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Paso Robles grown

America's heritage grape, Zinfandel, is a natural in Paso Robles

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In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival offers many excellent attractions; the three-day event is highlighted by a grand tasting. The “Zin Tasting & Wine Country Auction” takes place on Saturday, March 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Paso Robles Event Center. This tasting event offers Zinfandel in all of its varied and glorious styles, complementary gourmet foods, and an auction of collectible wines and lifestyle lots. The appealing extra at the grand tasting is the dessert bar, where they’ll pair late harvest (dessert style) Zins and Port-like Zinfandels with sweet treats from local artisans. Another very popular attraction is the Plaza Lounge, where you can pair that Zinfandel with a cigar, from which you’ll have a variety to choose—in Zins and cigars. Non-smokers need not worry; the smokers will be outside and well out of range, so they won’t interfere with the aromas of the fine Zins you’re sniffing inside at the main event.

GET SOME ZIN :  The Zin fest is just around the corner and offers something for everybody—provided you like Zin, of course. - PHOTOS COURTESTY OF THE PASO ROBLES WINE COUNTRY ALLIANCE
  • PHOTOS COURTESTY OF THE PASO ROBLES WINE COUNTRY ALLIANCE
  • GET SOME ZIN : The Zin fest is just around the corner and offers something for everybody—provided you like Zin, of course.

I started attending this weekend event a few years before I relocated to the Central Coast in 1996, and I’ve always enjoyed it. Of course, the tasting was way smaller then than it is today. This year the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance can boast that it has 150 wineries participating, and that doesn’t include all of the brands that are made in Paso Robles today. While it sounds a bit overwhelming, it’s actually more compelling than ever to taste through this amazing array of Zinfandels in all its myriad styles. You can try two Zinfandels made from fruit grown in the same vineyard and discover that in the hands of two different winemakers, they taste nothing alike.

That’s why you should attend the Zin Tasting & Wine Country Auction on Saturday, when you’ll find most of Paso’s producers in one convenient location at the Paso Robles Event Center. For many visitors, it’s just a short walk back to the hotels in the vicinity. And Paso does feature a number of killer restaurants you’ll want to dine in while you’re in town. The nice thing about the large venue for this tasting is you can buy tickets at the gate even at the last minute. Buy the ZIP (Zinfully Important Person) ticket for $85, and you get to start tasting an hour earlier, entering at 6 p.m. Buy the Zin Fan Del Ticket, and it’s only $60 per person, which starts at 7 p.m. For more details, visit pasowine.com.

Download the Zinfandel Festival brochure to get the perfect guide to the open house events the wineries are offering Friday through Sunday. Among the really cool events I discovered are:

• Ancient Peaks is promoting their new zip line at Margarita Ranch spanning 3,000 total feet. It’s about three-fifths of a mile. Think of Geico’s pig Maxwell crying weeeeee-weeeeee-weeeeee while you fly over vineyards and wildlife. It’s only $89 per person for this thrilling ride;

• Chumeia has a new Zinfandel ice cream tasting paired with its Zinfandels;

• J. Lohr winery offers a class to taste the reasons the right wineglass makes all the difference when you’re tasting fine wines, Sunday only, beginning at 11 a.m. Cost is $75 per person, and you get to keep the set of four Riedel crystal wineglasses;

• or you can celebrate St. Paddy’s Day in true Irish style with Harmony owner/winemaker Charlie Mulligan, who’s serving up authentic Irish pub food with his selection of Zinfandels.

Browse through the brochure, and you’re sure to find the parties that provide your idea of an excellent adventure in Paso Robles Wine Country.

More Zin!

The Far Out Wineries have good reason to call themselves that: They’re far, far out on Paso Robles wine country trails. But once you’ve arrived, you’ll know why this educational event—the Far Out Wineries Zinfandel Summit ’12, set for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Justin Vineyards on March 17—was well worth getting to if you want an unforgettable Zinfandel tasting experience. There are 17 wineries that belong to this group, and they’re all gathering at Justin Vineyard during the Zinfandel Festival to provide a special tasting of their Zins.

This year, Justin is host to the event in its barrel room so it can allow more consumers to meet the winemakers during the “walkabout” Zin tasting and learn everything they’ve ever wanted to know about making Zinfandel. It’s one of the most difficult varieties to grow, and it’s just as finicky during the winemaking process. You’ll learn what makes it so difficult and what winemakers do to make a great Zin. Besides the walk-around tasting, the winemakers will divide up into breakout seminars to discuss such topics as the merits of dry-farmed Zinfandel versus irrigated, and the use of French oak versus American oak for aging Zinfandel. Among winemakers discussing the latter topic, winemaker Jeff Pipes of Pipestone Vineyards in Paso Robles’ west-side growing region provided some insight.

“My feeling is that some oak is appropriate as long as it doesn’t stand out,” he explained. “If you can taste the oak, I don’t really like that.”

Pointing out Zinfandel’s Mediterranean heritage, he said it grows well in Paso Robles and that its natural fruit and peppery characters like a little oak influence. But if it’s grown in areas that are too hot, those natural characters are subdued, so the winemaker has to add more flavor by manipulating the fermentation or aging of the wine. “My style of Zinfandel is already spicy and rich, yet by adding the richer flavors of American oak, it makes the wine more complex,” he laughed. “I’m sure John Munch (owner/winemaker of Le Cuvier) will disagree.”

Another special attraction: Justin’s chef, Will Torres, who creates the seasonal menus for Deborah’s Room, will be preparing the Zin-friendly foods they’ll be serving everyone. Tickets can be purchased at Justin the morning of the event, and it’s only $55 per person all inclusive. You’ll find more information about the Far Out Wineries at faroutwineries.com.

Contact New Times’ Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com.

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