With Golden Gate Bridge in the background, and a wealth of wine within, not a bad place to taste, Tim Pawsey photo

ZAP may well be the most fun you can ever have at a wine tasting …

We’ve been to a few tastings in our time but nothing quite compares with ZAP—the no holds barred salute to Zinfandel, held annually at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. This year’s event—the 20th (marking 20 years of ‘Zinspiration’) kicks off Jan 27, with the Grand Tasting on Jan 29th.

What better place in the world to taste California’s very own variety than in the heart of San Fran, with the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz as a backdrop?

Unlike in Vancouver—where walking outside the tasting room with a glass of wine can just about get you zapped with a taser—at ZAP’s Grand Tasting you can escape the madness inside (you’ll need to once in a while) and drink in the waterfront views while sipping on your glass of Ridge, Ravenswood, Rancho Zabacco or whatever…

Zin-freaks pack in for the world’s biggest single varietal tasting, Tim Pawsey photo

Such are the joys of ZAP!  A true extravaganza, it’s attended by some 9,000 or so Zin-freaks, hell-bent on finding the best bottles in the room. Nowhere else will you encounter such an extraordinary, diverse cross section of serious wine geeks, vino-hawkers and plain exuberant tasters (OK, and a few party animals) than you’ll find at ZAP.

Plus, this year features Bitchin’ Kitchen’s Nadia G to spice things up even more…

Can you say ‘Fun’?

No wonder it’s the biggest single varietal wine tasting in the world. And did we mention it’s right next door to Fisherman’s Wharf?

California, of course, excels in all styles of Zinfandel from just about every region. And yes, some are better than others. Over the years, our tasting has turned up trumps in the form of several smaller producers from Paso Robles and Sierra Foothills (Amador County especially), as well as no shortage from Sonoma and a smattering from Napa—where there’s no doubt really that Cabernet is still king.

Check out Zinfandel Advocates & Producers for the main event, as well as a host of other reasons to go. Not to mention that there’s even a ZAP App now!

What to wear? Something Zinnish, like a crimson bandana or tutu. And running shoes. You’ll need them to get around the 250 plus wineries.

When to book? Now!

Where to stay? The Westin St. Francis, the official host hotel is offering a special room rate of $159 per night. A great deal, for sure. Plus (if you can still get a ticket) you can hobnob at An Evening with the Winemakers, Jan 28th.

We also really enjoyed offsetting our carbon footprint guilty conscience at the very central, cosy and sustainably motivated Orchard Garden Hotel, (466 Bush St.), just a few blocks from Union Square, and close to the streetcar down to Fort Mason.

No Go? If you can’t make the trip, there’ll be no shortage of Zinfandel at the perennially sold out California Wine Fair, which rolls into the Vancouver Trade & Convention Centre on March 11th. Tix from the Arts Club 604-687-1644 or www.artsclub.com

(ZAP has selected The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association as its 2011 charity of choice. A portion of the proceeds of festival ticket sales and auctions will benefit The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.)