Paso Robles is toasting its past with Vintage Paso: Zinfandel Weekend, three days of events at wineries around the region celebrating the grape that spurred California’s first wine boom in the mid-1800s.
It’s also raising a glass to the future, as this often rustic wine gains renewed attention for more refined bottlings highlighting historic vineyards, some of which were planted more than a hundred years ago.
For many years, this distinctly Californian varietal wasn’t taken very seriously in the wine world. It didn’t build on the well-known wines of French Burgundy, Bordeaux or other Old World regions. For a time, no one knew where it came from. (Experts now believe zinfandel originated in Croatia and is cousin of the Italian primitivo.)
Most zins were over the top: jammy, alcohol-heavy fruit bombs with little complexity. And those whoppers have plenty of fans — just look to the popularity of Opolo Vineyards’ Mountain Zinfandel or Tobin James Cellars’ Fatboy and Ballistic.
But wineries have started to appeal to more refined palates with zins that emphasize the grape’s more herbal side, with briary and brambly flavors, mineral-driven backbones and spice rack aromas.
Some of these wines are cracking critic scores into the 90s, and several of Turley Wine Cellars’ zins have made Wine Spectator’s annual Top 100 lists in the last few years.
Zinfandel was the first and only wine that Thacher Winery's Sherman Thacher made for many years.
Picking the grapes early, before they get too ripe, he said, is key to accentuating the varietal’s more subtle flavors and preserving some bright, alcohol-balancing acidity.
“It gets so smoking hot here” in Paso Robles, he said, “I’d rather drink something with some acidity.”
Vintage Paso: Zinfandel Weekend kicks off Friday with a sold-out Zinposium seminar and after-party at the Paso Robles Inn, and continues throughout the weekend in various locations. Find the full schedule of events at pasowine.com.