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How To Survive ZAP

How To Survive ZAP

by Tim Elliott on January 28, 2011

ZAP Grand TastingToday starts the annual Zinfandel Advocates & Producers Festival for me in San Francisco. It’s been a few years since I’ve attended so I have been thinking about the best strategy to cover the grand tasting tomorrow.

Back before my first ZAP, I asked pioneer wine blogger and ZAP veteran Alder Yarrow of Vinography for advice. He passed along wisdom that helped me to maximize my time on the floor tasting but still preserved my palate enough to delineate brambles from black raspberry by the end.

So here are his tips with a few others from my experiences with some color commentary for any readers attending ZAP tomorrow:

  • Have a plan – I’m looking over the list of producers on the ZAP website to target producers I’ve not yet tasted or from regions I’m not familiar with.
  • Don’t taste from producers you are already familiar with – As cool as tasting the entire range of Zin from Ridge or Ravenswood in one go is, I will refrain from going to their tables until I have at least 60 or 70 new wines already tasted.
  • Spit the entire tasting – The ZAP folks give you a large red plastic cup for this purpose. Use it or you will lose you objectivity very quickly (remember most of these wines are between 15 and 16% ABV). Don’t know how? Check out this article.
  • Take frequent breaks – I break after 25 or 30 wines tasted, roughly every 45 minutes or so. This will help minimize the effects of the alcohol that is absorbed in your mouth. Even if you spit the whole time, you will feel the effects of tasting if you don’t break.
  • Eat and drink plenty of water – Bottled spring water, bread and plenty of cheese are strategically placed around the floor. When you break, eat and drink a bottle or two of water.
  • Wear dark closes you won’t mind donating after the tasting – I’ll be wearing a black mock turtleneck and blue jeans appearing as a wine tasting Steve Jobs. These dark colors will hide the inevitable spills you or someone else around you will splash your way. Don’t wear white or something new.
  • Don’t wear cologne, perfume or any other product with strong aromas – Classic wine tasting etiquette. You’d be surprised how many people don’t comply with this one.
  • Don’t brush your teeth in the morning or gargle mouthwash – Yes, hardcore wine tasting tactics but these strong flavors will effect your abilities to pick up nuances in the wines tasted. At least the first 10 or 20.
  • Eat a hearty breakfast or lunch but nothing spicy – Before tasting so many wines it’s important to have a full stomach. Like the strong flavors of toothpaste or mouthwash, hot sauce or spicy peppers will do the same thing. So no Denver omelette with Tabasco for me before the tasting tomorrow.
  • Take notes of only the wines that stand out – You need to work quickly and as entertaining or educational notes from flawed wines are, they will take too much time to record and probably not be worth it. I will mark such wines in my log with the OMG shorthand and move on.
  • Print out Alder’s Aroma Card – It’s a great resource and it’s free. Get it here and have it handy in your pocket.
  • Have fun! – Most of the people who are not wine geeks tasting tomorrow will come and have a blast. Some, too much of a blast. I have to remind myself tasting so many Zinfandels is a rare privilege that needs to be savored and enjoyed.

If you are there tomorrow say hi. I’ll be the guy who looks like Steve Jobs scribbling notes and tweeting from my mobile phone. I’ll be at the Mixed Blacks section fairly early in the tasting after a tip from Joel Peterson from Ravenswood this morning. Watch my tweets for any live coverage tomorrow which I will aggregate there. At least two podcasts are coming shortly so stay tuned.

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