Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bartending For Dummies

The chapter on wine in this recent release of the "Dummies" series is lame -- 7 pages long and containing nothing interesting or terribly instructive. A sample of its wisdom: "Winemaking dates back roughly to 3000 BC and it's here to stay." Well, that's comforting!
But wine lovers will like this guide for all the other things it has that we may not be so informed about, like how to conjure cocktails, from classic to contemporary, and how to set up a basic bar at home. Plus, there are over 200 pages of cocktail recipes, all in a handy, inexpensive paperback. $16.99 from Wiley.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Do You Know the Way to Beaujolais?

I had the pleasure of sampling some lovely wines from Beaujolais last week at a luncheon in San Francisco, and I was stunned by how good the wines were, and at $13 to $20, what great values they are. Having previously been acquainted with Beaujolais Nouveau as a sort of gimmick in my younger years when I was a casual wine drinker, this was close to revelatory. Not only did the quality and value of these wines stand out, but the different styles of wine impressed me, from light, fresh and floral to much more dense and age-able -- and they are all made from the same grape, Gamay. By the way, 2009 was an outstanding year for Beaujolais.
All of the wines were ripe with fruit (without being too intense) and boasted soft tannins. Some of my favorites from the luncheon:

2009 Domaine de Colette Beaujolais Villages $13
2009 Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils $13
2009 Christian Vergiers Tours de Tanay Morgon $17
2009 Chateau de Raousset Grille Midi Fleurie $20

Beaujolais producers are working to get the attention of American wine consumers, so these and other good examples of Beaujolais shouldn't be hard to find. Ask your favorite wine merchant.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

New From Cognac

The other day, I was introduced to L’Esprit de June, the world’s first vine flower liqueur from Cognac, France. As per instructions, I added 1 oz. of the clear liquid to a chilled flute then topped with Prosecco (in this case, Valdo).  Instant champagne cocktail! It was so perfumed with flowers I wanted to dab some on myself, but I sipped it instead and it  was like aromatherapy. The June liqueur really brightened the taste of the Prosecco, adding fragrance and dimension.
L’Esprit de June would make a novel holiday gift for a wine and spirits lover or an unusual addition to your home bar for holiday parties. A tall, attractive bottle with a distinctive orange bottle cap is $29.99 and comes from Euro Wine Gate.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Good Year for Chocolate?

From France’s Loire – the valley of kings and castles – come the only chocolates in the word with a vintage date, according to owner Pierre-Jean Sauvion of the Sauvion wine estate in Muscadet. It was there that his grandmother invented the candies, called "Les Genevieve" after their inventor, out of her desire to make sure that nothing would go to waste at her family winemaking estate. The hand-made chocolate candies, shaped like wine barrels, are filled with a mixture made from the dried-out grapes (raisins) in the vineyards that were not appropriate to use in winemaking because of their lack of juice.

The limited production candies are made each year but in varying amounts; production is limited by the size of the grape crop in any given year. The winery says the candies can sell out at any time, but customers can “reserve” an order at the beginning of the year. 

I tasted them and they are delicious. The cost is $16.50 for 20 chocolates or about $13 for 15 chocolates at the winery’s Chateau Cleray in Vallet. They are also available at CARLI, a pâtissier and chocolatier in the city of Nantes.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pairing Wine and Food

For all you wine geniuses out there, there a new book to consult about matching food with wine, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wine and Food Pairing. I asked Jeannette Hurt, one of the co-authors of the book (the other is Jaclyn Stuart) what she learned while researching the book that surprised her about wine and food pairing. "One of the best ways to pair is to try to match aromas of wine with flavors of food. Another thing I learned is that if you're not sure of a wine's aromas or if you are a newbie with aromas, one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with aromas is to head to a store like Trader Joe's and buy a bunch of foods that match wine aromas - dried cherries, fresh peaches, vanilla, herbs, etc. - and then to sniff the actual foods and then stick your nose in the wines. That's a much better way to gain sensory reference to aromas, and having that, it's much easier to pair wines. For example, some sauvignon blancs are known to have gooseberry aromas, but if you don't know what a gooseberry smells or tastes like, how can you pick out that aroma in a wine?"

Actually, the gooseberry comparison has always struck me as arcane -- how many people know what a gooseberry tastes like? Maybe they're more common in certain parts of the country, but I'd never seen or tasted a gooseberry until I purposely sought them out after reading descriptions by other wine writers (especially British ones) about the gooseberry component in Sauvignon Blanc.  I still think grapefruit and tart citrus such as lime describes most Sauvignon Blanc better because people are familiar with those tastes and smells.

Some of my favorite pairings: oysters and crab with Sancerre or Muscadet; Cabernet with steak; and Champagne or sparkling wine with French Fries or potato chips.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tea for You

I've written about tea for Wine Enthusiast magazine and before in this blog. Tea and wine have many things in common -- besides being my two favorite beverages. They are both grown with the same attention to detail and require the right soil, climate and care. They are both delicate drinks that are appreciated by connoisseurs in much the same way.

Recently, two new books about tea came across my desk that I wanted to share with readers. Both by the same author, Lisa Boalt Richardson, a certified tea specialist, Tea with a Twist and The World in Your Teacup would make wonderful gifts for any tea fans.

If you enjoy tea, you're probably familiar with the English tradition of afternoon tea or the Japanese tea ceremony. What's nice about  The World in Your Teacup is that the author focuses on tea traditions in even more unexplored locales like Iran, Kenya and Morocco.

Tea with a Twist: Entertaining and Cooking With Tea presents equally unusual and creative tea partiies like an Indian Chai High Tea and a Mexican Fiesta Tea Party. Learn more about and order both these books from Harvest House Publishers.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Dry Rosés

Springtime may be a good time for dry rosé but in my book, any time is appropriate. You will see rosés in the press because it's the time when most are released due in part to the fact that writers like to write about them as springtime or picnic wines. But that's just marketing, If, like me, you like to sip on dry, French-style rosés during the spring, summer, fall and at holiday parties, look for these recent releases that I found enjoyable and reasonably priced ($7 to $18).

Rosé wines are made from red or black grapes --Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Franc -- in much the same way red wines are, except their skins are allowed to soak with the grape juice for only a short time – just enough to tint the juice that delicious salmon, pink or red color. They're not for aging, but for drinking young. The wines listed below all have the extra weight and fruit intensty that a red wine provides over most whites but with a lighter body and more refreshing acidity than most reds.

Dark as cranberry juice and most intense in flavor are 2008 Meyer Family Cellars Rosé (Napa); 2009 La Jaja de Jau, (France); and 2009 Blackbird Arrivitse (Napa). They range from 12.9 to 13.5% alcohol.

Paler in color, more delicate in flavor and a touch more acidic are 2009 Les Deux Rives Corbieres Rosé ; 2008 Domaine de Nizas Languedoc Rosé ; 2008 Chateau de Lancyre Pic St. Loup -- all from France; 2009 St. Supery Rosé  (Napa); and Antech Limoux Emotion, Cremant de Limoux (a sparkling wine from France). These range in alcohol levels from 12% to 13.5%.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bordeaux Fan?

With much speculation about the 2009 vintage of Bordeaux floating around, I spoke with Robin Kelley O’Connor, director of sales at New York’s venerable Sherry-Lehmann Wine Merchants, about the effect of the economy on Bordeaux sales in the United States.  He was just back from Bordeaux where he tasted more than 1,000 wines from the latest vintage. For 20 years, O'Connor was Trade Liaison spokesman for the Bordeaux Wine Bureau in North America, and he served as the president of the Society of Wine Educators from 2003 to 2007.

O'Connor told me he was a fan of Bordeaux both personally and professionally. “For both quality and quantity, it is the single greatest wine region in the world. I love Burgundy, California, Germany, Spain and others but it really comes down to the magic of what Bordeaux can produce, its staying power and the mystery of how the wines age for so long. I’ve promoted $10 bottles as well as $500 bottles, but it’s the workhorse wines that keep everybody in business there.“

Although he has seen his store’s customers (Sherry-Lehmann sells to 42 states, Mexico and Brazil) trade down within the Bordeaux category ever since the 2008 economic downturn, they have stayed loyal to the region.

O’Connor began teaching consumer-friendly educational events at Sherry-Lehmann’s mid-town Manhattan store in 2008. “When we do Bordeaux tastings and seminars, we sell out immediately. There is more excitement than for other regions we offer, even when the prices are high. People really are interested in tasting the wines but also in education so we bring in the owner or winemaker. Many times the attendees have bought the wines already and so it makes sense to come and taste and decide when to drink them.”

His prediction for the 2009 vintage: It's a great vintage, comparable to the 2005, but it won't sell as vigorously because of the economy.

Read more from O'Connor about the American appetite for 2009 Bordeaux in my interview with him in Decanter magazine's June issue, which contains a full report on the 2009 Bordeaux vintage.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Boxed In

Do you avoid boxed wines because you think they are cheap, inferior plonk? I would have been with you if I hadn’t had the opportunity to taste so many over the past few years and discover that most all of them are drinkable, enjoyable wines. Not to mention great bargains.

The most recent I’ve tasted is from the Octavin Home Wine Bar. The 2009 Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, was outrageously good for $24 for the equivalent of four bottles! If you, too, have a taste for tart, you will be very pleased with this wine.

I probably would not serve it to guests, but only because the bag-in-box presentation still has a stigma attached to it – although the octagonal box it comes in is the most attractive container I’ve seen yet. (Yet for casual drinking at home, the box with the spigot is actually preferable to selecting, opening and storing four bottles). I think younger wine fans will get over this stigma quicker than older ones -- or may not acknowledge it to begin with -- and as wine producers compete for that younger generation of drinkers, we will be seeing more and more of them. After all, even in the fortress of wine tradition that is France, the bag-in-box wine category is the fastest growing today.

Octavin also makes Monthaven Winery 2008 Chardonnay from California’s central coast at $24 and 2008 Big House Red for $22. Both octagonal boxes contain the equivalent of four bottles.

Monday, March 29, 2010

That's Italian

The V. Sattui winery in Napa Valley, the most visited winery in the most visited wine country in the United States, is celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Sattui family in the wine busines, and late last week I attended a luncheon in San Francisco’s Italian North Beach neighborhood to help celebrate. It was held at the venerable North Beach Restaurant -- worth trying if you visit San Francisco – just two blocks from where Vittorio Sattui, great grandfather of Dario Sattui, the winery's owner, first established the V. Sattui family wine business in 1885.

It turns out, according to Victor Geraci, a historian with the enviable title of “Food & Wine Historian” at the oral history office at U.C. Berkeley, that Italians have played a pivotal role in founding and cultivating the California wine industry.

During Prohibition, the Sattui family went into the insurance business. But in 1972, Dario Sattui – a true Napa Valley original -- restarted the family wine business while living in a windowless van with his girlfriend -- “soon to be my wife and then soon to be my ex-wife.”

Things were promising back then in Napa Valley. “I had everything going for me. No money. No knowledge. I had a one year plan to make money. If I’d known a lot I would have done it like everyone else and it would have taken 10 years to get a nickel back,” Sattui told the luncheon crowd.

When the V. Sattui Winery opened, “You name it we didn’t have it -- no cash register, no bottling line, nothing but a $15 calculator, a bare bones budget,“ said Sattui, who has taught classes at U.C. Davis in how to start a winery with no money. From the beginning, he only sold his wines direct to winery visitors -- the first in Napa Valley to do so -- and had picnic tables “where other wineries had signs that said ‘Keep Off The Grounds.' " He used to pay customers to sit at the tables when it drizzled to attract people cruising by on Highway 29. “The simplest things worked. Thank God I didn’t really know what to do.

"My dad was a cab driver. I’m just an average guy. I believe that average people -- as long as they don’t realize how average they are --can accomplish a lot. If you try long enough and hard enough, you can only fail so many times.”

You still can’t buy V. Sattui wines anywhere but through this winery in St. Helena with a cult following. The values this cult worships have nothing to do with today's hot new wine but rather with a warm, family atmosphere and a relaxed, non-snobbish approach to quality food and wine.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What’s in a name?

Would you buy a wine called Bitch?

One that comes with a pink label dominated by the word “Bitch,” surrounded by a border of little hearts with daggers through them?

I wouldn’t. I asked fellow members of a food and wine writers Internet group that question and got a unanimous thumbs down. “Cheap,” “tacky,” “unfunny,” “harsh,” “off putting” and a “turnoff” were some of the responses.

I told them that, supposedly, Bitch stood for “Babe In Total Control of Herself.” No one bought it.

If some people choose wines because of pretty or interesting labels, many also choose wines by their names. There are well-known brand names (Kendall-Jackson), cute or funny names (Goats Do Roam), unappetizing names (Fat Bastard) but mostly just ho-hum names (Fill-in-the-Blank Family Vineyards). In this slow economy, people are hunting for a gimmick (well, some people are always looking for a gimmick) and someone behind this wine from Australia must have thought the name “Bitch” would compel buyers to grab it off the shelf. And it probably does.

As much as I was turned off by the name, I was even more turned off by the sparkling wine, Bitch Bubbly. Sweet, flat-ish, uninteresting. Afterwards, I regretted having drunk a whole glass – and that’s rare.

I hear the Grenache is quite good, and a good value, too. But something about that name makes me not terribly motivated to try it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tease of Cahors

Usually, wine producers don't travel halfway around the world for tastings unless their wines are available in the place they're visiting -- why tease anyone with a taste of wine they can't obtain? But sometimes, as in the case of Cahors, the wine region in southwestern France, producers hit the road to attract importers, restaurateurs and writers, and to build excitement for the wine in a region where it's not well-known.

Argentine Malbec is better known in the U.S. than French -- though Cahors maintains it is the birthplace of Malbec. A Cahors wine must be 70% Malbec to carry the Cahors label. Many are 100% Malbec and, if not, they are commonly blended with Merlot.

At a tasting of 21 Cahors producers in San Francisco today I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Cahors Malbec. The wines, as a group, were deeply saturated in color (they call Malbec the "black grape"), pleasantly herbal, fruity, and most of all, they were not the tannic monsters I was expecting -- even recent vintages like the 2007. I tasted wines from the 2002 to the 2008 vintages and found none unpleasantly or powerfully tannic. I enjoyed the wines -- and that's saying a lot since my own tastes run more to tart and snappy whites (Cahors makes no white wine) and earthy, crisp reds.

Only one of the wines, Chateau La Coustarelle, is available in California. But many others can be found in Texas, New York, Washington state, and others.  Wines I particularly enjoyed, and labels to look for, include Chateau Vincens, Domaine Les Roques De Cana, Mas Del Perie, Domaine Le Bout Du Lieu and Chateau Armandiere. Prices are generally reasonable. One of my favorites, Le Vins des Noces from Domaine Les Roques De Cana (not yet available in the U.S.) sells for only 10 Euros, or about $14.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

High on Italian Wine

If you haven’t heard of Italy’s Alto Adige (pronounced Alto Ah-dee-jay) wine region, join the crowd. I’d passed through this German-inflected area of Italy many years ago, but wasn’t familiar with its wines, so I was thrilled to attend a 90-minute seminar on its main wine varieties and distinctive geography today in San Francisco, followed by a walk-around wine tasting of almost two dozen producers from the area.

The Alto Adige wine region, one of Italy’s smallest winegrowing areas, is also its northernmost bordering Austria and Switzerland and lying south of the section of the Italian Alps known as the Dolomites. Though not as widely known as many other wine regions, it certainly is no new kid on the block -- winegrowing was thriving there in 700 B.C. What I love about discovering wine regions like Alto Adige are the grape varieties I have never encountered, such as the rich, indigenous Lagrein, and interesting blends such as a fragrant Reisling-Moscato-Chardonnay-Pinot Bianco blend.

To read more about what producers in the area are doing, see my story on

Following are several of the wines I tasted. Some I liked more than others, but all were eminently drinkable. Some seemed like good buys, while the price tags on a couple raised eyebrows around the room. I’m passing them on anyway because value, like taste, can be a highly individual thing.

These wines are available in the U.S. and I have noted the importers/distributors.

2008 Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco Haberle, $20.
Pale straw color with a hint of green, rich aromas and flavors of tropical fruits and a medium-weight, silky texture in the mouth. Not buttery or heavy like many Chardonnays; a medium acidity level means it won’t be too tart for people turned off by the sharpness of a Sauvignon Blanc. An appetizing 13% alcohol. Distributed by Chambers and Chambers Wine Merchants.

2006 Terlano Pinot Bianco Vorberg, $28
From a wine cooperative made up of many small producers, this elegant, lean wine with a medium body and sensuous mouthfeel had a completely fresh, clean taste even though it’s from the 2006 vintage. Another nice alcohol level of 13%. Available through Banville & Jones Wine Merchants.

2008 Tramin Gewürztraminer Nussbaumer $40
The dark, honey color of this wine suggested the rich aromas and flavors to come. Bursting with aromatics, the wine suggested sweetness, but finished dry. A surprising 14.75% alcohol level (I guess they need super-ripe grapes to get all that flavor in the glass). Available from Winebow, Inc.

2005 Abbazia di Novacella Pinot Nero Riserva Proepositus $60
Dark and rich in color, aromas and cherry flavor, this wine has richness but is still leaner than most high-end California Pinot Noirs. Intense ripe fruit suggested a touch of sweetness but the wine was dry. Nice, lush mouthfeel, and a moderate 13.8% alcohol. Vias Imports.

2008 Cantina Bolzano Lagrein Perl $24
Garnet in color, unusually lean, elegant and crisp for a red wine, tasting of dark red and blue berries, this wine also has an appealing 13.5% alcohol. Imported and distributed by Martine’s Wines, Inc.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Role of The Wine Critic

I was talking to the well-known Berkeley-based wine retailer and importer Kermit Lynch yesterday and he said something I agree with completely about the role of the wine critic.

“The job of the critic is first to say whether a wine is correct – that is, balanced, clean and not flawed, and then to guide the reader to how to best appreciate it -- for instance, don’t drink a Muscadet with spicy tacos. Everything else is personal taste.”


I was trained as a news journalist so my orientation is to give readers information so they can decide an issue for themselves. Some wine writers, I’ve noticed, think it is their job to sell wine. I say, leave that to the salesmen. My job is to let people know the information that will guide them toward making the right choice of wine for their individual tastes. It certainly isn’t to do what some other critics do, which is to say, “Drink this wine because I like it.” In fact, it isn’t to say “Drink wine,” at all. If someone says to me “I don’t drink wine,” I would never say to them, “Oh, but you should.”

It’s not my job to do anything other than guide readers in the direction of what wines are well-made, quality products at all price levels, and what wines they may like. Writing for the British wine magazine, Decanter, I’ve had to give star ratings before, but I also had 50 words or so to describe the wine so readers could decide whether it was to their taste. If you don’t do that, what’s the point?

Another thing Kermit said was, “Maybe someday there will be lots of wine critics out there instead of just a few being so popular. I would love to see that.” So would I, and I think the blogosphere is contributing to that future.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Celebrate Australia Day

Tomorrow, January 26, is Australia Day, the most popular holiday in Australia. I visited Australia in 2008, specifically the wine-producing Barossa and Hunter Valleys, and found it to be a wonderful, wide-open country with amazingly friendly people and wonderful wines. While much of the Shiraz can be a bit too intense for me, I have friends who exist on it alone (that is, as far as their wine diet is concerned)!

Many people place a lot of value on the wine critic’s numerical score, but there’s so much more to enjoying a wine than simply what’s in the glass. The setting, the occasion, the company, the weather, the food, one’s mood -- all these contribute, or don’t, to the wine’s potential. Yet all these factors are shunted aside when a wine critic evaluates a wine in a technical setting divorced from real life and then assigns a number to it. And it’s his or her palate’s number, not yours.

An experience I had in Australia will make me remember Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling forever, and to seek it out when I'm looking for a Riesling. It was a beach picnic at Emu Bay on Kangaroo Island. After motoring out in a speedboat to a spot where we swam with a school of dolphins, we returned to a tented, open-air dining room in the sand and ate a delicate local white fish with an array of different vintages of Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling. At least one was a decade old and still tasted fresh and lively.

So raise a glass of Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling tomorrow -- or whatever your favorite Aussie wine is -- to celebrate Australia Day. The holiday is technically in memory of the First Fleet of Convicts to land in Botany Bay in 1978, but was not nationally celebrated until 1944.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Cognac Cocktail Comeback?

Cognac producers in France are working hard to battle declining sales around the world -- in Japan, the United States and other countries, sales of Cognac are flat or falling. The main bright spot is in China where sales are climbing and, according to a Hennessey executive I spoke with at the 3rd annual Cognac Summit earlier this week, people are drinking Cognac with their meals -- neat, over ice, or with water.

Cognac, a spirit with a 40% alcohol content, takes its name from the southwestern region of France where Cognac producers are located. The firewater is distilled twice before aging for from two years to as long as many decades, but only after producers grow Ugni Blanc wine grapes and make a white wine, which would be too high in acid and too low in alcohol to serve as a still wine. That’s why I tend to think of it as another form of wine rather than a spirit.

At the meeting, I found that part of the Cognac strategy is to re-vitalize classic Cognac cocktails from a bygone era. I was surprised to learn that the original Mint Julep and Alexander, among others, were made with Cognac. Producers such as Hennessey, Courvoisier and Remy Martin invited creative “mixologists” (aka bartenders) from throughout Europe and the United States so they could educate them about Cognac and explore new ways of making it more relevant to today’s bar and restaurant scene.

Cognac is not an inexpensive spirit and can drive the price of cocktails up to unpalatable levels so that‘s a problem for bars and restaurants. “Cognac is not the most cost-effective mixer but you have to have it because people expect it,” says Julie Reiner, of the Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan and Clover Club in Brooklyn, New York. It’s easy to see why Cognac is costly -- it’s most often a blend of many different years of Cognac‘s elixir, some aged in the finest French oak barrels for many years.

The photos that accompany this post are from the Musée des arts du Cognac, a beautiful tribute to the lifeblood of the Cognac community, and the meeting, where 60 or so participants slaved for three days to put their marks on Cognac cocktails. In the process we consumed a fair amount of it and visited several Cognac houses including Hine and Chateau Ferrande. A highlight was a tasting at the museum of 16 smaller Cognac producers, such as Delamain, Frapin and Chateau de Montifaud, which many of the mixologists, who purchase for their bars, were impressed with. One, Leopold Gourmel, even offered a biodynamic Cognac.

One of the bartenders, Todd Appel, from the Crimson Lounge in Chicago's Hotel Sax, suggested to me that I make a Manhattan, one of my favorite cocktails, with Cognac instead of the usual rye whiskey. I tried it the night I returned home from France and loved it.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Yesterday in San Francisco, leading members of the California wine industry announced a major step forward in improving the "sustainability" of vineyards and winery facilities. As I wrote in a story for, the state industry has deveoped a new program for independent sustainable certification of wineries and vineyards.

Vintners and grape growers have been educating themselves and taking action in their businesses for years -- in fact the wine industry is seen as progressive and pioneering in this among agricultural sectors -- to improve the viticultural, environmental and social aspects of their businesses while remaining economically viable.

But since “sustainable” has been the buzzword of the decade -- meaning everything from eliminating herbicides and pesticides in the vineyards to slapping a single solar panel on a winery building -- it was important for the industry to provide concrete standards and ratings.

So now, under the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing program, wineries have steps to folow and a way to prove to consumers, retailers and each other that they are taking those steps to farm, produce, package and transport wine sustainably.

The program is voluntary, but the majority of wineries and growers in the state have particpated in educational workshops and pilot programs since their inception in 2002.

The program does not concern itself with informing consumers about the sustainability of a certain product; no information will appear on wine bottles. The people leading this charge say only that it's not a "consumer-facing issue," but why not? It is consumers who are clamoring for eco and green products and growing more concerned with what they're putting in their bodies. So let's hope that informing consumers becomes a priority soon.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

19th Annual ZAP Fest

One of the biggest, juiciest wine fests of the year is happening later this month in San Francisco: the 19th Annual Zinfandel Advocates & Producers Festival.  ZAP's annual party consists of four events held January 28-30 at which over 200 Zinfandel specialists will pour barrel samples and new releases, pair Zin with food and generally make merry. There is a Grand Zinfandel Tasting Jan. 30; Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing Jan. 28; Flights: A Showcase of Zinfandels Jan. 29; and an Evening with the Winemakers, also Jan. 29.

Win a pair of tickets to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Festival and Herbst Pavilions at Fort Mason (Marina Blvd. at Buchanan, San Francisco) by commenting at the end of this post about why you love Zinfandel, that quintessential California grape (it actually traces back to Croatia, but that's another story).

A couple of years ago, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that named Zinfandel the state’s “historic wine.” As such, it would have shared official state symbol status with the California Redwood, the Golden Trout, the Grizzly Bear and the Dogface Butterfly. At that time, renowned producer Kent Rosenblum called Zinfandel the " heart and soul of California wine for over 150 years.”