31 July, 2009

2009 Wine Bloggers Conference - Day 2 - Review

Saturday , June 25 brought day 2 of the 2009 WBC and, without missing a beat, we were off to the races. Saturday was an action packed day that brought out the best of the valley..the Napa Valley.

While breakfast was on our own, we boarded several busses and embarked on a 45 minute ride over Porter Creek road into St. Helena bound for the CIA at Greystone. Nice. A few nice pastries, some good coffee and an interesting, albeit a bit disconnected view of media and wine from Barry Schuler, former CEO of America OnLine. Of a bit more interest, and certainly more connected for me, was Jim Gordon, editor of Wines & Vines magazine. Jim brought some very interesting topics to the table. Two were very interesting to me:

1) Smoke Taint - Read up on it here and here.

2) Connect with the wineries/vintners when blogging.

Now, this I found really interesting and brought up some interesting questions to the group. We'll make some progress on this thanks to Monica Granados at Balzac. More to come on that.

After the morning sessions, we were asked to board one of several busses and that between the 250+ attendees, we'd be visiting 25 wineries. Wow! ..so as it turned out, each bus was going to visit 3 distinct wineries and come together for a grand tasting. The decision on which bus to board was ours and the destination of each bus was not disclosed, so it was a nice surprise waiting for us. I was determined to stay out of this one and not hop on a bus with someone I knew. The goal was to do something extremely random and to stay out of the deal completely.

I did just that and I was rewarded handsomely!

Our first stop was Stag's Leap Wine Cellars who did a tremendous job welcoming us and showing off their beautiful grounds.

Lunch was lakeside accompanied by two of their wines, the 2007 Karia Chardonnay and the 2006 Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were delicious with our lunch, but out of our price point. Accordingly, they weren't reviewed.

We also had the fortune to speak with Kirk Grace, their vineyard manager

and learn about his practices and some of the creek repair work the vineyard has undertaken, as well as the legend of the Stag's Leap, seen in the photo below.

A heartfelt thanks to all the folks at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars for being such wonderful hosts and providing us with such a rich experience. Your hopspitality is greatly appreciated!

Our second stop was Palmaz Vineyards, in the Carneros district.

We had a fruitful discussion on family and wineries with representatives from two other wineries, Madonna Estate and Viader Winery. I asked the question "What would you like to tell bloggers? What can we do for you?" Unanimously, the answer was "Tell Our Story." We'll certainly keep to that. Excellent idea!

Back on the bus, we're off to a grand tasting at Quintessa in Rutherford. A stunning facility that's built into a hillside and enjoys the benefits of gravity feeding in their winemaking. The group was fortunate to be presented with nearly 40 wineries pouring around 100 different wines. While the vast majority of the wines presented were in the $100/btl. and were Cabernet Sauvignon, we did find our best white pic of the weekend at this tasting, the 2008 Hendry Albarino. Read more about it here. Standby for a full review shortly.

Unfortunately, we just didn't have sufficient time here to taste. I was concentrating on only about 20% of the wines here and felt rushed, but, to description, it truly was grand.

As quickly as we arrived, twilight approached, and we were back on the bus heading to dinner which turned out to be at Domaine Chandon.

We were escorted into their restaurant Etoile and were presented with a four course dinner paired with
8 different wines.

Of course as this is Napa, most were Cab and not in our price point, but the gem of the entire weekend was the Domaine Chandon 2007 Pinot Meunier (pdf d/l) that was served with dessert. Not what I'd do, but the wine was very enjoyable and would pair more complementary with savory. My initial thoughts on it here. More to come specifically on the P. Meunier shortly.

After dinner we were back on the bus for a seemingly long drive to the conference HQ in Santa Rosa after a full day of adventerure in the Napa Valley. Once back to the hotel, the fun continued with a Portuguese tasting event hosted by the great folks from ViniPortugal.

While we arrived quite late, and I suspect our colleagues who arrived a bit earlier may have thought they got the picks, we enjoyed quite a few nice tastes of Portuguese varietals, including several nice Vinho Verde, and a great Trincadero blend. Our friends Oscar Quevedo and Nadia Adria from Quevedo Port Wines are to be thanked. We relish our time with them and look forward to visiting in Lisboa at the European Wine Bloggers Conference 2009.

28 July, 2009

2009 Wine Bloggers Conference - Day 1 - Review

On Friday, June 24, I set off to attend the 2nd annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma County, California. Friday started off around 1PM with a casual hotel lunch and informal tasting. This was an opportunity for all of the blogger attendees to walk around, get settled, find power for laptops, get wine glasses, meet our peers and then casually walk around to visit with the event sponsors. Most, if not all of the local sponsors staffed their areas with both PR reps and a winemaker or grower. It's very nice to speak with artisans about their craft, art and their product. I've listed/linked several of them below.

A quick note for our sponsors:

I can't thank all of winemakers/vintners and sponsors enough. They each made the effort to make us feel like royalty, took care of our needs, fed us in a generally great fashion!!! and spent time chatting and answering our numerous questions THANK YOU! Please take a minute and check them out.

A couple of standouts in this tasting:

From the DO Rueda reps (not sure the reps actually made the trip from Spain) was the 2008 Blanco Nieva Verdejo. This is what I'd expect when ordering a glass of house white in a "bodega typico" in Spain. Refreshing, cool, crisp green melon and mineral notes. Very nice balance. While many of the other Verdejo lables were also very nice on the nose and on the first contact, this one had a perfect amount of smoothness and flavor concentration on the finish. The others did not.

At approx 2PM we settled in for the presentation of the 2009 American Wine Blog Awards. Good fun to see our peers get the recognition they deserve. Bravo and Kudos well earned to all of the winners. See our previous post on the results.

After that wrapped up, we moved straight to the live-blogging portion of the day. We all called this "speed-dating" or "speed tasting." With 22 tables and 6-8 bloggers per table, vintners and wineries spent 6 minutes with each table, pouring and then discussing the wine they presented for our review. This was a BLAST! We had so little time to think about fluffy adjectives and over analyze the wine and that proved to be very challenging and rewarding at the same time. See our previous post for the reviews and discussion, or lack thereof. FUN, FUN, FUN! Looking forward to double this next year..perhaps one white and one red session. Awesome!

After that wrapped, I checked into the hotel, schlepped bags upstairs and then joined several folks for some impromptu tasting at their patio. The Crushpad boys did a couple of really nice things. A Sta. Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir that was more like Russian River (strange, but true). It had a really strawberry jammy nose and just when I expected it to hit me hard, it didn't. It was ALMOST reserved. Surprised the hell out of me and was actually the first Sta. Lucia Highlands Pinot that I actually enjoyed. Ok..there, I admitted it. They also poured a silky Rousanne that was crisp, creamy and lemony vanilla in a glass. Lovely.

Wow...time for more tasting - The poolside grand tasting was a presentation of approx 25 wineries/vintners each pouring 3-6 wines of their choice for our review consideration. Wow...so many wines, so little time. Unfortunately, I mode it only partially thru the tasting (I'll post a couple of reviews of some selects from this) and then they rushed us off for dinner. Now that's a shame. Forced us to leave great tasting stuff poolside, for, and this is my only complaint of the weekend, for the "Hotel Rubber Chicken." Bummer.

I broke on out and headed to Riviera just a couple of blocks away for a proper dinner. Thanks GP for firing up the kitchen and saving the night! Papardelle Bolognese FTW!

..Day 2, Saturday....

...more to come.

26 July, 2009

Wine Bloggers Conf 2009 - Insight and Wrap Up

We're back from the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma County this weekend. Wow! What a great experience. We met too many wonderful people to list. We're exhausted, but we wanted to throw a couple of things out there quickly as we know you'd be looking for some quick feedback. We'll certainly be posting many things over the next few or more days, but just for a quick update here are the picks for the weekend:

Best 20dollar wine:

Domaine Chandon 2007 Pinot Meunier

Pinot Meunier does not enjoy the popularity, recent or not, of its cousin, Pinot Noir, but it's just as versatile, if not, MORE. This Meunier was paired with dessert, a delicious Valhrona Chocolate Pate at Etoile, the restaurant at Domaine Chandon. She's very, very delicate with an exquisite floral nose and a very well rehearsed mid palate and finish. With minimal spice, she loves to help out and make things even better than they are. Would pair equally well with a thick chop or wild salmon. A very unexpected surprise for us and our range. At the very high end of our price point, but might be available for ~$3-$5 less than suggested retail at your LWS.

Retail: $28
Grade: A

Best of Opposite Color:

Tasted this very green nosed Albarino at a grand tasting so didn't have it paired with anything. I really enjoyed the balance of the green nose to the round, moderated mouthfeel that had a very styled finish. Green apples and mint, on the front, but well balanced, understated low acid on that doesn't fall off like some recent domestic Albarino. I'd be happy with this on the Iberian Peninsula! Would be equally ideal with Paella Valenciana or Spicy Vietnamese.

Retail: $ $22
Grade: A-

Best Value:

Another Petit Sirah that we've been very please with lately. Lovely color with nice garnet and mineral notes. Solidly crafted. I'd take this on a picnic with salumi and cheese, drink on a Tuesday nite with pizza, or pour at a gathering of friends and family. Buy a case or two at this price.

Retail: $10
Grade: A

24 July, 2009

Ok...REALLY going to start live tasting/bloggin now. ...

22 Wineries ...they are each going to one table, and then moving on...kinda like speed dating!

We're at table 14..I'll post an entry after each winery comes by...this should be cool...very quick, so it's very tough and interesting.

We get Concannon first and it looks like I'm last in the round

Concannon 2006 Petit Sirah
Concannon - winery is in Livermore, CA - grapes are Central Coast
Very balanced..first impression is jammy berry front end. A bit of tannin in the back end. Pretty decent bottle. Very drinkable

Retail: $15
Grade: B+

Fisheye 2005 Pinot Grigio
Fisheye very fun brand aimed at newer wine drinkers, wine geeks, not so much. Avail in box. Sweet, immature, but great "lawnmower" wine.

750Ml Retail: $7
Grade: C

Pinot Evil - Underdog Wine NV Pinot Evil
Simple young pinot..ok for a party with lots of folks, not something special or unique.
3L Retail: $7
Grade: C-

Cupcake Vineyards - Cabernet 2007 Sauvignon
Another simple but decent wine, nice for a party. Low tannins. Good buy

Retail: $14
Grade: C+

Snow's Lake Vineyard - 2005 Snow's Lake II Meritage
72% Cab Sauv, 28% Cab Franc
250 cases of this wine. A well structured and maturely made meritage. Tobacco and soil on the hit. REALLY craving a steak now :-)

Retail: $45
Grade: C-

Line39 2006 Petit Sirah - Lake County --
Very nice spicy tannic PS, with very nice structure
Excellent value

Retail $10
Grade: A

Cline 2006 Mouvedre - Contra Coast County
Super deal here folks. Nice Rhone style, but very simple. Needs some time in the bottle. Great berry on the nose with decent balance on the tail.
Good value

Retail: $16
Grade: B+

Tandem Chardonay 2007 Mendocino Ridge

New clone from Greg LaFolette here. Great stuff. Super balance with melon on the front.
A really beautiful wine from Greg. Super balance. Delicious. Wow..not much time here. I could go on.

Retail: $54
Grade: B+

Foggy Bridge 2007 Chardonay - Estate >ORGANIC GRAPES<

50% Stainless, 50% Malo in Oak
A bit tight in the front, but very drinkable. Much less Calif in style. Slight touches of butter, light yeast, but nice bready taste.

Retail: $18 (only on their website)
Grade: B

Clif Vineyards 2006 Syrah
Very nice nose of PRESERVED berries. Super sweet nose and lovely on the front. Very hot..15.4% Alcohol..needs a bit more tannin for the back end

Retail: $35
Grade: C+ (but if you care to hold this, it would do nicely in 3-4 years I suspect)

Benovia 2007 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

Super clean Pinot great for food with pine on the front and nice raspberry, and raisin on the tail. A nice wine, but a tough price

Retail: $55
Grade: B-

El Molino HIgh School 2007 Pinot Noir
A HS AG program that grows some pretty nice Pinot. Russian River AVA (in Forestville, CA)
Really jammy Pinot with decent berries and a nice structure that reminds me of a Fort Ross Pinot. Available on the website rrvwfoundation.org

Retail: $35
Grade: B-

NOT >>>> Live Wine Blogging - Wine Bloggers Conf - Friday PM

Ok..here we go...live wine bloggin' starting... dang...wireless network issue

Crap...ok, well, not so much...we're starting the American Wine Blog Awards.

Best Blog Graphics:
The Good Grape - Jeff LeFevre

Best Single Subject Blog:
Lenndevours - Lenn Thomson

Best Wine Review Blog:
Bigger than your Head - Frederic Koeppel

Best Overall Blog
Vinography - Alder Yarrow

03 July, 2009

2006 Angeline Pinot Noir

Truth be told, I'm not a fan of Pinot in the sub $20 category. Pinot is a tough grape to grow, requires much attention, typically doesn't yield nearly the amount of fruit that other varietals do, the fruit often has lower juice content, and there is a higher demand and lower supply currently. All that makes for grape costs and wine prices to be significantly higher than nearly all other widely planted grape varietals.

So, when a friend, who also enjoys Pinot, suggested I try the Angeline Russian River Valley, I kindly thanked him and never seriously gave it much thought. When wine is priced significantly below the $20 point, it's a mark of a few possibilities, none of which are in the "let's make good Pinot" department.

...and besides that, it's one of the most popular Pinots in restaurants. What would I want with that?

Months pass.

I'm at a party recently when someone brings a glass of red wine to me. I wasn't thinkin' about what it was, or how good it would be, I already figured it would be pretty mediocre and I was OK with that. Drink some wine, have a chat. Cool. ...but then....Wow! What's this I'm drinkin'?

Dork. I fall prey to the same trap as the wine geeks, just at a lower price point. Regardless, I should be better at it. We all should. If not for luck, I would have missed a very decent Pinot with great but mellow fruit, extremely low tannins and aromas of plums and blackberries.. The nose is quite bright and accordingly, I was expecting quite a different mouth feel, but a very smooth feel and finish were right there for me. I suspect that Bryan Davison, the winemaker at Martin Ray Vineyards is cold soaking and fermenting fairly cool to develop initial brightness and leave the tannins behind. Good technique.

This is an extremely versatile wine and would work equally well with chicken under a brick, pork medallions in Madeira or Halibut with roasted root veggies.

Again, try something new. Try Angeline. She's an excellent value and is kind to both the palate and the wallet.

2006 Angeline Pinot Noir
Russian River Valley
Retail: $14
Grade: A-