Monday, May 7, 2012

Zinfandel Trade Show

We were both very surprised to receive an email invite to a tradeshow on the Zinfandel grape. It was the first time someone had said, “come here, drink, do a story!” The event was being hosted by ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) and was an early preview for a day’s worth of activities around this grape. Tina couldn’t help but think that some mistake had been made: why would they be invited to a trade show with other media folk? Oh, right, the blog and other published pieces. 

Denise Shumway, Brand Director of Kobrand*

Tina quickly RSVP’d for the event. The ticket was for “media” only, which only added to her excitement. This was an opportunity to network. A few years ago, before we began blogging, we never would have tried zinfandel. The idea alone is strange. Yet, after a trip to California and a few other tastings, we learned the joys of the grape and are now solid fans. So, this was an event that could not be missed. The biggest dilemma: Would they provide a spit cup? Tasting dozens of different zinfandel from 20+ wineries without spitting each seemed reckless! Professionals know you don’t swallow. It’s uncouth.

The big day arrived. Upon entering, Tina noticed a small snafu in which her name was completely misspelled (both names!) on her badge. She took this as a sign that she didn’t belong here with the “real” professionals. But, she stood her ground, asked for a new badge, and took off. At these events, they offer you a glass you take from booth to booth. Tina grabbed hers and went to work. The very first thing she noted: no personal spit cups. Although, there were large spittoons scattered among the booths. These typically would be used to dump out any remaining wine from your glass, not to spit in, as it creates issues of uncleanliness and germ spread. So, Tina approached her first booth, Chacewater Wine, where she was able to sample their 2010 Sierra Foothills zinfandel and some of their homemade olive oil. She made the tough decision to swallow the wine, although tried to limit the amount. The wine was smooth, yet tart, and the tannins were there. She tried the olive oil, grown near the grapes, and noted it was as tart as the wine and very much resembled the wine in flavor. A good pairing. Moving on, she visited Cline Cellars and was relieved to note a fellow taster spitting his tasting out in the large spittoon on the table. It set the precedent for the day: swirl, sniff, taste . . . search desperately with eyes for nearest spittoon, run, grab, and spit. Yes, it’s messy, and yes, there is every so often a little back splash, but being able to walk out of the event with a clear head and sturdy knees at 3:30 pm was worth it! Besides, Tina had a visit to the eye doctor following the event, and thought that would be just weird to arrive with eyes unfocused.

As part of the event, a beautiful cheese and charcuterie spread was offered in the center of the room to replenish yourself as you felt the need. Cocktail tables were set up throughout, and event goers would catch up over the tables. Not everybody used the spittoons: attendees were media folk, distributors, and wine shop owners – a wide range. Although Tina always apologized before spitting (it really is unattractive), she only received an astonished response of “of course!” by the vintners on hand. This is work, after all.

It took Tina over 2 hours to sample all the wines she wanted to – and she missed a handful of booths. It was fun simply introducing Local Vinacular to the Zinfandel world. Many people got hung up on the name, but once explained, understood. At each booth, you would receive a little tasting and the opportunity to chat up the winery on hand. Tina asked lots of questions about zinfandel, the AOC’s in California that grow them, and about the particular aromas and flavor profile of the wines on hand.

The verdict? When you drink Zinfandel, expect to taste a lot of fruit first (boysenberry, cherry, strawberry), then spice (mostly like white pepper, and in varying strengths), and finally you get a tartness, almost like you’ve sipped some cranberry juice. Some of the wines also had notes of green pepper, and there were varying amounts of that tartness, depending on how the wine had been produced.

We’re both looking forward to the next trade show; we’ll know what to do, what notes to collect, and which sort of cup to bring to use as our spittoon.
Pennie from Alexander Valley Vineyards*

Carol Shelton with her wines*
Gamba Vineyards*

*All Photos (C) 2012 by Christopher J. Davies, All rights reserved.

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