In one version, a Hungarian immigrant named Augustin Haraszthy brought cuttings from Europe and planted the vines in California. Another story contends that the grape is genetically identical to two varieties found in Croatia, and still another traces it to the Primitivo grape of Puglia in southern Italy.
Whatever its origins, Zinfandel flourished in California and became America’s heritage grape. The wine is made in a wide range of styles, from brash and exuberant to full-bodied, tannic and concentrated. It is a natural match with grilled or roasted meats, and has become a staple of our backyard barbecue.
The ultimate Zinfandel event is the ZAP tasting (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers), held in San Francisco at the end of January. Close to 300 producers show up for a memorable weekend of food, wine, education and mayhem. In 2015, the twenty-fourth annual ZAP weekend will take place from January 29-31 at the Golden Gate Club of the Presidio and the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco.
Over time, the tasting itself had morphed into a mob scene, with thousands of attendees and long lines at the tables, so last year the organizers decided to downsize the event and make it more elegant. On Saturday the 31st, the first two hours (11 a.m.-1 p.m.) will be devoted to a Reserve and Barrel tasting for VIPs and all-day ticket holders; the public segment will run from 1-5 p.m., and be limited to 350 people. The two days leading up the tasting will feature an informal dine-around with 30 top Zinfandels on Thursday, a professional seminar on Friday morning, and a gala reception, dinner and auction Friday night at the Four Seasons. Proceeds benefit ZAP’s educational projects, most notably the Heritage Vineyard—a collection of old and rare Zinfandel vines at U.C. Davis.
Tickets for the Saturday tasting range from $70-150, depending on preferred level of access and ZAP membership, and may be purchased at zinfandelexperience.com. If you’re in San Francisco that weekend and don’t mind getting your teeth stained, this is one you shouldn’t miss.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); for more information, go to amazon.com