The annual Zinfandel bacchanalia, aka ZAP, concluded yesterday. If not familiar, ZAP stands for Zinfandel Advocates & Producers. Every year the organization sponsors a three day series of events culminating in a grand tasting, which has to be one of the most comprehensive tasting of a single grape variety anywhere. This year over 200 wineries participated. 

Several months ago I was asked to attend by a colleague to attend the grand tasting, taste a bit, and then speak on panel of sommeliers to discuss my favorites. I arrived some two hours after the tasting started for members of the press and the hospitality trade. By then, the San Francisco Concourse, which is an enormous place, was crammed. Also quickly evident was the fact that there wasn’t a lot of “serious” tasting going on; more like drinking and carousing, which is unusual for a trade tasting. But then again, mass quantities of Zinfandel tend to do just that. Mind you, the general public wouldn’t be allowed in for another two hours. That prospect was frightening but I wouldn’t be around long enough to witness the carnage. Instead, I tasted my way through the better part of 80-plus wines, impressed by the consistency and high quality of the 2009 and 2010 vintages, not to mention the huge range of wine styles. 

Zinfandel is truly one of the most versatile grapes and easily capable of making a wider range of wines than any other grape with the exception of Syrah and Grenache. In the end, I was able to come up with three wines that were favorites—definitely not an easy job. Oddly enough, all three are from Napa Valley. That’s unusual given the grape’s success in other regions such as Sonoma, Paso Robles, Lodi, and Amador. Here are notes on those three favorites.

1. 2009 Storybook Mountain, Eastern Exposures, Napa Valley

I’ve long thought that owner/winemaker Jerry Seps is one of the top Zinfandel producers. His wines are consistently elegant (not exactly a term one associates with Zin), seamless, complex, and very long lived. The 2009 Eastern Exposures taken from his estate vineyard north of Calistoga is no exception. Utterly delicious now and over the next 7-10 years.

2. 2009 T Vine Cellars Frediani Vineyard, Calistoga

This easily the most delicious Zin of the day for me. Remarkably pure ripe fruit with pronounced spice components. Very concentrated without being heavy. I called it the ultimate speed dating wine: amazing first impression, lots to talk about, and no one gets offended.

3. 2010 Robert Biale “Old Crane Ranch,” Napa Valley

Finally, the winner of the “full contact” or “monster truck pull” category. The Biale Zins are known for their immense concentration and richness and the Old Crane Ranch didn’t let me down. Luscious, spicy, rich, and simply hedonistic. It has to be tasted to be believed.