By Alastair Bland
If wine really is bottled poetry, as Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, then San Francisco's Fort Mason was worth a bazillion words during the 16th annual Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) Festival held Jan. 24-28.
The gates opened at 1pm on Saturday, Jan. 27, for the grand all-day tasting, and throngs of thirsty wine tasters flooded forward into the Herbst and Festival pavilions like eager souls into Heaven. Up to their necks in wine, they waded from table to table and winery to winery, swirling, sipping and swallowing until their tongues went numb and such back-of-the-bottle prose as "hinting at rose petals," "aromas of vanilla and saffron" and "the perfect match for braised pork loin" could have been hard truth or downright drivel. It was impossible to know. Everyone was intoxicated. The world was spinning.
My tasting mate and I dove into the Festival Pavilion and swam straight to the table of Sharp Cellars (www.sharpcellars.com; 707.933.0556). This Sonoma winery, owned by Vance Sharp III, produces just several thousand cases per year. The wine is not cheap, but the flavor of its 2001 100 percent pure blend Zin ($45 per bottle) is the spiciest, sweetest and most remarkable I have ever tasted. Think really, really excellent vinegar. Sounds bad, but it's great. Plus, it's certified organic.
I slogged forward in search of more eco-friendly wine, and I noticed how visibly nervous the winemakers got when asked if their grapes were organic. Their bodies stiffened and their faces grew dark, as though I had accused them of bottling up poison, which I guess I sort of had.
While ZAP is a celebration of Zinfandel, it's also a celebration of great food. On the evening of Thursday the 25th at Fort Mason, the ZAP Good Eats and Zinfandel Pairing event brought together over 50 wineries and restaurants to produce many mouth-watering, innovative wine-food combos. The featured chefs--mad and brilliant scientists of flavor--grilled up heaps and hills and mountains of meat, meat, meat, meat, meat! They drizzled this seared flesh with Mediterranean delights like fig-pear chutney, pomegranate reduction, rosemary gravy and secret barbecue sauces using--get this!--Zinfandel.
ZAP 2007, with its 270 participating wineries, 600 or so Zins and excess of rich food left me almost speechless for a day afterward. Robert Louis Stevenson probably could have written a charming poem about the wine-sopped week. Or just copied something from the back of a bottle. Nobody would have known.
For info on more ZAP, visit the website at www.zinfandel.org.
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