Saturday, September 25, 2010


Setup for a blind wine tasting event

California Wine Month was celebrated in Westwood this week with an extraordinary presentation called "Unexpected Grapes From Unexpected Places."  There will be more on this blog over the next few days about some of the more unexpected grapes and places in California.  Today, the seminar hosted by Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein is our subject matter.

Goldstein hosts videos and stages seminars like this one for Full Circle Wine Solutions.  He is not only a Master Sommelier, but also a master at this format.  The wine guru runs his show with the expertise and flair of an infomercial host.  Utilizing a big screen PowerPoint presentation as a visual accompaniment to his energetic stage presence, Goldstein keeps his audience attentive and involved in the information he's shooting out at breakneck speed.

The seminar was held in a semi-dark room - Goldstein referred to it as mood lighting - with six long tables set for eight people per row.  At each setting was an array of twelve wine glasses, each about half full of wine.  This was for the blind tasting portion of the program, which I'll reluctantly address later.  (I didn't fare too well in the friendly competition.)

First, Goldstein breezed through a wealth of information about California's wine industry and the grapes grown for it, some of which may surprise you.
Wine consumption in the US has been increasing for sixteen consecutive years, even during our current economic downturn.  Goldstein said at the present rate, the US is expected to pass France as the world's largest wine consumer by 2014.

48 of California's 58 counties produce wine and only 10% of that wine comes from the two most well known areas, Napa Valley and Sonoma County.  "That means the other 90%," Goldstein quipped, "comes from somewhere else."

The purpose of the seminar - and the Grand Tasting event - was to shed some light on those "somewhere elses" and on the huge quantity of different grape varietals grown in the Golden State.  He took a moment to point out that there are 4,600 grape growers and 2,972 bonded wineries in California - most of them family-owned enterprises.

After getting the facts and figures out of the way, Goldstein got started on what was really on everyone's mind - the wines in front of us.

The object of the blind tasting was to use our senses of sight, smell and taste along with our "vast knowledge of wine" to determine the grape varietal and location of origin for each of the samples provided.  It sounded so easy!  But Goldstein wasn't throwing any softball pitches.

When the sipping was over, he revealed that Napa was represented by a Riesling and a Sangiovese, not a Cab or Chardonnay.  The Russian River Valley entry was not a Pinot Noir, but a Pinot Gris.  One Pinot Noir came from Mendocino and another from Monterey County.  A Paso Robles Vermentino was thrown in while the Syrah hailed from the Santa Cruz Mountains.  There was a Cabernet Sauvigon to be identified, but it was a product of Livermore.

Goldstein's purpose in mixing it up the way he did was to show just how varied the wines of California can be.  There's a lot more out there than just Cabernet and Chardonnay, and the grapes of one area don't always taste like the same grapes from a different area.  The seminar illustrated those points perfectly.  At the end of the presentation, he had everyone stand up, then asked for those who got six or fewer of the twelve wines correct to sit down.  Suffice it to say, I sat down, along with about half the crowd.  I did see one excellent taster still standing at the end, indicating that he correctly identified eleven or twelve of the wines.  My hat's off to him, and to Goldstein for the challenging test.  I hope the next time I have the opportunity, I'll make a better showing!

Tomorrow we'll taste a few Santa Barbara County wines.

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