INTO THE NEW CENTURY
FROM 1999 TO 2002, THE SAN FRANCISCO VINTNERS CLUB HELD three Zinfandel taste-offs among the top wines in each previous year's preliminary competitions. Of the thirty-six wines represented, half were from Sonoma, eight were from Napa, and the rest, except for one, were scattered among the other premium Zinfandel districts: Paso Robles, Sierra Foothills, Mendocino, and the Santa Cruz Mountains. One old-vine preliminary winner was from Cucamonga.
There was no geographical shift in the club's findings in these recent years. In 1996 Sonoma had eight of the top twelve, Napa and Paso Robles two each. In 1994 the results were almost identical. But there was a shift in style. The alcohol levels in the 2002 finalists averaged 15.02 percent, and none was under 14 percent. In the early 1990s Zinfandels with over 14 percent alcohol were rare. But producers had not reverted to the tannic behemoth style of the 1970s. Fermentation techniques now could bring forth wines with more gentle tannins from quite ripe grapes, rich and tasty. Although high alcohol levels were to be expected from such grapes, the alcohol no longer seemed hot and abrasive.