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Not Much Gold In Them Thar Hills (Inside The 2011 Lake County Wine Awards, Part Three)

Vinted on August 16, 2011 binned in on the road, wine industry events, wine review

[ This is part three of a short series covering my tenure as a judge in the 2011 Lake County Wine Competition – for more details, check out Part The First and Part The Second. ]

The Gold Rush in California dried up more-or-less 150 years ago. And the 2011 Lake County Wine Awards results didn’t do much as far as opening the floodgates back up when it comes to CA gold: out of 180+ entries, we awarded eleven gold medals – roughly six percent of the total entries.

While one might not expect a wine competition to result in a large number of gold medals (and one might cast a wary eye on any competition that did dole out a high volume of golds, anyway), I suspect that having a relatively low number generally in this case is a result of two things: 1) the as-yet-unrealized potential of Lake County’s fruit, and 2) the fact that it’s not really practical to decant the big red wines prior to the competition, and so those that need time in the glass to fully develop just didn’t have a totally fair shake to strut their real stuff.

But we shouldn’t ignore the fact that golds were, in fact, handed out – as it turns out, those gold medals were awarded to a pretty interesting cast of vinous characters, each worth discussing in a bit more detail

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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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Benny And The Jetsetters: Tasting A 111 Year Old Wine

Vinted on July 21, 2011 binned in sexy wines, wine review

Until a little over a week ago, I’d never had a one hundred and eleven year old wine before.

And when heading out to dinner in downtown Chicago, I hadn’t expected to run into a wine that was celebrating it’s eleventy-first birthday; I mean, does anyone ever expect to run into anything celebrating 111 years on planet Earth, apart from Bilbo Baggins when you’re cracking open The Fellowship of the Ring for, like, the eightieth time? (C’mon closet LoTR geeks… you know you’ve done it…)

The scene of the crime (those words have probably started a lot of stories about Chicago…) was the new (by downtown Windy City standards) steak joint Benny’s Chop House, whose wine list is both extensive and, one could argue, extensively marked-up. My dinner-mates were not in the wine biz, but – luckily for me – had generosity and money to spare. Because I’d noticed, in Benny’s bar’s bountiful body of wines by the glass, a Madeira from 1900.

I’ve had Bordeaux of just about all stripes dating back to the `60s and even a classic from the `20s, and had the good fortune to taste German wines that pre-date my appearance on planet Earth from celebrated producers in celebrated vintages.  But over 100 years old?  That’s like the vinous equivalent of surfers chasing the 100-foot wave.

In what will come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever to wine geeks anywhere, much cajoling, begging and pleading to try the wine then ensued. Successfully, I should add!

While my past encounters with more storied wines of yore have never resulted in a formal review, my brush with this turn-of-the-century greatness – the 1900 D’Oliveiras Reserva Moscatel Madeira - is an experience available to you, since the wine can be found on the market without too much difficulty (though not for too little cash!), and so marks the first time I’m giving a formal review of a very, very old vinous soul…

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