ZIN City- The Day That Zinfandel Swooshed Manhattan!

Ladies from Rancho Zabaco

Zinfandel is America's heritage grape from California, sans Europe and back, some say. During prohibition Zin growers made their riches selling their grapes to home winemakers in Brooklyn and Queens. These urban winemakers, mainly sons of Italian American immigrants, followed their old world traditions making table wines in their basements to drink with their daily supper. Zinfandel grapes traveled well from California in wooden crates.

Fast forward to 2012, red wine is America's preferred vino. Zinfandel has grown in popularity and comprises more than 10% of all planted grapes in California. Still as Joel Petersen, founder of Ravenswood says, "It is the grape that wine writers love to hate".

As a wine writer I know that some geeks are down on high alcohol Zins that are labeled at 16% and can possibly be 18.5% (2.5% margin of grace). You can spot (or sniff) one of these "hot" Zins a mile away. Still it is not fair to brand all Zins as being this way. There are so many different styles produced from Claret to jammy, with alcohol levels starting at 13.5 and averaging 14.7%

Last Tuesday twenty-six Zinfandel producers participated in an exclusive Zinfandel-only trade & media tasting, followed by Wine Country Network's NYC edition of Pairsine, a Chefs Food & Wine Pairing Competition. See list of wineries. http://pairsine.com/winesprirts.html

This is my company's signature culinary event that was conceived in Denver back in 2005. The NYC Pairsine was our first stop on what we hope will be a national series. Pairing with 100% Zinfandel was a little risky ticket sales wise. Up until this event, our participating chefs were always assigned a white and a red wine, and ordered to create one culinary pairing for each wine. This time, the chefs were assigned two different Zinfandel wines each! The wine sponsor for this event was ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers), one of my favorite wine associations. ZAP promotes all things Zinfandel and puts on one of the nations largest wine festival every January in San Francisco. www.zinfandel.org

Earlier in the day about 150 media & trade members attended a trade-only tasting of Zinfandel, the first major tasting of Zin in NYC since 2004. Attendees got to taste Zinfandel's with appetizers provided by Allure Catering, a catering company owned by Philippe Feret, a former Chef from Windows on The World and a personal friend of wine luminary Kevin Zraly. Feret also owns the French restaurant Brasserie Julien on Third Ave and 81st: www.brasseriejulien.com/

Our line-up of Chefs for the evening Pairsine event was amazing for this event. Nine tri-state area chefs including a click of friends that have competed on Food Network's Chopped, Hells Kitchen and CMT's Big Red Neck Vacation. See complete list of Chefs:

These culinaires were friendly and polite. But deep down, they were also fiercely competitive. As the night unfolded, I found that they really had a great understanding of wine and many had a personal fondness for Zinfandel.

Several pairings stood out for me as purely brilliant. Chef Michael Giletto of Ocean Place Resort & Spa made chocolate truffles that were infused with all of the flavors & descriptors that he could taste in his assigned Gnarly Head Zinfandel. Chef Elvis Inniss of Del Frisco's went out of his steak element and presented a scallop dish to pair with Cake Bread Zin. Nicholas Kayser
Executive Chef of Zengo/Richard Sandoval Restaurants made a Spanish influenced dish of Fava Beans and Blood Sausage.

The one that took it over the top for me was by Chef Eric LeVine of Morris Tap & Grille. Chef Eric made Foie Gras Pate and Herb Crisp, Truffle Mushroom Salad w/ Blackberry Mist.
His dish was supplied with a small spray bottle of blackberry mist that you sprayed on your greens right before eating!
Food by Eric LeVine, Morris Tap & Grille
He paired the dish with Opolo Summit Creek Zin 2010. This clever chef was able to bond his dish with the blackberry notes in this wine!

The following chefs were winners:

People's Choice 2012:
Jason Zukas, Tazzina, Queens, NY

Judges Best Chef 2012:
Eric B LeVine, Chef/Partner-Morris Tap & Grill, NJ

Judges Most Creative Chef 2012:
Michael Giletto- Executive Chef-Ocean Place Resort & Spa, NJ/Gourmet Butterfly Events NYC.

Judges Honorary Mention 2012:
Jason Zukas, Tazzina, Queens, NY

Our prestigious panel of judges included:

Arthur Schwartz, Radio Personality and Book Author
Geoffrey Weill, President of Geoffrey Weill Associates, a leading tourism
and travel public relations company
Monika Elling, CEO, Foundations Marketing Group; Wine PR & Marketing Expert
Lisa Carley, Wine & Food Columnist
Tony Lawrence, Creator/Owner Global Wine Chef

This panel consisted of a well rounded group of food & wine professionals. It was great to have my old friend & NY food guru Arthur Schwartz step in with short notice as a judge. Arthur has been broadcasting recently for Martha Stewart Radio on SiriusXM 110: http://theradioblog.marthastewart.com/

The venue for these event was Sun West Studios at 450 West 31st, 10Th FLR, New York. It is a professional photography studio that is rented for big photo shoots as well as fundraisers and philanthropic events. The curved white backdrop proved to be a great location for shooting the portrait of the chefs. The friendly and professional staff at Sun West was top notch. http://sunweststudios.com/

Our preferred charity for this event was the Foundation For Sight and Sound.
My good friend Mitch Shapiro, FFSS President & Founder conducted an auction that evening through the help of RSI Fundraising Auctions and Rudi Saviano.

Mitch and I are looking at the feasibility of conducting a future Pairsine chefs competition on Long Island in the fall. We will need to determine if we can get enough support from top Long Island restaurants.

One thing for sure is that Wine Country Network is committed to conducting another Pairsine NYC event in 2013. While dates and wines are not yet set, we are aiming for April 2013. So stay tuned! To receive updates please register for our free emails at www.pairsine.com/

We are extremely grateful to all the participating wineries, distributors, chefs, restaurants and their staff that contributed to making this event a fantastic success!

Check out my photo gallery on Flickr:


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