Posts Filed Under kick-ass wines

Why Yes, I Think I Will Have That Beer (Dispatch From The 2015 San Francisco International Wine Competition)

By now, the results of the 2015 San Francisco International Wine Competition should be available for your perusal. Once again I had the pleasure of being one of the hired hands on deck to judge at SFIWC, this being my second time donning the white lab coat for this famous event, celebrating its 35th (!) year.

sfiwc 2015 judges

SFIWC 2015’s cast of judging characters, flanking competition organizers Anthony Dias Blue & Chandler Moore (seated, center). Total slacker seated far left. (image: Charles Communications)

I have much love and praise for SFIWC, which has got to be one of the best-run wine competitions in North America (and, in my own personal experience, globally), thanks in no small part to the efforts of the tough, mighty, and inimitable Chandler Moore, who, behind the scenes, pretty much ensures that all runs smoothly, and makes the entire SFIWC “go” without a hitch.

This year, I felt a little more at home, a little more accomplished as a wine comp judge (having had quite a few more under my belt since last year’s event), and a little more of an “insider” (getting invited to the traditional local watering hole for beers after each day of “work” was, I thought, I sort of mini rite of passage… also, I fell compelled to point out that nothing – nothing – tastes better than a good beer after a full day of judging wine).

Because I am a geek, mental notes were taken on some of the blind-tasted wines that I found particularly interesting from my own panel’s days at the SFIWC “office,” so I’ve highlighted some of those Double Gold selections (receiving unanimous Gold medal awards from all of our panel members) below, after the jump. These are not necessarily the wines that performed the best in our panels or the comp. in general, but stood out to me as being particularly noteworthy / enjoyable / made me wanna get my buzz and swervy on, etc.

Let the reco’s commence!…

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Wheels Keep Turnin’ (Red Car Recent Releases)

Vinted on May 21, 2015 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, wine review

I have (among other things) been described as peripatetic.

Red Car vineyard 1That adjective is apt, but as peripatetic as I can be, I pale in comparison to Red Car‘s tall, thin, and quick-witted General Manager Peter Willmert. Willmert, along with winemaker Carroll Kemp and vineyard manager Adam Carter live, breathe, and seemingly sleep (if Willmert actually settles down long enough to do that, I mean) all things Red Car from their small spot on Graton Road in Sebastopol.

Like Willmert (who is fond of jumping quickly from topic to topic, somehow without losing an ability to take deeper dives along the way), Red Car has been in more or less constant motion in its relatively brief history.

“I like the acidic, crisp style,” Willmert told me when I visited. “One part of the [ Red Car ] evolution was getting out of the Central Coast; we’ve left a trail of warmer vineyards, and moved everything to the Sonoma Coast. Since the 2000 vintage, the wines have been pretty consistent.” It helps that they’ve got dedicated vineyard staff (as he put it, “I’m a control freak. And Carroll’s a control freak”). Somewhat ironically given Willmert’s penchant for rapidly bouncing between topics, Red Car’s wines have arguably never been more focused and singular of purpose.

What he means is more lithe, energetic, and focused on premium. Much of the source material for Red Car’s wares come from vineyards that are surrounded by orchards and redwoods (and gophers), within spitting distance of the sea, in areas that were long though too cool to house “serious” viticulture. Judging by the wines I tasted, those early pronouncements were dead wrong…

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A Winemakers’ Winery (Amici Recent Releases)

Amici's John Harris & Joel Aiken

Amici’s John Harris & Joel Aiken

“This is a winemakers’ winery.”

That Amici’s Associate Winemaker Bobby Donnell was speaking truth to me – and not just laying out the typical wine country cliché – was evidenced by the total lack of anything resembling Napa Valley “Why, yes I DID!” pomposity in Amici’s vinous Calistoga hamlet.

Maybe it’s due to owner John Harris’ down-to-earth influence, consulting winemaker Joel Aiken’s humility, or the winery’s somewhat-off-the-beaten-path location (or all three), but the Adult Wine Disneyland factor is pretty much approaching the zero line when it comes to graphing the esprit of Amici’s Cabernet production. Their reds are certainly Napa-esque fruity and powerful, but they’re also often tinged with energy, depth, and nuance. They wear lace in all the right places. And based on the asking prices, they got the laces at a discount (by Napa standards, anyway).

Amici trailer

Trailer, but not trash

But the above is also a nice way of saying that when you visit Amici, you’ll see… trailers. With barrels and space heaters in them. That’s where Aiken and Donnell house “a whopping ten tons” of production using whole berry fermentation, mostly for experimentation (though some portion now makes it into the Napa Valley Cabernet and Reserve Cabernet production). The reason? Outside trailers are the only room that they have left.

As Donnell put it, “the nickel tour involves bathroom, too!”

For my dinero, though, that’s all just fine. A lack of showcase winery adornment is more than made up in the experience that you’ll have in the bottle of typical Amici Cab, which offers the better aspects of NV red with a number on the price tag that’s about 33% lower than what we ought to expect from something that has Napa printed prominently on its label.

Yearning for lofty marble columns, classical music, and pomp and circumstance? You’ll have to look elsewhere. Fancy classic rock music playing while a smoker servers up BBQ fare out back beyond the trailers? Then Amici is your place, and these just might be your wines…

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