The Ultimate Zinfandel Experience

By Sandra Crittenden

Wine lovers are often wine travelers, as well, visiting their favorite regions and tasting the wines where the grapes were grown and the vino produced.

Drinking a glass in the place it was made adds a deeper layer of familiarity when enjoying the wines again back at home.

Another way to experience the magic of a region is to plan travel around regional or variety specific tasting events. For Zinfandel aficionados, there is no better way to taste the entire California Zinfandel Trail than to plan a wine travel trip to San Francisco for ZinEX, the ultimate Zinfandel Experience. The next ZinEX is planned for January 2023.

The Zinfandel Experience is a wine and food extravaganza that draws together Zin lovers from around the world. The three-day festival starts with an Opening Night Dining event on Thursday, January 26.

There are three of San Francisco's top restaurants selected where guests will enjoy a multi-course meal paired with Zinfandel. Each restaurant features a different type of cuisine and often offer some surprising pairings.

This year’s restaurants are 25 Lusk—a dynamic restaurant helmed by Chef Matthew Dolan, Piperade—featuring West Coast meets Basque cuisine, and Scoma’s—showcasing the local catch on the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf.

Friday, January 27, has two events on the schedule. Guests have the opportunity to do a professional style blind tasting with acclaimed Zinfandel producers and hosted by Zinfandel master, Joel Peterson, the founding winemaker at Ravenswood in the afternoon.

The evening features a Winemaker Dinner and Auction with a Red Carpet Gala theme. Reserve Zins and older vintages in magnums are poured at each table with their own winemaker host.

Zinfandel ExperienceThe conclusion of the celebration of all things Zin is on Saturday, January 28, at One Market Pavilion with a Grand Tasting featuring more than 80 wineries pouring hundreds of unique Zinfandel wines from across California.

The all-day affair provides wine lovers the opportunity to taste everything from reserve bottles to barrel samples with bites from winery chefs and local restaurants to enjoy throughout the tasting. It is the ultimate Zinfandel tasting experience.

Tickets can be purchased for the individual events but the best way to enjoy it is with a VIP package that includes two nights stay at the luxurious Palace Hotel, two tickets to all four events, reservation choice and preferred seating for the dinners, shuttle service to the off-site events, three bottles of Zinfandel to take home, and a Heritage Club membership which grants attendees access to the Heritage Lounge during The Grand Tasting. Learn more and buy tickets at

Wine lovers who want more can easily make their own additional plans and appointments to journey into either Napa Valley or Sonoma either before or after ZinEx to taste further with recommended Zinfandel producers V. Sattui, Grgich Hills, Rombauer, Tres Sabores, Green and Red, Handry, Wilson, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Seghesio, or Hartford Family Winery.

While there will not be grapes hanging on the vines, January is a fantastic time to venture into wine country for a more personal experience without the crush of the summertime crowds.

Zinfandel is sustainably grown across California in many historic old vine vineyards. Zinfandel is one of the most expressive grapes that showcases the terroir in which it is grown. It can be made in a variety of styles ranging from big and bold to more elegant and complex.

This benchmark California varietal wine is food friendly with a surprising array of cuisines from grilled meat or salmon to spicier options like Indian, barbecue, or Mexican due to its softer, more moderate tannin structure coupled with the natural acidity found in the less ripe style made by high quality producers.

If wintertime wine travel is not on the agenda this January, there are still some exceptional Zinfandels to be found on the island. These premium bottles were all seen on the shelf at Spec’s.

Rombauer Zinfandel is sourced from some of the premium Zinfandel growing areas in northern California including El Dorado and Amador counties. Expect great quality in this richly flavored wine bursting with fruit and spice notes, fine tannins, a creamy feel, and a lingering finish priced at approximately $40.

Grgich Hills Zinfandel is sourced from an organically farmed vineyard in Calistoga and excites the palate with fruit flavors ranging from juicy red berries to sour cherry and blood orange with a bit of coffee in the elongated, elegant finish. Priced at under $40.

Turley Old Vine Zinfandel is composed from top quality Zinfandel vineyards across the Golden State from Paso Robles to Amador County. Expect fresh red and blueberry notes and a silky feel throughout the lengthy finish, priced at under $35.

Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel is sourced from a several Sonoma vineyards and blended to create a fresh and refined wine with notes of strawberry and fig jam continuing through the soft, sensuous finish, under $30.

Peachy Canyon Zinfandel Westside brings great balance to the bottle with sophisticated nuances of spice, cigar, and leather mingling through the deep black cherry character in a sumptuous, elegant finish, under $30.

Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel is sourced from the best lots across the county with a small amount of Petite Sirah added honoring the family tradition over a century old. Expect a luscious layering of juicy flavor with expressive fruit and a long, complex finish. Under $25 for the standard sized bottle or $15 for the half bottle size.