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Old Vine Zinfandel at ZAP

It’s not too much to suggest that Sonoma County was the birthplace of the rebirth of Zinfandel. But to celebrate the 25th birthday of the world’s greatest Zinfandel tasting ever, you’ll have to meet us a little farther south, in San Francisco.

In years past, the annual tasting sponsored by the trade group Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) filled two piers at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center with a rowdy crowd of red-toothed Zin fans—if they could hear the crash of a hapless taster’s wine glass on the concrete floor, they only applauded and roared the more. 

This year, the tasting and related events have been rebranded a bit as the Zinfandel Experience. The grand tasting will be held at the new Pier 27 on the Embarcadero, down the road from the Ferry Building, and it’s been moved back into February, so as not to go head-to-head with the Super Bowl.

One of the reasons that Zinfandel is so celebrated in Sonoma County is that the vines themselves are tenacious survivors, and old vines are said to produce some of the best wines. Here are two old vine examples from classic Zinfandel producers.

Ravenswood 2013 Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel ($18.50)

Salient fact about old vine Zin: you can’t just plant a new old vine, so they’re in limited supply. Starting in the late 1970s, Ravenswood has sought out and locked in some of the best. This blend of 73% Dry Creek, 25% Sonoma Valley and 2% Alexander Valley Zinfandel feels most like a Sonoma Valley Zin, with its leathery, dense fruit and dried fruit aromas of raspberry fruit rollup. Chicory notes are spiced with Red Hots, grapey flavors trend toward blackberry, and the finish is typically Ravenswood grippy, but it’s a supple wine overall. The 2012 harvest was, for many vintners, unexpectedly large.

Ridge 2013 Pagani Ranch Sonoma Valley Zinfandel ($38)

Holy boysenberry, chocolate-coated prunes, blackberry cobbler, pie filling and arbor grape bombardment. Pagani Ranch is an iconic and much-photographed vineyard just southeast of Kenwood, in an area where Zin planted on the bottomland is almost out of its element. But Ridge, a pioneer in the California wine boom of the late 1960s and 1970s, has been working with Pagani since 1991, and they’ve assembled a fruit bomb from the perfect 2013 vintage. As with many old vine Zinfandel vineyards, this is a blend of grapes: mostly Zin, with a healthy dose (16%) of the purple-juiced Alicante Bouschet, and a soupçon of Petite Sirah. It’s hedonistic, not impressively tannic, and tangy on the finish, with acidity that’s just shy of clashing with the heat of the alcohol. It’s rare that I actually finish a bottle of wine that’s up for review, but after swirling and spitting for the evaluation, I didn’t want to miss another sip. These old vines have got good bones.

ZAP Zinfandel Experience 2016, February 25–27, San Francisco. Tickets start at $80 for the Grand Tasting, Saturday, February 27 at Pier 27, The Embarcadero, San Francisco. For information and tickets, go to zinfandelexperience.com.

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