Thursday, June 30, 2011


Raleigh Studios

Los Angeles wine tasting events held on movie studio backlots are a common enough occurrence that they don't generate much "gee wow" response from attendees.  The tasters at the 2011 LA Wine Fest seemed casual about their surroundings - Raleigh Studios in Hollywood - but they did seem to be enjoying the wines they were tasting.

Many wine events I attend are designed for the wine trade and/or media, but I love going to events populated by everyday wine lovers.  I enjoy talking to people who don't do a lot of wine tasting as they get a chance to sample grape varieties they aren't familiar with and explore wine producers they may not encounter where they do their wine shopping.

There are always the "party-goers" who navigate from table to table, slugging back every sample poured for them like it's a jello shot.  I always hope these people have a designated driver in their entourage.  Spit buckets were provided at nearly every stop, but they went largely unused at this event.  There was one young lady who - either recognizing she would have to limit her intake or displeased with the sample in hand - poured the remainder of her taste into a nearby bush.

Loneliest Guy At The Wine EventThe tables offering wine were typically crowded, as were the sites where a morsel of food could be sampled.  I stopped and chatted with a fellow named Mark, who manned the Icelandic Glacial Water booth.  I told him I'd run his photo as "The Loneliest Guy At The Wine Event," but he did manage to give away a fair amount of his bottled water, singing the praises of it all the while.

Match Vineyards is a small, family-owned winery which makesCabernet Sauvignon from their pair of Napa Valley hillside vineyards.  I tried their '07 Butterdragon Hill Cab upon entering the festival, and it held up as one of my favorites of the day.  It shows very rich currant and graphite aromas with great tannic structure and a finish highlighted by coffee and licorice.  Their Baconbrook Cab shows a lighter version of the profile.  Winemaker Cary Gott - Joel Gott's son - carries his four-generation winemaking lineage in style.

Witch Creek Winery of Carlsbad, California in San Diego County poured the product of winemaker Ryan Baker.  The winery is two blocks from the ocean in that quaint seaside community.  The wines I tried were sourced in El Dorado County, Clarksburg and Mexico!  Having limited experience with wines made from Mexican grapes, I jumped right in with theirSangiovese from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja.  The smokey cherry nose and flavors of a wood fire captivate.  They also make a Nebbiolo grown in the same locale.  The El Dorado County Reserve Cabernet Franc smells of beautiful cassis and cherry and has a vegetal layer draped over the lush fruit.  A Viognier sourced from Clarksburg's Heringer Vineyards shows a lovely floral nose and a nice acidity which lasts into the finish.

Walking SushiRob Barnett, CEO and founder of Vin Village was there, pouring wines by Ricardus Corculum.  That's the nom de vinof Richard Hart.  The Latin subtext continues on the labels for his Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, dubbed "Four A's."  An A was an old Roman coin, and a wine which cost four of them was considered very good.  The Ricardus Corculum Four A's Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon is luscious and elegant in both the '07 and '08 vintages, the tannins a little bolder in the younger one.  The Ricardus Corculum ClandestZin Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2007 has a deep nose showing smokey chocolate and a very long finish.

Randy Miller, President and "Wine Pouring Specialist" forSilver Stone Winery offered one of his own and one from another.  His Silver Stone 2006 Pinot Noir is made from Santa Rita Hills fruit and clocks in with a very modest 13.5% abv number.  A beautiful fruit punch nose leads to lovely cherry and raspberry flavors which flow into a long finish.  Miller also poured a Petite Sirah from S. Morris Wines.  The "S" stands for Sean, and he's getting recognition for his small-production boutique wines.  His 2007 Roadrunner Ranch Paso Robles Petite Sirah is brawny at 15.1% abv, but the alcohol does not prove a hindrance.

The Santa Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance brought several nice bottles along.  Fiddlehead Cellars'08 Sauvignon Blanc shows very elegant and subdued aromas and flavors with great acidity. Zotovich Family Vineyards' 2009 Estate Chardonnay is done in neutral oak.  It's juicy and not too acidic.  Weber Wine offered the '09 Babcock Vineyard Mishelle Pinot Noir - lovely cherry aromas and a refreshing tartness on the palate.

Frey's Uncle MickeyMendocino County's Frey Vineyards brought Uncle Mickey along for the event.  That's his picture, and he is every bit the bon vivant he appears to be.  He's proud of his family's organic, no-sulfites-added approach to winemaking.  Their '09 Sangiovese shows a lot of smokey fruit, a nice pepper angle highlights the '09Zinfandel and the '09 Frey Syrah is old-world delicious, one of the best Syrahs I've had.

Who knew downtown L.A.'s San Antonio Winery makes wine in Italy?  I didn't, but I was put on alert with their Il Conte d'Alba line from Piedmont.  The Stella Rosa Imperiale Moscato and Stella Rosa Imperiale Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG are both fully fizzy, sweet and quite delicious.  While I was at the table, several attendees tasted and were as wowed as I was.  Their San Simeon Paso Robles Merlot is spicy and smokey, while their Maddalena Monterey Pinot Grigio lays a big mineral base for the fruit and flowers to come.

Jada Vineyard and Winery, from Paso Robles' west side, poured a variety of wines, but the one that knocked me out was the 2010 "1149" Rosé.  Blended from Cabernet SauvignonMerlot,Grenache and Syrah, this bone-dry pinkie shows beautiful strawberry and cherry with a long, pretty finish.

Firestone Walker Brewery offered a changeup for those whose palates had tired of wine - or who just wanted a beer.  Their California Pale Ale is light in color and shows a gigantic lemon rind flavor, while the Double Barrel Ale is dark, malty and delicious.

glassesBixler Vineyards is a family farm/winery in California's San Joaquin Valley.  They've been farming there for 150 years, although grapes are relatively new to them - their vines are 25 years old.  Their White Blend is made from ViognierChardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  It shows freshness with minerals and green apples.  The Bixler Red Blend is MerlotSyrah and Petite Sirah and features tart cherry and raspberry flavors.

The Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association brought a variety of Temecula Valley product with them.  As much as I admire some of the winemaking in Temecula, I wasn't too impressed with the samples from Stuart Cellars and Falkner Winery.  The Cougar Vermentinosimply wasn't very good.  The Wiens Family Cellars stainless steel blend of Roussanne and Chardonnay is nice.  It offers a very smokey nose with minerals on the palate and a great acidity.

Lodi's Michael David Winery had their 7 Deadly Zins to try.  It's a favorite of mine anyway, and I found it paired quite well with a piece of Red Velvet Chocolate from the Bread Basket Cake Company table.

Wedell Cellars poured a Syrah with a nice, funky nose but a rather unbalanced taste.  TheirChardonnay is positively golden in color with a wooden nose and a nutty palate.

Cielo Farms of Malibu showed a number of wines.  I concentrated on their Woodstock Collection.  The Red House Bordeaux blend shows a great sour cherry flavor; the '09 Purple Haze has a blueberry nose and luscious fruit on the palate; Blackbird is Malbec and Petit Verdot, with deep and rich dark fruit and a hint of chocolate on the finish.

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