by Karina Calayag


A REMARKABLE FEAST OF EPIC PROPORTIONS. Last week, I died and went to food and wine heaven, so it seemed. The Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) had its annual three day Zinfandel Festival in San Francisco debuting  on Thursday, January 31st, with EPICURIA, a sensational bash aptly named for its epic-ness, and ended on a high tasting note with the world’s largest tasting of a single grape variety, the ZInfandel, in the GRAND TASTING event on Saturday, February 2nd.

Both events were held at The Concourse which is a vast open area that much like a vineyard is filled with boundless rows of vines it was spanned with seemingly as much rows of tables; which for the night of EPICURIA-nirvana were occupied alternately by restaurant and winery presenters, a strategic arrangement for the food and wine pairing agenda.

The huge assortment of Zinfandels offered were complimented by an incredible and equally humongous host of exotic and enticing bites from the most illustrious names in San Francisco’s culinary world lending to a festivity-filled room from a shoulder-to-shoulder insatiable crowd whose arms were perpetually either out-stretched for servings or bringing in the scrumptious bites or sips to savor and enjoy.

There was definitely something for everybody. If you are a truffle fan, it was truffles galore: ricotta-black truffle pansotti and shaved black truffle porcini, truffle ravioli, white truffle fondue, terrine of quail and pork with porcini and truffles; If duck is your game, there was duck tartare, duck confit crepe, duck confit sliders, duck liver mousse. For the carnivore; steak tartare, pulled pork, wild boar sugo over creamy polenta, braised lamb, braised short ribs, braised beef, boeuf bourgignon, wild boar sausage, chorizo sausage, lamb sausage. Craving sweet and chocolate? molecular wine ice cream, dark chocolates flavored with cayenne, freshly ground black pepper or filled with raspberry, hazelnut, pistachio – but that’s just to name a few.

STUFF THAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF. Unfortunate to have had my fill before I could try it all, there were a few dishes that really made their mark that night (and my dreams for the next few nights). Unbelievably astounding and worth mentioning (for hunting down after reading this) are: Il Davide Restaurant‘s Black Truffle Porcine Filled Agnolotti (to us laypeople that is Black Truffle filled ravioli, and Chef Davide served it with a generous heaping of Black Caviar on top) heavenly paired with Starry Night wine; Estate Chef‘s Pomegranate Marinated Bavette of Beef on Bamboo Skewers (now THERE’s the beef!) paired fantastically with Black Stallion wines; Ruth’s Chris Steak House tender and succulent Lamb lollipops with zinfandel demi-glaze paired nicely with Bonneau Wines; and last but not least, Sift Cupcake‘s Zinfandel Macarons and Prosecco-infused Cupcakes which were divine with Dogwood Cellars wine.

THE WORLD”S LARGEST WINE TASTING OF A SINGLE VARIETY. With a day to digest Thursday night’s epicurean wonder, the next round of adventure came last Saturday at Zinfandel Festival’s final event, the GRAND TASTING. Sponsors and media folk upon entering at 10 am were welcomed with a french baguette before collecting their wine glasses. To stem the tide,expecting another jam-packed event, the doors opened for the general public later at 2 pm. With wine glass on one hand and a baguette on the other – not long after breakfast, odd as it was, the first wave of Zin-ners embarked on an expedition into the world of Zinfandels that showcased Amador County Vintners from Lodi and Dry Creek Valley; and wines from Mendocino and Lake Counties, Napa Valley, Sonoma, Paso Robles and SIerra Foothills appellations.

The vintners themselves, a few were multi-generational or descendants of the original family member-founder, proudly poured their best lots, as they  educated the guests about their wines and vines. Regardless of the magnitude of the event,and because most were family owned with their names on the label, the personal, familial touch was very much present and felt.  

Eager to inform ,a lot of Zin-trivia was shared. We learned, for example, an “Old Vine” designation meant the grape (particualrly associated with Zinfandels) came from a notably old vine, fifty to a hundred fifty years old, whose roots, unlike the younger vines, have made its way deeper into the ground seeping other kinds of minerals found deeper into earth thereby differentiating its grape and ultimately its taste. There were wines whose grapes came from vines older than The Prohibition.  

Enlightening the public by fostering awareness and giving them an understanding of their grape all in a very friendly atmosphere made it ripe for building relationships as winemakers, as good hosts, reached out and extended invitations for visits to and tastings at their winery.

Unlike EPICURIA, the spotlight was fully on wines and the winemakers at The GRAND TASTING, but just the same, it was a fascinatingly grand affair in good company. The Zinfandel Festival, effectively shook the food and wine world during those magnificent delectable congenial events surely sending ripples far and beyond The Concourse and hopefully translating into bringing these fine wines into the tables at restaurants or homes, of those who learned about them – and enjoyed them. 

If you want to succumb to some guilty pleasures and have a glimpse of heaven, these deadly Zins will be back next year. Make sure to be there.

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