California’s Top Zinfandels: Tasting at ZAP 2024


Gone are the days when 500 Zinfandel producers and 8000 members of the trade and public would descend upon both major pavilions of Fort Mason for almost an entire day to taste more than a thousand Zinfandel wines at the annual ZAP Zinfandel Festival.

By the end of those tastings, things usually got quite sloppy, with drunk patrons and a party-like atmosphere. But there was definitely something energetic and exciting about them if only the sense that San Francisco was a wine-loving epicenter of all things Zin.

In this day and age, ZAP has become ZinEx, the Zinfandel Experience, a much more sedate gathering of a few dozen Zinfandel producers and a few hundred people who are dedicated lovers of the grape. While I don’t get the chance to spend all day tasting with hundreds of producers, I can’t say I mind the absence of jostling crowds stacked 8 people deep who all want a taste of the latest Turley or Ridge releases.

It’s a fundamentally different scene these days. The wines are also different.

Thankfully, the pendulum has swung away from monster wines featuring massive extract, lots of sweet new wood, raisined flavors, and unreasonably elevated alcohols. Zinfandel being Zinfandel, of course, we’re not talking about alcohols regularly down in the 13% range, but it’s nice to taste many more things at 14.8% alcohol rather than 16.1%, along with accompanying acidity and fresher fruit flavors.

Indeed, in my two-hour tour through the trade and media tasting, I ran into raisined, overripe fruit far less than ever before, even among those producers pouring wines from the rather warm and dry 2022 vintage. Many, however, were pouring the glorious 2021 vintage, which remains one of my favorites in recent memory, and certainly seems to have given Zinfandel producers great raw materials.

My favorites below contain very few new names or surprises. I will admit that there were a number of producers from whom I did not taste (especially because I didn’t want to wait around for an hour for the organizers to reset the room between the trade tasting and the public tasting).

That said, with a few prominent exceptions, Zinfandel does not seem to be attracting many new-generation winemakers. Sure, some adventurous folks are making crazy Zinfandel pet-nats and suitably ironic renditions of White Zinfandel in various shades of pink, but those aren’t nearly as common as one might hope.

As I noted, I didn’t stick around for the public tasting, but most of the folks wandering around the trade event, and those lined up outside for the public tasting were of an… (ahem)… certain age.

Have we come to the point that Zinfandel is an old person’s wine? Sadly, it seems like the entire wine industry is slowly going that direction, but Zinfandel seems to have lost its “cool factor” sooner than some other grapes.

This is, of course, a shame, not least of which because Zinfandel represents such an incredible part of California’s wine heritage. The hundreds of acres of ancient vines that still remain in California need a reason to remain in the ground, and the only way that will happen long-term is if people keep drinking the wines they produce. Sure, the rise of red blends such as Apothic and its imitators will help, but I hope people will continue to enjoy the grape for its own particular charms, which are numerous.

On perhaps a not unrelated note, the prices of good Zinfandel continue to climb. Just as a point of reference, looking back on my report from the 2006 ZAP Zinfandel festival, of the 47 wines I rated at 9 to 9.5 or higher, twenty of them cost $30 or less. Taking inflation into account, that’s $45 in today’s dollars. But of the 25 top-scoring wines in the list below, only five can be purchased for $45 or less.

I hope you will continue to seek out excellent examples of Zinfandel, especially those made with old vines, and I hope my scores below can point you in the direction of some…

Source : https://www.vinography.com/2024/01/californias-top-zinfandels-tasting-at-zap-2024