I was fortunate to be able to attends last weeks ZAP Experience. As you might know this year’s event differed from those in years past as the event was broken down into additional components.  The trade and media portion of the Experience is now a discreet tasting, and the grand tasting has been broken out into sections, that took place on the grounds of the Presidio.

One element of the event that has remained mostly the same, though perhaps even larger than in years past was the Flights tasting, this year focusing on the terroir of three distinct vineyards. The Forum of Flavors tasting was an excellent introduction to these vineyard through the wines and words of many of the most important producers of Zinfandel. Blessed with a rotating panel of winemakers providing the background for each wine during the tasting, and fascinating insights into the wines and the vineyards, it was a unique opportunity to dive deeply into the terroir of Zinfandel. As I have written before, I believe Zinfandel is capable of expressing terroir as well or better than any other variety grown in California and today's tasting did nothing to dispel that notion.
While spread over some two and a half hours, this Forum of Flavor event was an incredibly dense look at the wines, and as such kept me exceptionally busy as I tried to keep up with the commentary. I’ve included my notes on each wine here, along with as much of the commentary from the winemakers as I was able to record. Please forgive the rather raw quality to the commentary as I have tried to record each participant’s comments without adding anything. I’ve also included a  limited impression for each vineyard based on my tasting of the wines. 

Flight One
 
Kirschenmann Vineyard Zinfandel
 
Lodi planted in the 1910s
 
95% Zinfandel with some interplanted Mondeuse, Carignane, and Counoise all on their own rootstock. Soil is fine, sandy loam and decomposed granite on the west side of the AVA in an oxbow of the Mokelumne River, which, along with the typically delta breezes, helps to make this a cooler site in the AVA. Head trained, at four to five feet under the sand there is a ribbon of quartz/white chalk/limestone.
 
 
Very floral and aromatic in a slightly vegetal end of the spectrum with medicinal root veg, rhubarb, and lightly peppery spice aromas. Certainly has something akin to the aromatic profile of Chinato. Bright and fresh and rich with strawberry and slightly orange rind toned flavors. Dusty tannins and a fruit skin texture here, rather peachy, with a clean, fresh and bright finish that shows a hint of sweetness to the very red and slightly raw tart plum and strawberry flavors. 89pts
 
Duncan Meyer: Native yeasts, not destemmed, tread by foot, about a ten day maceration, reached about 76F, then basket pressed to one five year old puncheon and one seven year old barrel. Bottled at ten months. Our goal was to capture the essence of the site picked on the earlier side. Picked two weeks before the next winery.
 
 
A little stone fruit with lovely fresh blackberry and black cherry fruit that shows little hints of smoke, gardenia flowers, and a fine edge of basil and mint like green herb.  Supple on entry followed by a nice edge of herb and soft tannins that fill out on the palate. The fruit here is a bit taut, edgy and firm with black cherry accents and some plummy base notes. A touch of wood pops on the backed end leading to a gently jammy black berry finish with lovely slightly medicinal and spicy inner mouth perfumes. Fairly large scaled but with beautiful balance and focus. 93pts
 
Morgan: all native yeast, probably hit 90F,  aged in about 20% new oak, at racking the oak showed so it was put in some one year old barrels and mostly neutral barrels, bottled at ten months
 
 
Spicy and plummy with licorice, tarry, and toasted nut undercurrents. Sweet, smoky and slightly candied smelling. A bit hard and noticeably oaky on the nose.  Hard on entry as well but with wonderfully fresh dark fruit. Just a little caramel and chocolate adding some depth and complexity on the palate. Mineral and dusty on the palate and through the long finish. Lots of crystal clear black berry, and black plum skin that is clear, and transparent. the texture and clarity of the fruit is impressive though it lacks some of the energy found some of the other wines. 91pts
 
Scott Klann: native yeast, 25% whole clusters at the bottom of each bin, all fermented in macro bins, watered back a touch and made a slight acid adjustment, nine days on skin, let's sit for three months. Used two new French oak barrels, the other seven were two and three year old barrels, in 2013 didn't use any new oak since this vineyard  picks up oak rather readily.
 
 
Rather bright candied red fruits with streaks of violet, herb, licorice and cedar with subtle accents of briar and vanilla. Cool and broad  in the the mouth with a soft richness of texture with big, juicy and slightly dark berry fruit with slightly creamy, briary framing notes.  Clean and moderately long on the finish. This has beautiful clarity to the spicy plum and blackberry flavors. 94pts
 
Mike Officer: Struck by how different looking this vineyard is from other old vine vineyards I've worked with. It was surprising how well the fruit retained its acidity in this vineyard. Our approach to Zinfandel is Like Pinot Noir. the fruit is cluster sorted, destemmed but not crushed. Our goal was to have as much whole berry in the tank as possible. We inoculated with a yeast and fermented up to out 82F, on the skins about 14 days, pressed it in to four barrels, one of which was new French Oak, the others were five to seven years old. Racked once, sat in barrel until two days ago!
 
 
A bit hard on the nose with gingery, toasty oak, a bit of char and mineral spice layered over spicy cherry and plum fruit. Opens slowly with lovely depth and complexity. Bright, clean and pure in the mouth with Impressively fresh fruit. The tannins are firm and some woody tannins emerges on the backend, along with some toasty oak flavors and spice. Long, pure and gently spicy and shows a touch of heat on the finale. 92pts
 
Tegan  Passalacqua: We picked two different times in the vineyard, two days apart, which yielded three tanks. Everything was destemmed, do not crush, everything is native yeast. Closed top fermentations with pump overs, in contrast to the more typical punch downs. On the skins for 14 days, 20% new oak and 20% of that was American oak. Not acidified! 3.26 ph in the finished wine.
 
GDP: a fascinating set of wines that shows a feminine side even when the wines are rather large scaled. There's little jamminess here, and no chunky, clunky textures. Aromatic and rather medicinal with generally spicy and tart red fruits.
Flight Two
 
Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel 
 
Planted in the 1880s in Sonoma Valley
 
Originally planted in 1854, and mostly replanted on rootstock in 1888. In the middle of the southern middle of Sonoma Valley.  A larger vineyard with some Cabernet in it. Right along Sonoma creek. Soils have quite a bit of texture, lots of rocks in an alluvial fan. All volcanic, very typically of Sonoma valley. Sustainably framed moving toward organic farming. Primarily dry framed, planted cover crops. 22 varieties are planted, though the majority is Zin with Petite Sirah, Alicante, and Carignane. has enough Syrah in the vineyard to lends elf the wines a spicy, savoriness. 37 acres, two soil types, tuscan red soil series, the varieties planted on the heavier soils are quite different, folks in thw 1880s were obviously paying attention to the soil types when planting.
 
 
Earthy and aromatic with hints of ash, leather, and meaty black fruits on the nose. Rather mineral, savory, oily and complex with slow to emerge, very fresh and detailed black berry fruit. Lovely blend of freshness and complexity. Rich, a bit extracted up front, lots of chewy fruit tannins up front and fine acids lending freshness to the plummy fruit  and dried pork sausage flavors with lovely length to the lingonberry, loganberry finish. 93pts
 
Joel Peterson: open top fermentations, native yeasts, About ten to twelve days on the skins, has a very particular tannin structure, all French oak, about 20% new, the balance three to four years old, a barrel sample, wine will be bottled in May, five to seven percent Alicante, 79% Zinfandel,  I love this for ints perfume. It's structured yet elegant.
 
 
Fairly oaky early on the nose with ginger spice and toasty graham cracker notes. Just a little bit of air bring out the fruit, huckleberry and dried herb framed with a sweet/savory, meaty core. Has a fine herb undercurrent. Fresh and bright on entry, nicely delimited on the palate with some firm tannins adding cut to the palate. There's a slightly medicinal tone to the blueberry tinged fruit here, briary and earthy with a modest finish that shows an earthy, savory edge and a sweet tinge of oak on the finale which shows lovey candied raspberry and strawberry rhubarb accent. 91pts
 
Pax Mahle: picked on September 19th, destemmed  this, not crushed, pumped over, on its skins for 15 days, basket pressed into a SS tank, where it stayed for two weeks, to give it a chance to complete malo in anything but wood which provides for a cleaner midpalate with more cut and clarity. Bottled after ten months.
 
 
Fresh and floral with briary accents to the dark and slightly jammy fruit that shows a bit of asphalt, and fish sauce along with a hint of tamarind. Focused, slightly minty big bramble berry fruit on the nose. Smooth and elegant on entry with a low, soft entry that leads to a midpalate of  bright, juicy red fruit layered over spice and subtle wood tones. Crystal clear on the palate with sour cherry and tart cherry pit fruits which lead to a spicy, elegant and long finish. Broad shouldered, briary and pure. Very attractive with a long, juicy finish.  93pts
 
Mike Dashe: 98% Zinfandel with just a touch of Petite Sirah. Looking for texture and velvetiness in our wines. Our first vintage with Bedrock fruit. All native yeast fermentation, Fermented in picking bins and punched down four times a day. Cluster sorted and about an eighth of whole cluster was added to the bins before adding destemming fruit, no crushing. Aged in older 500 liter puncheons, two or three year old, the texture on the wine reflects this.
 
 
Tight and reticent with a spicy, old vineyard almost olive scents to the dark black fruit with some vanilla base notes. Meaty and slightly sweet on the nose. Tight and a bit hard on the nose. Similar on entry, a bit firm then this fans out and fills the mouth with textural richness. The flavors remain reticent and this is rather extracted and dense with little detail. Lots of tannin on the finish, touch old school. Minty, black, and matte. Probably will improve with age but this just shows some hints of black fruit. Shows a hint of heat of the finale. 89pts
 
Jeff Ames: still in barrel and has never been racked, about 30% new wood, All destemmed, put into a single vessel, fermented to about 90F, all native yeast, twelve days on the skins, finishes primary fermentation in barrel, along with malo, will be bottled in August
 
 
Jammy with lots of spice, a little jasmine and ginseng spice, dark black, slightly tarry fruit. Gorgeous fruit on entry, this is a verging on fruit bomb, ripe, rich and supple with good acids supporting tart black fruits that shows some meaty base notes. Has a bit of mincemeat pie tone here with lots of soft acids that pick up the back end and drive the long, slightly spicy finish. Oak really shows on the finish. This stumbles on the finish but shows terrific fruit on the palate. 90pts
 
Phil Staehle was unable to attend so Morgan filled in: native yeast fermentation to start then inoculated, took six month to got through malo in neutral barrels, will be bottled in three weeks,
 
GDP: A wide range of styles were presented today but the overarching theme is savoriness and spice with a fairly tannic profile for Zinfandel and a notably spiced, slightly exotic nose.
Flight Three
 
Monte Rosso Vineyard
 
Planted in the 1880s in Sonoma Valley
 
Sonoma side of Mount vender 800 to 1400 feet.
 
Has Zinfandel and associated varieties but also things like old vine Semillon, head pruned, or barely pruned on Tuscan red series soil, fairly large clusters, several different blocks planted,
 
 
Rich and dark with carob scented toasty oak over jammy black raspberry fruit. Fairly nutty oak. Nice and precise on entry, very mineral and earthy, decidedly rusty on the palate with lovely boysenberry and jammy black berry fruit on the palate. A little chocolate chip cookie emerges on the palate supported by rich tannins that lead to a long, earthy wild raspberry fruit laced finish. Nice, a bit chewy and a bit tart with great balance of fruit and structure, nice hint of spice and wild cherry. 92pts
 
Robert Fanucci: 120 year old basket press, all manual tasks, redwood bats used to punch down the cap three times a day, natural yeast fermentations, fermented in half ton bins without temperature control,
 
 
Intense floral, polleny, slightly fennel seed and again Provençal like aromas along with smoky notes and cranberry accents with growing nutty oak, latex aromas.  Smooth and spicy on entry then turning tense on the palate with an edge of mineral and fine, pure cherry pit flavors. The tannins are slightly edgy but nicely balanced and firm leading to a moderately long finish rich with dusty tannins and blackberry fruit. Spicy and with attractive energy in the mouth, this shows purity and cut. 93pts
 
Shauna Rosenblum:  our job is to champion this fruit to its full maximum potential, we do not do native fermentations, crushed into closed top fermenters that leaves about 15% whole berries, a two to three day cold soak, inoculate with Rockpile clone, something that just helps bring out whatever is there and beautiful about the wine,15% new oak.
 
 
Pencil shavings dominate the nose, deep, oily and dark fruit lurks underneath but this is reticent and rawly oaky today. A bit of insecticide florality on the nose. Tight and polished on entry with plenty of wood here, a bit of vanilla and veneer. The flavors are still oaky up front with a nice base of dark fruit but rather oak dominated. There's nice fruit here and it should emerge with time but the finish shows assertive wood tannins and a smear of woody sweetness. With air the fruit really pops, nice vibrant red berry fruit on entry, with lingonberry accent. Nice cut and purity, really vibrant though the wood seems to clip the finish. 90pts
 
Richard Arrowood: one block has a lot of Alicante which is judiciously sorted out, though this does include 4.5% Petite Sirah. Three day soak, went up three plus degrees brix during the soak, adds few gallons of reverse osmosis water to get the brix back down. The remarkable thing about Monte Rosso is the acidity which can have nine to ten grams of total acidity. Great for extracting color but makes it very difficult to go through malo. Use cultured yeast that is matched to the fruit profile each vintage. 15 months in 80% French and 20% American oak, a third of the total was new  to be bottled in march, my focus is on much fruit as possible: destem, do not crush, pump over. Zinfandel is all about forward fruit.
 
 
Rich and perfumed with floral notes, lots of macerated herb notes, ripe and cocoa scented, and a bit candied with hints of banana and grape taffy. Lighter on entry than the nose might suggest with an earthy core to the bitter black cherry fruit. There's a nice hint of florals and orange rindy in the mouth, with lovely purity to the slightly rugged and masculine fruit. This needs some time in the bottle but has everything it needs to be gorgeous. Finishes with good length and energy, dusty, earthy and slightly blue fruited. Shows a touch of heat. 92pts
 
Tres Goetting: no frills hands off get out of the way approach, trying to be delicate and treat these grapes with respect, use some Burgundian techniques, it's a balance of acid and alcohol, hand sort the fruit, trying to remove raisins, crush into bins, gravity feed into open top tanks, 84 to 86 degrees max temp, cold soak for three to four days, inoculate with cultured yeasts, three punchdowns a day, extended the maceration on the skins for seven to ten days once it's dry tends to round out the acids, bladder pressed lightly into 20% new French Burgundy barrels, racked two or three times.
 
 
Pomegranate, tart on the nose with fine subtle latex and salami notes, lime leaf and chocolate and American oaky. Smooth and supple with focus on entry with a rich and supple character. The tannins are dense and slIghtly chewy with fine blue tiger black berry fruit. Very well balanced and juicy, and fairly fruit driven with a nice base of wood and vanilla cream under the strawberry and blackberry fruit. Still grapy and slightly exotic grapiness at that, before this turns a bit dark and stony on the finale. 91pts
 
Kori Butler: two of my favorite blocks at Monte Rosso. rattlesnake hill, the highest point of the vineyard, and en fronte el pompe, in front of the pump. The blocks are treated separately, destemmed but not crushed hand sorted pre and post destemming, two to three and a half ton open top fermenters, inoculate, looking for classic California Zinfandel, big ,dark and jammy. Three to four day cold soak, about 16 months in barrel. About 60% new French oak, 10% to 15% new American, the rest used French oak
 
GDP: Monte Rosso showed the most variety of the three vineyards on display today. Binding them all together is a blend of fine, ripe tannins and rather rich fruit that ranges from strawberry scented to grapy, though there was a bit of a blueberry edge to many of them, dark and powerful. Several of the wines displayed attractive mineral notes that added complexity and freshness.