This year we attended the trade tasting for the Cincinnati Int’l Wine Festival, which took place on Friday afternoon. This was a fantastic way for us to see the festival, as there are fewer people and more conversation. We actually tried fewer wines than at a Grand Tasting, but we had some great conversations and learned a lot. Not only did we meet folks from wineries and distributors, but we talked with some great local retailers and restaurant folks, including those from The Napa Grille and the Inn at Versailles.
But you want to know about the wine festival, right?
As usual, we went in with a game plan. However, I sort of destroyed that instantly as I ping-ponged throughout the convention center. It was hosted in a larger room this year. The 3rd floor ballroom is part of the new section, and the size was appropriate, I would think. Of course, that also depends on how many tickets they sell to the Grand Tastings. I liked how they had food samples interspersed with the wine samples. There were all these sweet little ladies manning those tables, like the ones that offer you sausage in the grocery store on Sundays. I was worried that the Grand Tastings might overwhelm them, and hoped they had a lot more food samples on hand. Despite this handy little addition, I didn’t find that the food samples were overly accurate. Sausage. Fried ice cream (flavored). Overly garlicked pasta & sauce. Next year they need to look harder at where they place the food booths. Instead of just randomly in the middle, if they place the booths near something that compliments the food, it might work better. But that is a minor complaint, really. I thought the overall setup this year was a lot better, with higher ceilings for air circulation, larger aisles, and plenty of space.
Our favorite table this year was Handley Cellars. More on Handley, and more of the tables we visited, after the jump. Please give us your comments on the trade tastings and/or the Grand Tasting events. We’d love to hear your thoughts!
I made a mistake in that one of the earliest tables I visited was the Trentadue Winery (Geyserville, CA). They had a fairly good 2003 Meritage, but their star was most definitely the Chocolate Amore dessert wine. It tasted wonderful on it’s own and would also work fantastic over ice cream. The aroma lingered in my glass for a while though, screwing with my own nose. As a rule, don’t cave to temptation and save those chocolaty wines for last.
We stopped at the Wimbledon Wines table, more to meet John Erickson and his daughter Marissa than anything else. We also tasted a bit of their Huntington portfolio while there, although we tasted my favorites with them on Saturday at Liquor Direct. That’s another story that I’ll get to this week.
Wimbledon Wine Company
John sent us over to Bouchane (Carneros, Napa Valley). Bouchane is the oldest continuously operated winery in the Carneros region, with the original winery built in the 1920s. I suspect I’ve driven by it before without realizing. We tried both their Chardonnay and their Pinot Noir. I fully admit that I’m a Pinot girl and that any Chardonnay is a pretty hard sell with me. Not surprising, I enjoyed their Pinot, which spent 11 months in 30% new French and Hungarian oak. They also make a Pinot Meunier in limited edition that I would love to try.
I think we were the only folks who visited Bully Hill. I went because, unless I missed someone (which is probable), they were the only representatives of New York’s Finger Lakes regions. There are some great wines hidden up there in New York. Bully Hill is not necessarily one of those great wines, but they aren’t necessarily trying to be. They are fun wines, although incredibly sweet. The Riesling was definitely the best of their offerings, but I don’t know if I’d have ever guessed it to be a Riesling. The Sweet Walter Red about bowled me over. I asked if it was the concord grape and well, it certainly was. It was reminiscent of sucking down grape Smucker’s jelly. Sweet Walter Red is Bully Hill’s dessert wine. Really not my thing.
Bully Hill Vineyards
We stopped at Chandon to clear our palate. After tasting a lot of wine, I find a taste of sparkling wine refreshing. My favorite item at Chandon was the 2005 Pinot Meunier from Carneros. It was fresh and enjoyable, with some earthiness and red berry flavors.
Merryvale is a favorite of mine across the board. Whenever we’re in California, we make a special trip to Merryvale. I tried several of their Starmont wines, with my favorite being the 2004 Starmont Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot, which held everything else together. It spent up to 16 months in French oak and was bottled unfiltered. I really enjoyed it, as there was a bit of chocolate and spice in the glass, along with berries. However, it didn’t hit me over the head with berries, as a lot of wines do anymore. While we were at the Merryvale Table, I happily took a pour of Antigua, which is their fortified wine. If you ever get the chance, have some Antigua on a hot summer day, over ice, with a lemon. (Merryvale’s idea, not mine.) It’s perfect.
I honestly tried to stop at several Ohio wineries, but I think I just chose the wrong ones. I also tried Burnet Ridge. I’m not sure what to call them. They source all of their grapes from California. You’ll even find them listed on restaurant menus as "Sonoma." They blend, age, and everything else right here in Cincinnati, over in North College Hill. So, are they an Ohio winery? That said, we enjoyed their 2004 Zinfandel, and a barrel sampling from their 2005 Purple Trillium, which will be bottled by the end of the month. Is it a $24.99 wine? That I’m not so sure of just yet.
Another stop for some palate freshening sparkling wine led us to Freixenet USA. Always a fan of Spanish wines, I enjoyed the Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad sparkler, made in the traditional méthode champenoise. The cuvée is 67% Macabeo and 33% Parellada and if from the Penèdes region of Spain. I found this to be quite dry, but refreshing with green apples and lemon in the mouth, and sort of a yeasty finish. Also, this is perhaps the fanciest sparkling bottle you can get for under $30. The packaging is just slightly over the top and nifty.
Freixenet: Segura Viudas
Curiosity brought me to Mad Housewife Cellars from Rainier Wine. I think the marketing is fantastic, but truly, they are shooting for a particular market. We all know that 85% of wine buyers are women. Why not shoot for the demographic directly? I’m not sure it was the greatest wine, but I think they want to be the older girls night out wine instead. The marketing, the images, the use of the web, their blog are all excellent … give them some time and Mad Housewife might surprise us. In the meantime, based on their blog, their demographic (I think my mother is their demographic right now) loves them no matter what.
Mad Housewife Cellars
Handley Cellars was amazing. In fact, they are the only winery where we enjoyed the entire portfolio presented. In addition, Milla Handley, the winemaker, was in attendance. She’s so enjoyable to talk to, and we had a great and extended conversation. I could have stayed at the Handley table all afternoon, just for the company if not the wines. They offered a 2005 Chardonnay from Anderson Valley and a 2004 from Dry Creek, which Kevin & I compared. Much to my anti-Chardonnay surprise, I enjoyed them both, although the Anderson Valley was my favorite of the two. They also offered a yummy 2004 Dry Creek Sauvignon Blanc and their excellent 2006 Anderson Valley Gewurztraminer. We have the 2005 in the refrigerator and also served it back at our fall dinner party. I particularly enjoyed the 2005 Mendocino County Pinot Noir Rosé, and even Kevin thought it was pretty good for a rosé (he’s not a rosé guy). Finally we enjoyed their 2004 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. My favorites were the Gewurtz and the Rosé though.
Handley Cellars is distributed by Vintner Select, who had taken over an entire half-row at the festival. Another part of Vintner Select’s portfolio was Marc de Grazia wines, from Italy. We enjoyed several of these, with our favorites being the 2005 Santa Lucia Gazza Landra Fiano and the 2003 Le Terrazze Rosso Conero, which tasted like a Bordeaux to me.
Marc de Grazia Selections
We found our way to the Santa Barbara Winery/LaFond Winery table and were rewarded with some excellent wines and good conversation. From LaFond, I found another Chardonnay that passed my Chardonnay test. The 2005 Santa Rita Chardonnay had subtle oak – I called it a "front porch chardonnay." You know, the kind you want to sit outside and sip on a nice summer evening. From the Santa Barbara Winery side, I enjoyed the 2004 Syrah from Santa Ynez Valley. These are the wines to watch, I think, from the Santa Barbara area. I suspect we’ll see big things from those valleys in the next few years.
Santa Barbara Winery, LaFond Winery
At Wente, we tried several, but I enjoyed the Murrieta’s Well Meritage, which was a nice Bordeaux-style wine. However, I can’t for the life of me remember WHY I liked it, I just noted it on my program with a happy face.
Booth 29 was labeled Baron Philippe de Rothschild (SA, distributors), who is as much of a brand in wine as Calvin Klein is in fashion. You don’t have to be alive to be a brand. We tried several things at the table that surprised us, including a Chilean 2003 Escudo Rojo. It was a bit too "big" for my taste. What I fell in love with was an incredibly affordable Sauvignon Blanc from Fernleaf in New Zealand. This 2005 Sauvignon Blanc will probably retail for around $7.99 or so, once someone (hey Kevin! hey JP! hey other wine guys!) starts carrying it in their stores. It’s not the type of wine to keep around for too long, and might as well have Drink Now emblazoned in big letters on the front. It is different though. In fact, I think it tastes like a sauvignon blanc should taste. This isn’t a SB that is fruity and tropical, as many are. Instead, it’s filled with subtle aromas of spring and fresh cut grass. Tastes better than it sounds, folks. And hey! $7.99! Go bug your local retailer because I can’t find a web site for you to visit.
Penssive Concepts/JL Selections brought us several surprises, including the 2003 Aranleon Encuentro Crianza Ribera del Duero. This was a big Spanish wine with big flavors. Folks, you can get this at Trader Joe’s. We have a bottle (look for the word Encuentro on the bottle in yellowish-orange). This table also had a 2005 Aranleon Veroleon from the Navarra region. This was a pleasant blend of 80% Garnacha and 20% Merlot.
Chamarré Wines was an interesting place and the last I visited when the lights were turned off to signal an end to the tasting. I wish I had more time with them to discuss their thoughts on how they are planning their "revolution of French wines." Their Cabernet Sauvignon was a blend of grapes from both Bordeuax and the south of France to create a very nice and interesting varietal the had a nice drink-now quality with solid tannins. Also, the 2003 Bordeaux was an excellent drink-now style wine that is trying to appeal to those who do not want to wait 10 to 15 years to be able to enjoy what a Bordeaux can offer. (-Kevin)
Finally, on a recommendation from a friend, I quickly hit Rodney Strong for a taste of their Pinot Noir. They were tasting their 2003 Jane’s Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir from the Russian River area of California. As I mentioned in my last post, this was a very nicely rounded Pinot with nice Oak characteristics and slight tannins on the finish. I wish I had tried more of their selections, but I was glad for Matt’s suggestion to stop by. (-Kevin)
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