Swirl, sip, celebrate: 2010 Zin Fest blends wine, food, friends

Modified: Monday, Mar 22nd, 2010

Vines on the Marycrest Owner Victor Abascal pours a bottle for an influx of tasters. Courtesy photo.

Hundreds of clinking wine glasses transformed the Paso Robles Event Center into the most expansive and extensive wine tasting room in San Luis Obispo County during the anticipated Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival's Zin Tasting and Wine Country Auction, which successfully blended good food, wine and conversation last Saturday, March 20 from 5:30 to 9 p.m.

Wine tasters were privy to a smorgasbord of Paso Robles delights, which included zinfandel from approximately 55 local wineries, culinary creations from 20 local restaurants and a myriad of activities from perusing a Chocolate and Port Parlor to taking in a gourmet chef demonstration to simply lounging with a fine cigar in hand.

In addition, an extensive silent auction offered collections of wines ranging from "A Highway 46 West Blend" featuring select bottles from such brand names as Berardo Vineyards, Castoro Cellars, Veris Cellars, Hunt Cellars and others to a hands-on winemaking adventure at Justin Vineyards & Winery.

Other auction items included Paderewski Festival tickets, winemaker dinners and exclusive vineyard tours. This combination of wine tasting, food pairing and bidding electrified Commercial Building No. 2, which was alive with constant commotion throughout the evening.

"We have created a grand silent auction that is integrated into the tasting tonight. You can hear announcements going on, we have Jeff and Jeremy from KZOZ; they are going around and doing different interviews with the various winemakers, and we are really trying to get [tasters] excited about the brand, and then to bid on the auction lot," Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Executive Director Stacie Jacob said. “We also have a new chef demonstration, and we've been able to reorient the event through the new mission plaza and the outdoor lounge area. You can also just go and lounge in the Port Parlor and taste some Paso ports as well as the chocolates."

At 5:30 p.m. sharp, tasters who had purchased a ZIP, or "Zinfully Important Person," pass filtered into the building, receiving their own glass of the infamous Zinfandel Festival Collaborative blend, a culmination of each winery's participating zinfandels.

Blendmaster Mike Giubinni of Rotta Winery said he was anxious about getting the Collaborative Blend wine just right.

"[The Collaborative Blend] turned out pretty good, and I didn't see that many people pouring it out, so I felt good, but I was scared until the point that [tasters] were drinking it," Giubinni said. "We tried to put out a perfect wine – something that people will enjoy."

As 7 p.m. rolled around and a long line of Zin Fest guests snaked around the Paso Robles Event Center, things heated up inside and outside of the lavish wine tasting experience. Wine was poured, cheese skewered and cigars lit in the outside lounge.

Rod Stoneburner of Temecula enjoyed a stogie with friends and a full glass of zinfandel.

"We come [to Paso Robles] regularly; we came here last year for the Wine Festival, and we have our favorite wineries here," Stoneburner said, adding that he adores Hunt Cellars, Opolo Vineyards, Four Vines Winery and Tobin James Cellars, among others.

"We also love the boutique wineries here, and if I could move here and stay I would," he said. "[Paso's} history of wine starts in the 1860's, while Temecula wines started in the 1960s and '70s, and they are wonderful wines, but they are not Paso wines."

Las Vegas resident, wine etiquette teacher and creator of wine blog www.vegaswineaux.com Irene King also agreed that there's something special about Paso – namely – a combination of good wine and friendly service.

"I've been coming to Paso for several years, and I love it here. I like Paso because it is not like [wineries] say, 'I'll give you the privilege of tasting our wines for a lot of money.' You go into these wineries and they want you to try the wines and they are extremely friendly," King said.

According to the blogger, Paso Robles winemakers like past Blendmaster Alex Villicana are celebrities within her own circle of girlfriends back home for this very reason.

"We have been friends with some of the different wineries and winemakers here, and I write about them and promote them," King said. "But I don't get anything out of it at all except for the pleasure of knowing that other people will discover how good the Paso wines are."

As the evening progressed and tasters noshed on treats from Apple Farm, Farmstand 46, Vivant Fine Cheese, Thomas Hill Organics, Odyssey World Café and even scoopfuls of fresh paella cooked up by a chef from Tenth Street Basque Café, one thing became clear: Pairing is everything when sipping zinfandel.

Paso Robles Inn Executive Chef Kelly Wangard, alongside Villa Creek Executive Chef Tom Fundaro, kept the culinary juices flowing during a demonstration, where the duo cooked up fresh mozzarella and Italian meatballs.

Wine Country Olives Owner Jennifer Harley offered up plastic cups of wine-infused fresh olive oil for bread dunking and tasting alongside the wide selection of zinfandels.

"Olives grow in the same climate that is good for grapes, so you see a lot of olives and grapes in the same region and that's why we became Wine Country Olives," Harley said. "If you go anywhere in the Paso Robles area or in the Napa region, you find really good olives, so we really cater to the wine industry."

Christina Fontecc of Cigar Boss in Arroyo Grande also said that cigars, if paired with the right wine, can greatly enhance the tasting experience overall.

"Cigars and wine are very similar, especially in the way that they are aged," she said. "The tobacco is aged like wine is, and it's fermented like wine is, so what you have is an aged tobacco with an aged wine, and they both have very distinct flavors."

For the complete article see the 03-23-2010 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 03-23-2010 paper.

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