My first wine event in over a year. That's a long time to go between quaffs. So when this trade show of wines from California's under-appreciated Sonoma valley came up, I got into some spiffy threads, put on my Sommelier pin and grabbed a notebook.
A lot of the big names were there: Kendall-Jackson, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Chateau St. Jean, Gallo. But there were plenty of family-run, small-scale operations touting the merits of their chardonnays, pinot noirs and cabernets.
That's one helpful thing about region-specific trade events like these. Your choices are narrowed down for you. It's not a matter of picking from a sea of competitors, because there's only a few of them to try. It's even more exciting this way, as you get to taste the subtle difference that happens to the same grape in different hands, from different vineyards and through different processes.
Aside from getting a chance to sip on some pretty amazing (and usually hard-to-find) stuff, trade shows are all about business: who you know, who you meet and how well you can sell yourself. I handed out a fistful of business cards, introducing myself as a wine writer and editor for the hospitality industry ("Nothing worse than looking at a menu or wine list and seeing spelling errors.")
When I say 'wine blogger', I tend to get this look like, "Oh, how nice. What a cute little hobby you've got there." Wine blogging tends to be regarded with suspicion: a collection of opinions from unreliable sources with questionable credentials. But I think that's finally starting to change: winemakers, marketers and brand owners can't ignore the far-reaching impact of the 'Net. Every tweet, post, link and text about their products could end up affecting the bottom line. So why not embrace it? They have - and it feels pretty good to be taken seriously.
Here are a few of my favourites from the day:
Thomas George Estates 2008 Sonoma Valley Viognier - Classic floral fragrance, slippery silkiness on the tongue. Long, supple finish.
Arrowhead Vineyards 2006 Clos de Lune Rouge - Limited-quantity (510 cases) grenache-syrah-mourvedre blend. Despite having had a high Brix (26) at harvest, the end product was well balanced without too many overpowering residual sugars. Surprising aromas of fresh asphalt (who knew that could be pleasant?) bubble gum, cherries and licorice. A palate full of peppery, spicy tannins.
Chateau St. Jean 2006 Cinq Cepages Cabernet - This one got Robert Parker's blessing, even though I found it wasn't at all the typical fruit bomb he prefers. Complex, layered, intense, maybe even a bit too much. Could stand to age a few more years or go through a good 30 minutes in the decanter. Nonetheless, this was a stellar wine, oozing with elegance and hand-crafted finesse.
Dutcher Crossing Winery 2008 Maple Vineyard Zinfandel - Zins have the unfortunate rep of being known to clobber you over the head with sweetness. (Across the aisle at the Coppola table, their Zin was doing just that.) This one, with a touch of syrah blended in, had a fine seam of acidity, firm tannins and a powerful wallop of flavour, minus the cramp in the pancreas. This was easily my favourite of the day.
Landmark 2008 Steel Plow Syrah - Made by the descendants of John Deere (that's Mr. Plow to you) on a vineyard founded in 1974, this was a luxurious example of the varietal. Plush, gushing, jammy, heavy on the fruit with a touch of pepper. Boozy, for sure: 14.7% abv. Its long finish manifested into vapour trails that wafted behind me long after the show was done.
Landmark 2008 Pinot Noir - A gent beside me proclaimed that this winery was under-appreciated for the quality they put out. Going on his suggestion, I tried the pinot and was thoroughly impressed. Roses and plums in the bowl, with a smooth, clean and fresh feel.
Pelton House 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon - Blended with a smidge of carmenere, this cab stood out from its big-and-bold teammates, showing firm tannins, subtle fruit and nice balance.