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Zinhead Nation

ZAP Zinfandel festival takes the party downtown

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For Zinfandel fans, this year is a special kind of leap year: although it's February, you have not missed the annual bacchanal begun by Zinfandel Advocates and Producers in 1991.

I'm guessing that Super Bowl 50 nudged ZAP's 25th anniversary event down the calendar from its usual slot in late January. Also unmoored from its longtime home at San Francisco's Fort Mason, the event has been peripatetic for the last few years, showing up south of Market and at the Presidio. This year, the grand tasting lands front and center at the new Pier 27, with a trade tasting and other events at the Bently Reserve in the Financial District.

But is there still some question whether the event has lost its way? Turning to ZAP co-founder Storybook Mountain Vineyards for perspective, I was scandalized to find they will not attend. In the Fort Mason heyday, they were regulars, but the hard-drinking scene wasn't their cup of claret, says Colleen Williams, second-generation member of this family winery. But they have no sour grapes over the matter—in fact, Williams says she just recently floated the idea of rejoining the festivities. I hope they do, and I hope that red wine lovers give the revamped fest a try. Here are some Zins that I recently tried:

D'Argenzio 2012 Old Vine Chalk Hill Zinfandel ($40) Hit pieces on Zin complain of a lack of elegance in its more porty examples. Here's a wine with aromas of dark, raisined fruit and port-saturated old barrels as if made from oiled teak; the palate runs with candied liqueur and olallieberry wine flavors until landing firmly on a rubbery mat of tannin. There exists good poise that is not wan elegance.

Storybook Mountain Vineyards 2012 Mayacamas Range Napa Valley Zinfandel ($37.50) Though no Storybook Zin has repeated quite the same, intoxicating level of sweet spice character as the first that I sampled, all echo that with a refrain of anise and cardamom. A singular blend of dried and crisp, fresh cherry aromas reminds me of amarone, while the palate is amicably shared by tart lingonberry and sweet plum jam.

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2012 Sin Zin Zinfandel ($20) The winery's 35th vintage of a hedonistic classic. Classic boysenberry jam, Mexican chocolate and maybe a little jalapeño pepper jelly.

Francis Ford Coppola Director's Cut Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($27) There's nothing same-old about this "typical" Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel—call it "typicité" and some folks will do somersaults. Plush, warm brambleberry fruit doesn't overheat the palate.

ZAP's Zinfandel Experience 2016, Feb. 25–27. Tickets start at $80 for the Grand Tasting, Saturday, Feb. 27, at Pier 27, the Embarcadero, San Francisco. Information and tickets at zinfandelexperience.com.

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