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Posts Filed Under crowd pleaser wines

Foley, Food Porn, And A West Coast Wine Geek-out

At the end of July, I wound up at the top of Chalk Hill in Healdsburg.  It was one of those events that I should be used to by now but that make me slightly uncomfortable anyway because they a) are held in lavish settings that seem to cost a billion dollars, b) usually end three and half hours late with an over-the-top, impeccably prepared/served lunch cooked by a French chef (and likely weighing in somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion calories – food porn coming in a minute or two, I promise), and c) have winemakers who’ve been flown-in from all over the place, any of whom may or may not be all that interested in making small-talk with you.

Events unfolded pretty much exactly to that plan during my visit to The Hill, though thankfully the folks who make up the winemaking crew of Foley Family Wines, whose portfolio we were tasting through, proved an amicable bunch.

Far and away the most exciting thing for me at these events is not the lavish stuff – and there was no shortage of that shizz: Chalk Hill’s pavilion, where we tasted and then lunched, has a 21-foot limestone fireplace, a panoramic view of the estate, and an Olympic-sized dressage riding arena made of Alaskan golden cedar that required a highway shutdown to transport, in which the horses ride (I am not making this up) on imitation dustless “dirt.”  Not that the setting is intimidating or anything…

Anyway… for me, the most exciting bit is always tasting the wine.  Is it any good? Is it worth the price?  Does it have a story it’s trying to convey?  Having the winemakers there just adds exponentially to the geek-out factor, and so eventually my nose gets in the glass, the surroundings get tuned out, and I enter geek-the-hell-out mode.  And it turns out, in a rare convergence of high incomes and good tastes, that the Foley portfolio has a lot in it that’s worth geeking-out over…

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Boozy Bargains Best Big Boys. Sort Of. (Inside The 2011 Lake County Wine Awards, Part Two)

Vinted on August 11, 2011 binned in crowd pleaser wines, overachiever wines, wine review

Sensationalist headline, for sure – and not all of the wines I’m going to talk about today were boozy. And they didn’t really best the biggest boys, if by big boy we (and by “we” I really mean “me”) are talking about the best wines of the Lake County Wine Awards (more on those next week) . But certainly consonance counts (see what I did there?) for something, right?

For those of you who, like me, basically had zero clue as to how a professional wine competition operates, I offer the following “insider” thoughts on what I found to be a peculiar aspect during my judging of the 2011 Lake County Wine Awards in July – namely, the Sweepstakes Round that pitted the Best Of Class winners against each other in a battle for LC bragging rights.  Sounds like something Bob Barker would introduce, doesn’t it… Hey Lake County BOCs… Come ON DOWN!!

Anyway…

Let’s talk about how these wine judging competitions work, what the Sweepstakes stuff actually means, and the (very!) surprising results of the clash between the Best Of Class LCWA competitors…

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Focus, Focus, Focus: Zeroing In On Wines For Now At Virginia’s Blenheim Vineyards

Vinted on August 4, 2011 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, on the road, wine review

I am not a fan of small producers in emerging wine regions bottling and selling a large array of varietal wines; almost everyone loves having choices, but too often the cumulative result in this case ends up feeling like a Zinfandel that’s been watered-down in a feeble attempt to get it under 16% abv – a diluted mess with a lack of focus (with even the worst results being pawned off at inflated prices to unsuspecting tasting room visitors).

Which is why meeting winemakers like Kirsty Harmon is more refreshing than a chilled Monticello Viognier on a steamy Virginia Summer Sunday.  She’s the kind of person who, through their laser-like determination, make me eat my own virtual words!

Harmon is the driving force behind the wines of Virginia producer Blenheim Vineyards – a short, wavy-haired whirling dervish of a woman whose freckles belie a winemaking stance that is supremely mature in its simplicity: make wines for now, that are true to place, and make them as delicious as possible.

“I’m not a very patient person,” she told me when I (and several other wine bloggers) visited Blenheim as during the producer visits that were part of the recent 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville. “I try to make wines that are balanced and ready to go right out of the bottle.”

Focus is the friend of the emerging-region winemaker, as is talent.  Harmon has both, and Right Coast wine producers would do well to focus on her… well, her focus. “Yummy” is usually a terrible descriptor to bandy about when you’re trying to relay the essence of a wine to someone else, but in the case of Blenheim’s bottlings the word just fits. Harmon makes yummy wines, and she makes them from several varieties – Syrah (peppery and bright), Chardonnay (peachy and solid), Viognier (floral and elegant), Merlot (herbal and hefty) and Cabernet Sauvignon (tangy and minty), to name a few – without any of them sucking

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Virginia Wine Brings Its “B” Game (Roasting And Toasting With The Best Of Virginian Wine At Monticello)

Thomas Jefferson had a strong love of wine (and beer), an historical tidbit that seems to have glued itself with more stickiness than an Rutherglen Muscat to our collective national legacy of our third President, right up their with tales of his intelligence, his elegant correspondences, and the fact that he finally checked-out on July 4th – U.S. Independence Day – in his eighties (and up to his eyeballs in debt).

Less well-known is that Jefferson touted Scuppernong as the next big thing in American winemaking, telling Washington Judge William Johnson in 1817 that it “would be distinguished on the best tables of Europe for its fine aroma, and chrystalline [sic] transparence.”

It seems ol’ T.J., in focusing on potential, lacked first president George Washington’s uncanny ability to see things for how they really were (at least when it comes to vino). Because Scuppernong wine is like… well, let’s just say we can poke fun at most Scuppernong because it’s Scuppernong.

Given the beauty of Jefferson’s Monticello estate, which was on full display (along with, less romantically, the oppressive Northern VA heat & humidity combo) at a mass-tasting of Virginian wines held there during the recent 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, one might forgive T.J. for erring on the side of vinous over-optimism.

Given what I tasted that evening (even despite the mile-wide-inch-deep approach that is the bane of any grand tasting), the Virginia wine industry might be forgiven the odd bout of over-optimism as well, because the winemaking situation there is clearly on the right track, if not quite yet delivering fully on its promise as the next big thing in American wine.

Ahh, T.J…. you were only off by about 194 years! But you were a total Mac Daddy with the WBC11 ladies (see inset pic for photographic proof), so maybe we shouldn’t hold it against you.

Anyway… let’s talk about what went well in Virginia, vinously-speaking, of course!…

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