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reviews of wine tasting events

altitude adjustment

Napa Valley with Altitude 2009 Wine Tasting Event

rolling_green_vines_smallAltitude.  It's what distinguishes "hillside" or "mountain" fruit from grapes that are grown on flatter, lower lying areas.  In the Napa Valley, the Mayacamas mountain range is home for the vines bearing such fruit, residing specifically in any one of its three AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), as they're officially called: Spring Mountain, Diamond Mountain, and Mount Veeder.  It was this collection of elevated subregions that was represented at a recent wine tasting in San Francisco, Napa Valley with Altitude.

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zap recap

The Zinfandel Advocate and Producers' 2009 Good Eats Tasting Event

wine with appetizer

I write very infrequently about Zinfandel.  But this past week's arrival of the annual ZAP Festival in San Francisco is an occasion that demands Zinfandel be in the limelight, celebrating the only grape varietal that lends a truly unique slant to the identity of California wines.  Part of what makes this event (the largest of its kind) so special is that it brings to the fore that Zinfandel — both the grape and the wine it produces — is quintessentially Californian.  In fact, a bill came across our governor's desk a while back, pushing to make Zinfandel the state's official "historic wine."  (True to the Terminator character for which he's so well known, Governor Schwarzenegger shot down the bill, reasoning that it would downplay the significance of California's two other noble varietals, Cabernet and Chardonnay.)  But in the end, Zinfandel doesn't need to be exalted by the law of the land in order to continue enjoying the widespread appeal and significant production of truly high quality wines throughout California.  Quite frankly, better Zinfandel is enjoyed by many more wine fans than is Cabernet of comparable quality, but is produced by more wineries and in more quantities than the easy-to-like Merlot.  More so than any other red wine varietal produced in the state, Zinfandel strikes a balance — especially in its finest iterations — among quality and accessibility.

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bello brunello

The Benvenuto Brunello 2009 Tasting Event

montalcino_abbey_small

Brunello di Montalcino.  For many, it conjures up the image of a red wine with power, elegance, and longevity. Hailing from the southern portion of Tuscany, Brunello is produced from a superior clone of the Sangiovese grape variety that presents with an uncommonly tannic richness and acidic verve requiring a number of years of bottle age before the wine's release.  Coinciding with this month's debut of the 2004 vintage, the Benvenuto Brunello tasting event afforded members of the U.S. wine trade and press an opportunity to experience the fruit of this renowned region in its finest manifestation.  I arrived on scene with high expectations for what had already been discussed in the wine media as an excellent vintage.

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boutiques' best

Sonoma County's Best of the Boutiques 2008 Wine Tasting Event

boutique_tasting_smallIn wine, as with many other artisan-driven commodities, small-scale production has a great deal of cachet.  After all, it implies attention to detail, passion for process, distinction in identity, and pride in outcome the likes of which we simply don't see in larger scale winemaking.  In an effort to reinforce an association of these qualities to the region of Sonoma in the minds of the wine trade and press alike, the county's associations of vintners and grape growers joined forces last week to launch a very special tasting event that showcased wines from over 50 producers that fall into the boutique-production category.  Ranging widely in style from whites that were lean and sinuous to reds that were powerful and opulent, the one common denominator joining the wines at the event was their provenance from the soils of Sonoma.  I arrived with lofty hopes that were unequivocally surpassed, proving once again that this winegrowing region teems with a tremendous amount of winemaking talent and fervor.

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scarlet in saint helena

The Appellation St. Helena 2008 Media Tasting

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St. Helena is an American Viticultural Area (AVA) at the north end of California's Napa Valley, which some may agree continues to struggle to articulate its identity and differentiate itself from neighboring AVAs that tend to garner a bit more attention.  Although it's unclear why this is so, the important thing is that St. Helena does, indeed, bear an individuality in its sub-climate and soil composition that translates into wines of distinction.  Granted, to the untrained palate, differences among the wines of sub-appellations adjacent to one another may be difficult to discern in general, but they exist nonetheless — even in the case of Napa Valley's, small as these areas may be.
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top crop

Wine & Spirits Magazine's Top 100 Tasting Event

dark_bottles

Though I like to think I'm not exactly a heathen, I have to admit that I've never promenaded along a red carpet, let alone ascend a long set of stone steps overlayed with one.  But that's exactly how guests were welcomed to the recent Wine & Spirits Magazine's Top 100 Tasting Event.  Showcasing not only the best wines, as submitted to the publication over the last year, the evening was also a true cornucopia of fabulous food, all for the enjoyment of a throng of industry professionals and enthusiasts hobnobbing in the labyrinthine interior of the Old Mint Building where the event was held in San Francisco.
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mission: competition

The Tasting Panel Magazine Tour of Double-Gold Winning Wines
from the San Francisco International Wine Competiton

dark_bottlesThey stood proudly.  Stately, in fact.  And for good reason, because these were among the 125 top winning wines from the recent San Francisco International Wine Competition.  Directed by The Tasting Panel magazine's Chief Editor, Anthony Dias Blue, this annual competition is touted as the country's largest and most influential of its kind, and is "judged by a prestigious panel of nationally recognized wine experts."  Following the event, the Double Gold Award winners go on a multi-city tour, allowing industry professionals the opportunity to taste what was chosen as the best of the competition's more than four thousand entrants.  A portion of these top winners were showcased on fully dressed tables in a quiet and intimate dining room of Silks Restaurant in San Francisco's Mandarin Oriental Hotel.  It was here that I found myself on the afternoon of the Tour's stop in Northern California, to take part in the special occasion.

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passion in paso

A Taste of Paso Wines 2008 Tasting Event

paso_treeAt 105º F, I imagined that this is what a typical summer day felt like in Paso Robles. Only I was in downtown San Jose, making my way on foot through the stifling air of what was clearly a heat wave, with the goal of reaching the air-conditioned interior of the landmark Sainte Claire Hotel. Even in my rapidly-dehydrating, heat-induced delirium, the irony didn't escape me that I was about to taste a considerable number of heavy, presumably high-alcohol red wines — even though all I could focus on upon my arrival was ice-cold water. But I reminded myself that small tasting events featuring a single, up-and-coming wine region are few and far between, and so, braving the oppressive heat — to which I'm completely unaccustomed as a San Francisco resident — was oddly worth it. As I acclimated to the cool environment of the boardroom in which the event was held, I renewed my resolve to experience what promised to be a unique opportunity to meet a group of producers from Paso Robles, and sample the wines they came to showcase.

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family ties

The Family Winemakers of California 2008 Wine Tasting Event

Over 400 wineries under one roof is, by no means, a small number.  But what sets the Family Winemakers of California apart from other associations of wine producers and their tasting events isn't really its size.  Rather, it's the sheer diversity of the varietal wines, than when taken together with the number of wineries represented, makes for a vast array of wine styles produced, just alone in the state of California.  From all the international heavyweights — Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah — to less common, but up-and-coming varietals like Barbera, Malbec, Roussanne, Verdelho, and Tempranillo  — there was something for everyone at the Family Winemakers' 18th Annual Tasting Event.  I attended with an open mind, an eager palate, and (truth be told) somewhat of an overzealous sense of expectation as to how many wines I could reasonably taste in one afternoon.

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iberian criterion

The TAPAS 2008 Wine Tasting Event

Wine, like pretty much every other consumer product, experiences trends of interest in the marketplace.  In the '90s, Merlot was the hot wine in the U.S., followed by a surge in Syrah, with the most recent varietal enjoying interest these days — perhaps due to a certain 2004 movie to which everyone under the sun attributes this trend — being Pinot Noir.  But a lot of wine consumers tend to get bored very easily.  They ultimately tire of buying the same varietal wines, and jump at the opportunity to try something new.  Could Spanish and Portuguese varietals be the next wave in the ocean of wine in which consumers often find themselves aimlessly paddling?  I attended the 2008 Tasting Event of the Tempranillo Advocates Producers & Amigos Society (TAPAS) to get a better idea.

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sips & bites

Spotlight on Foggy Bridge Winery

Foggy Bridge WineryOn any other Saturday afternoon, if the floor were moving underneath my feet, I would resign myself to setting down the wine glass and switching to something less intoxicating. But on this occasion, the swaying deck was to be expected as part of getting underway on Franklin D. Roosevelt's historic presidential yacht, the USS Potomac, in order to enjoy an interactive wine tasting and food pairing experience quite like no other.

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wallowing in walla walla

The Taste Walla Walla 2008 Wine Tasting Event

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As I stepped off the elevator and out onto the ninth floor observatory of San Francisco's de Young Museum, I was immediately mesmerized with a breathtaking vista of Golden Gate park. "Wow, this view alone was worth the trip," I thought to myself as I made my way towards the nearest picture window — just one of the virtually seamless row that encircled the entire level, providing an unobstructed 360º view of the city.   As I lost myself in the panorama of treetops just below, Victorian buildings in the distance, and even the Golden Gate bridge further afar, for a fleeting moment I'd forgotten my entire purpose for being there: to taste the wines being poured by producers visiting from Washington's Walla Walla Valley.  The serenity I'd experienced while admiring the spectacular scenery quickly gave way to a sense of eagerness for what I anticipated was going to be an exciting opportunity to sample dozens of the expressive, elegant, and food-friendly wines for which this up-and-coming region is becoming increasingly well known.
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villa venezia

The Vino in Villa USA 2008 Wine Tasting Event

As I briefly touched on with a number of the Italian representatives pouring their wines at the recent Vino in Villa wine tasting, Prosecco isn't widely available in restaurants here in the States — even in the culinary epicenters of San Francisco and New York, where the event was held this past week. My comment surprised a number of them, since this sparkling wine is not only a common fixture in the culture of northeastern Italy, where it's produced, but widely drunk in the rest of their country and in many areas throughout Europe — second only to Asti, among the most popular of Italian sparkling wines. But here in the States, with bubbly from California and France dominating the market, Prosecco could definitely benefit from greater awareness with consumers — and that begins with periodically reacquainting retailers and restauranteurs with the charm and approachability of this imminently likeable sparkling wine. Vino in Villa presented that very opportunity, bringing to the U.S. a taste of what is normally a large two-day international festival just north of Venice, Italy the month prior.
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red gold & green

The Golden Glass 2008 Wine Tasting Event

golden glass logoGreen.  The color of the moment, it's a philosophy that's all the rage right now.  Unless you've been living in a cave for the past few years — far from contact with the modernized, mechanized world that necessitated this new mindset to begin with — you're no doubt aware that 'living green' means doing so in a way that sustains or enhances the health of the natural environment.  As a movement, green principles are being applied to nearly every industry, not the least of which is food and wine.

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cal ital

The Grande Degustazione 2008 Wine Tasting Event

Encompassing over 200 wines from 60 producers, the Italia Wine Imports portfolio brings to California a consistently strong and representative sample of some of Italy's best. I took the opportunity to experience these wines yesterday, as they were showcased at the Grande Degustazione wine tasting event in the old Firehouse of San Francisco's Fort Mason. Perfectly proportioned to accommodate the rather intimate tasting, the naturally lit venue drew wine buyers from all over the Bay Area during a bright and breezy Monday afternoon, not only to taste the portfolio's boutique offerings but also to engage with many of the winemakers themselves. And for me, this was — as during any tasting — where the real reward lay; it gave me an opportunity to ask pointed questions on vineyard characteristics and cellar decisions, and gave me glimpse into how small producers throughout Italy make their wines.

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high society

The California Cabernet Society's 2008 Wine Tasting Event

This past week marked the arrival of the California Cabernet Society's annual tasting event, whereat the finest wines of primarily northern California's pre-eminent producers of Cabernet Sauvignon were showcased. Taking place within the prominent, chateau-esque stone structure of the Culinary Institute of America's Napa Valley campus, the event invites members of the trade and press "to taste and evaluate the promise and excitement of the newest harvest and its potential to develop into outstanding finished wines."

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