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Tuesday Tributes
Zinfandel Stands Tall—Especially This Week

By Charles Olken

No other grape, not even the finest Cabernets and Pinots, inspires me to get out in the kitchen and rattle those pots and pans as much as Zinfandel does. The Olkens just love the foods that goes with Zin . They are so tasty, so comfortable, so satisfying.

No truffles, no long-simmered wine sauces, no fois gras. Those are not Zinfandel food. They are for those other fancy pants varieties. Zinfandel is about food for the soul, food for the heart, food taken for the gusto. It almost makes me want to toss out the Riedels and drink it out of Mason jars. But, of course, I don’t because a good wine glass is the way to drink good wine—and good Zinfandel is more than just good wine. It is good wine with a personality that wants nothing more of its fans than a good sniff and plate of something savory.

And it just so happens that this is Zinfandel Week in San Francisco. This is the week that hundreds of wineries and thousands of wine lovers convene for no other reason than they too are full-on aficionados of the grape. They come from all over the country to sample Zin with food and to explore newly released Zinfandels by the hundreds at the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) festival starting on Thursday evening.

That is the night when you can drink Zinfandel with wonderfully matched food for hours on end at the event called ZINFANDEL AND GOOD EATS. We will be there, and not just because we have a booth so we can meet and greet. We will have folks scurrying around the floor seeking out a meatball here and bruschetta there, a lamb stew here and a selection of rillettes there. It is an extravaganza of Zinfandel tastes from dozens of top producers and bites from well-known restaurants, that, in some years at least, have come in from all over the country.

There is a Friday night fancy, sit-down dinner for the truly committed who will pony up a king’s ransom to sit for an evening with the royalty of Zinfandel. Every table will have top producers sitting in. Tickets for this event are limited and they go fast. Call ZAP today if you want a place at the table. You can also visit the website, , for complete information and for discounted tickets for each of the events.

Then on Saturday afternoon comes the Grand Tasting. Something like 300 wineries fill the space at The Concourse in downtown San Francisco to pour their latest Zins. And, if truth be told, some of them will have a little extra to share. You never know when an older vintage or a spicy Zin-Syrah blend will emerge from under the table if you show enough interest. Our booth will be on the main floor, somewhere in the middle. Come on down and say hello. And bring your Zin palate along.

This year, if we can get our computers to cooperate, we will be Tweeting about interesting Zins we have tasted. Visit @charlieolken for updates starting at 11 AM and updated throughout the day.

Zinfandel Week is here, and there is nothing like a good Zin to lift our moods this week.


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by TomHill
Posted on:1/24/2012 1:32:38 PM

Hmmmmm....should I bring up " Zinfandels with shabby table manners.." from outta the past, Charlie?? Nawh...I'm gonna play nice today.

   Like you, Charlie, I still have a soft spot in my heart for Zin when it comes to a hearty meal. Back in the '70's (by crackey), I think "intense" was the criteria when it came to judging Zins. Which led to some of those excesses we saw in the late '70's. But I don't need to tell you that, old lived those years. As did I. Those years are history...unlike us!!!

   But I think the current crop of Zins is the best they've ever been. Much more diversity in style, much more reflection of terroir and the vnyd site, much more attention to the growing, much more interest in old-vine vnyds...all those things that makes Zinfandel so, still, interesting.

   I need to return to ZAP. Not been there in 10 yrs or so. Jeez...I miss those Zinfandel & GoodEats at RosenblumCllrs.

   Not really you have any contact with ReedFoster these days???



by Charlie Olken
Posted on:1/24/2012 2:42:48 PM

Hi Tom--

Ah, yes, the good old days. Fortunately, there are far fewer pruny, volatile Zinfandels being made. Still plenty of ripeness to go around, but now with more fruit and better balance.

By coincidence, had a long chat today with a maker of high ripeness Zins and he said that the key for him was what happens in the vineyard. He pays over the odds for his Zins in order to keep the crop load down, the canopies managed as he wants them and the fruit proteted from raisining. While his Zins are certainly not going to be ever considered elegant, they are a long ways from the old monster style because, in his view, it was not the alcohol per se that was the problem but the failure to care for the fruit.

I think guys like me, and maybe you, wanted Zin to be great in the way that CS and PN are great (lighter on its feet, more brightly balanced, etc). I still do but I have also begun to drink a lot more Zin for its lusty rusticity (there's a mouthful) than I have for a while.

by TomHill
Posted on:1/24/2012 5:49:00 PM

That's what I meant by more attention to the growing. Turley gets a bad rap (IMHO) for the alcohol levels in their Zins. But, 30 yrs ago, those Zins would show a lot of raisened/pruney character. I almost never detect that, or even the alcoholic heat, in their Zins, which are almost always above 15%.



by David Price
Posted on:1/25/2012 1:15:45 PM

The Russian River Barrel Tasting coming up the first two weekend of March are a great opportunity to taste Zins from Dry Creek Valley.  Just by driving up Dry Creek Road you can spend a whole day drinking nothing but good zins.  Somehow I always wind up at Teldeschi, right above and behiind the Dry Creek General Store.  Different, passionate winemaker with no marketing plan other than to start offering a vintage after all (or almost all) of the previous vintage has been sold.  Tasted 2002 - 2005 zins in two recent visits and liked them a lot.  Nothing against the Zins from South of Dry Creek, but the Dry Creek Zins seem very hale and hearty as opposed to polished.  Anyway, IMHO.

by Terry Rooney
Posted on:1/25/2012 2:52:13 PM

Charlie, I remember my first great Zins. I was working for H-P in Pennsylvania and had a trip to Denver. We went to a restaurant which served several Ridge Zins, about which I had read lots of good reviews. It was wonderful and I've never stopped having Zin at the top of my list (Pinot is also there).  PA state stores probably carry the Ridge now but back then you had to go West, young man.

Terry Rooney


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