- 07 Bonny Doon Alamo Creek Syrah (San Luis Obispo): Who starting blaring Funky Town at Pepper & Black Raspberry’s elegant wedding? $35 B >>find this wine>>
- 05 Tabarrini Sagrantino (Montefalco): W/ that tar & tannin, will put hair on your chest. And back. And probably everywhere else too. $34 B+ >>find this wine>>
- 09 Raats Original Chenin Blanc Unwooded (South Africa): Not as complex as previous years but as inviting & approachable as Chenin gets $14 B >>find this wine>>
- 07 Rudi Schultz Syrah (Stellenbosch): Meaty, Beaty, Big, & Jammy. And Oakey. Ok, & maybe a just a tad too Bouncy as well. $25 B >>find this wine>>
- 10 Valckenberg Gewurztraminer (Pfalz): Tasty & floral, but with balance like that, it might need to stick to the training wheels. $15 B- >>find this wine>>
- 09 Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages (Beaujolais-Villages): Stems are still on those violets & berries, but they look good w/ dinner $12 B- >>find this wine>>
- 10 Two Princes Riesling (Nahe): If you… wanna drink for hours (at >>find this wine>>
- 09 Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay (Russian River Valley): Hello, CA! Golden apple, creme brulee, vanilla, peach & a bit too much heat. $48 B+ >>find this wine>>
- 09 Chalk Hill Estate Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley): A little (too) lush/creamy but the splash of Sauv Gris is a nice addition $30 B >>find this wine>>
- 07 Chalk Hill Estate Red (Russian River Valley): Wow. Tough to convey how much ass this could kick if they can get the abv down a bit $70 A- >>find this wine>>
- Sebastiani Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma Valley): Compressed can of well-structured spicy black fruit kickass. Give it 6 yrs $90 A- >>find this wine>>
- 09 Sebastiani Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley): Chocolates, flowers, and a dark (cherries) side. A dead-sexy combo for date night. $28 B >>find this wine>>
- 09 Sebastiani Chardonnay (Sonoma County): Put-together, but *well* put-together. Apricot, cream, apples, citris & over-achievement. $12 B >>find this wine>>
- 09 Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills): Spicy, weighty, rich but not w/out tart red berry. One for the yacht club. $40 B+ >>find this wine>>
- 09 Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Chardonnay (Santa Rita Hills): Mineraly & tropical Chard’s more experienced & slightly curvier big sister. $30 B+ >>find this wine>>
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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Roughly two months ago, in the follow-on discussions on a feature on the wines of Lodi producer Matt Powell, a reader named Olivier chimed on with some though-provoking questions, the kind that, for me, define the 1WD readership because they exponentially increase the value of the content on this little ol’ website.
The discussion was around how we might define wines of “true character,” and it ended with a bit of a challenge from Olivier:
“…[It] would be nice to dig into detailed info (taste/aroma/flavors) that differentiate wines of true character and C+/B- wines. I have my own idea, but listening to others and getting examples would be great and very educational.”
That’s the kind of request that often sends me so far down the wine world rabbit hole that I’m seeing Jules Verne style dinosaurs. In other words, the really fun kind.
We are certainly rabbit-hole bound, because in the course of thinking about this question, I had to get deep into the very heart of wine ratings.
And I’ve determined that all of them (mine included) kind of suck, even if they do provide value to a lot of people (and they do), and even if they help sell wine (and they do).
Once again, don your miner’s hat, the one with integrated flashlight bulb and intercom link, because you’re gonna need it where we’re going…
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[ 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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