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley. $32
2006 Dashe Todd Brothers Ranch, Alexander Valley. $32
2006 Downing Family Vineyards Fly By Night, Napa. $29
2007 Downing Family Vineyards Fly By Night, Napa. $29
2006 Franz Hill, Napa. $32
2007 Gamba Estate, Russian River Valley. $40
2005 Hagafen Prix, Napa. $45
2006 J Rickards Estate, Dry Creek Valley. $22
2006 Kokomo, Dry Creek Valley. $27
2006 Milliare Clockspring Vineyard, Amador County. $??
2007 Orin Swift Saldo. $28
2007 Rosenblum Cellars Maggies Vineyard, Sonoma. $45
2007 Rosenblum Cellars Harris Kratka Vineyard, Alexander Valley. $35
2006 Rosenblum Cellars Rockpile Vineyard, Rockpile. $35
2007 Sandler Buck Hill. $30
2006 Valdez Lancel Creek. $35
2007 Woodenhead Braccialini Vineyard, Alexander Valley. $36
2007 Woodenhead Guido Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino. $30

2006 Acorn Vineyards, Russian River Valley. $35
2007 Acorn Vineyards, Russian River Valley. $35
2005 Amapola Monterosso Vineyard, Sonoma. $55
2006 Cedarville Estate, El Dorado County. $22
2005 Chase Hayne Vineyard, St. Helena. $45
2006 Chiarello Family Vineyards Giana Vineyard, Napa. $35
2006 Chiarello Family Vineyards Felicia Vineyard, Napa. $50
2007 Cline Ancient Vines, California. $16
2006 Cline Bridgehead Vineyard, Contra Costa County. $25
2006 Cline Live Oak, Contra Costa County. $26
2006 Cosentino Cigar Zin, California. $21
2007 Dashe, Dry Creek Valley. $24
2006 Dry Creek Vineyard Old Vine, Dry Creek Valley. $28
2006 Four Vines The Sophisticate, Sonoma. $27
2006 Four Vines Dusi Ranch. $40
2006 Fritz, Sonoma. $25
2007 Fritz Reserve, Sonoma. $40
2007 Gamba Russian River Blend, Russian River Valley. $35
2006 Harney Lane Old Vine, Lodi. $28
2006 Hartford Family Vineyards, Russian River Valley. $35
2007 Hartford Family Vineyards Hartford Vineyard, Russian River Valley. $55
2005 Howell Mountain Vineyards Beatty Ranch, Howell Mountain. $38
2006 J Rickards Voight, Dry Creek Valley. $24
2007 Kokomo Monts Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley. $28
2005 Mantra, Alexander Valley. $30
2006 Mantra, Alexander Valley. $30
2006 Novy Papera Rach, Russian River Valley. $33
2006 Novy Carlisle Vineyard, Russian River Valley. $34
2005 Ottomino Rancho Bello Vineyard, Russian River Valley. $26
2005 Ottomino Estate Vineyard, Russian River Valley. $30
2007 Saucelito Canyon, San Luis Obispo. $18
1997 Saxon Brown Casa Santamaria. n/a
2005 Scott Harvey Old Vines, Amador County. $38
2005 Spelletich, Amador County. $25
2004 Spelletich, Amador County. $25
2005 Storrs Rusty Ridge, Santa Clara. $30
2005 Storrs Lion Oak, Santa Clara. $34
2007 Tin Barn, Russian River Valley. $27
2007 Tin Barn Dalraddy Vineyard, Chiles Valley. $27
2007 Turley Hayne Vineyard, Napa. $75
2006 Unti Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley. $26
2007 Unti Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley. $26
2007 Vino Noceto OGP Vineyard, Amador County. $28
2006 Woodenhead Braccialini Vineyard, Alexander Valley. $36

2005 Acorn Vineyards, Russian River Valley. $34
2006 Charter Oak Monterosso Vineyard, Sonoma. $42
2005 Chateau Montelena, Napa. $??
2006 Cline, Sonoma. $20
2006 Cosentino Estate Ancient Vines, Lodi. $35
2006 D-Cubed Cellars, Napa. $27
2006 D-Cubed Cellars, St. Helena. $32
2007 Dancing Lady, Alexander Valley. $30
2007 Fontanella, Napa. $36
2006 Four Vines Biker, Paso Robles. $22
2006 Four Vines Anarchy. $22
2006 Frank Family Vineyard, Napa. $33
2006 Girard Old Vine, Napa. $??
2006 Hartford Family Vineyards Highwire Vineyard, Russian River Valley. $50
2006 Hendry Blocks 7 and 22, Napa. $30
2006 Howell Mountain Vineyards Black Sears Vineyard, Howell Mountain. $38
2007 Mantra, Alexander Valley. $30
2006 Novy Barbieri Vineyard, Russian River Valley. $34
2005 Ottomino Von Wiedlich Vineyard, Russian River Valley. $34
2007 Outpost, Howell Mountain. $45
2005 Papapietro Perry Elsbree Vineyard, Russian River Valley. $36
2006 Papapietro Perry Pauline's Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley. $36
2006 Rosenblum Cellars Monterosso Vineyard, Sonoma. $45
2007 Rosenblum Cellars Carla's Reserve, Contra Costa County. $25
2006 Sandler, Dry Creek Valley. $30
2006 Sausal 90 Year Old Vines, Alexander Valley. $24
2006 Saxon Brown One Oak, Sonoma. $40
2005 Saxon Brown Casa Santamaria. $40
2007 Starry Night Winery, Lodi. $16
2007 Starry Night Winery, Sonoma. $22
2005 Tin Barn, Russian River Valley. $27
2007 Turley Old Vines, California. $25

2006 August Briggs Old Vine, Napa. $32
2006 Bear & Lion Old Vine, Napa. $25
2005 Cakebread, Lake County. $40
2007 Charter Oak Monterosso Vineyard, Sonoma. $42
2006 Cosentino The Zin, California. $21
2006 D-Cubed Cellars, Howell Mountain. $50
2006 D-Cubed Cellars Black Sears Vineyard, Howell Mountain. $50
2006 Four Vines The Maverick, Amador County. $22
2006 Hendry Block 28, Napa. $30
2007 Heritage Oak Block 14, Lodi. $20
2006 Kokomo, Sonoma County. $20
2006 La Czar, Dry Creek Valley. $45
2005 Moss Creek Vineyards. $37
2006 Rockpile Vineyards Cemetary Vineyard, Rockpile. $39
2006 Sausal 50 Year Old Vines, Alexander Valley. $18
2006 Truett Hurst Three Vineyards, Sonoma. $25
2006 Truett Hurst Rattler Rock, Sonoma. $28
2007 Vino d'Angelo, Amador County. $26
2006 Watkins Family Vineyard, Sonoma. $28

2005 Calcerous Twisted Sister. $29
2006 Charter Oak Napa Estate, Napa. $42
2007 Cline, California. $12
2006 Dogwood Cellars, Mendocino. $28
2006 Four Vines Old Vine Cuvee, California. $15
2006 Kenneth Volk Vineyards. $36
2006 Lang Oakmont Vineyards, Amador County. $19
2007 Mantra Primitivo, Alexander Valley. $38
2006 Maple Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley. $50
2006 Minnasian-Young Estate, Paso Robles. $22
2006 Watkins Family Vineyard, Sonoma. $28

2007 D'Arie Winery, Sierra Foothills. $18
2006 Nine x Nine. $12
2005 Sanctuary Vineyards Mariah, Mendocino. $25
2006 Sausal 130 Year Old Vines, Alexander Valley. $35
2007 Three Vineyards, California. $18

Comments (8)

02.17.09 at 4:42 PM

Well you really had your work cut out for you at this years ZAP event. I am only sorry that you did not come by my table to taste my wine. I think you would have been impressed. Maybe next year if we attend.
Warm Regards,

02.18.09 at 8:11 PM

Yeah - it's a tough job, but someone has to do it. It's literally impossible to taste through the hundreds of wine and leave your palate intact. There were many fantastic Zins that didn't seem to make it to your glass. This was another terrific tasting event by all the members of ZAP. Cheers!

The Corkdork wrote:
02.18.09 at 9:02 PM

On Charles Mara's comment, yes, it was too bad! The Mara was one of my top picks. The one surprise on your list, Alder, was the Maple. I was impressed by that wine and obviously you were not. Great list though. You hit at least twice as many as I did as I was taking furious notes. John

Dylan wrote:
02.19.09 at 11:41 AM

Alder, I just wanted to let you know that my friend who I gifted my prize tickets to told me she truly enjoyed the festival. She would not stop raving about it. Thanks once again for that contest opportunity.

Chris Shimoda wrote:
02.20.09 at 3:42 PM

It amazes me that the Sierra Foothills and Amador County are not more highly represented in ZAP. From my conversations with them, there seems to be some kind of resistance to paying membership fees, but I'd think it'd be offset by increased exposure for one of the region's best varietals.

Terry Rooney wrote:
02.22.09 at 1:05 PM

We are long time ZAP members and also went this year. Lots of great wines.

re: Amador and Sierra Foothills, we remain unimpressed. We just did an Amador County event two weeks ago, and of all the Zins we tasted, only Jeff Runquist was anywhere near like our favorites from Rosenblum, Brown, Biale, etc.

Andrew Wells wrote:
02.22.09 at 4:32 PM

Nice notes... I admire your stamina! I only got to taste a few...

Chuck wrote:
03.02.09 at 11:31 AM

Do you ever wander out of Napa county, like to Livermore Valley? I have tasted some of the Zins produced there, and some are quite good.

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