Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Consensus Blending - Fun at the Winery

The Barrel Room and the Consensus Blending

 What great fun. A day at our favorite winery with new friends.

There is an annual event at Keswick Vineyards called Consensus Blending where we get to spend a day sampling a set of wines and then, as a group, by table, developing the best blend possible. You can read last year's account at Consensus.

The event is conducted in the Barrel Room of the winery, where it tends to be a bit cool, as one might expect. But it provides us a day to get back to the winery and sample wines and make our best blend of wine from the wines provided.

But in now the second year of our experience, we have met the greatest people and had an incredible amount of fun. Everyone is a lot of fun to be with and we all share a passion: wine.

Assessing the Blend

As Stephen, the winemaker says, the trick is not to blend a wine that you will like--but it is to blend a wine that someone will want to buy.

This year we had four wines to consider for blending. A Cabernet-sauvignon, a touriga, a syrah, and a chambourcin. We were limited in that the final blend could not contain more than 25 percent of the touriga or the cabernet sauvignon. It could contain 25 percent of each--just not more than 25 percent of either. We could use as much of the chambourcin and the syrah as we felt necessary.

We Realized We Won

The first task was to assess the four wines. That is always the greatest fun because as soon as you taste one varietal I begin to think about what it would need to be a spectacular wine. And this is the chance I get to actually do this in practice.

Additionally, it is critical to assess the palette of the other people at the table. By their comments on the varietals, you can begin to determine whose palette is most like the majority of people and so that person becomes weather vane for the blends. I know that I am not a good person to build a wine to because I like a specific group red wines, but I think I can assess a wine that others will like. It is always good though to have a couple other people to provide confirmation.

Standings Board

Our table was blessed with six people who knew wines and understood that we needed to develop a complete wine--a nice nose, a good finish, a deep rich dark color and a well balanced taste: not too tannin in nature but not a fruit bomb either.

I won't go into all of the details about how we did it--because fundamentally, we were really lucky because we decided on our basic blend after our second blend and then it was just tweaking the blend from there. We eliminated the syrah after the fourth blend because it just didn't add anything that improved the blend. We were quite happy to work with just the chambourcin, touriga, and cabernet sauvignon.

The Winners
Chris & Shannon Andrews
Barbara & Bob Gitschier, Chris & Bob Doan,
and the winemaker
Stephen Barnard
Something I have learned over the past two years--one percent makes a big difference. I never thought it would be like that, but looking at the standings board, the top two wines are very similar and tasted very different. The scores are along the side and our wine was wine J. The two on the bottom were both 100 percent chambourcin and the winemaker added them into the judging as control wines.

And so last year our wine came in second place. This year, I really wanted to win. I don't know why, but I just felt we had a good wine last year and I knew I had learned so much more about wine this past year. And our table did win. It was a great team effort in which everyone participated.

What do the winners get? Our wine will be bottled and sold by the winery as the 2009 Consensus Blend.

And I will buy a few cases of it because I know it is good.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hahn Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 - Review

It has been a while since I reviewed a wine, mostly because I have been using Cellar Tracker and writing reviews there as I sample different wines.

But, this wine was recently recommended to me and I really need to let everyone know how good this wine is--and it is a best value, even according to Wine Enthusiast magazine.

Chris and I sampled Hahn Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 the other evening. We were both very impressed. This wine is really special.

The wine is described this way on the website:

Luscious scents of sweet berry fruits, opening to wisps of cola, licorice, and spice. Ripe blackberry and boysenberry fruit flavors are accompanied by notes of cassis and vanilla, balanced by firm tannins and food-friendly acidity.

Deep ruby in the glass, this Cabernet Sauvignon commands attention from the moment it is poured. Rich, luscious scents of sweet berry fruits entice the nose, opening to wisps of cola, licorice, and spice. An intense core of ripe blackberry and boysenberry greets the palate, giving way to notes of cassis, vanilla and earth. Firm tannins and food-friendly acidity balance the plush fruit, leading to a long, pleasant finish.

The intense character and complex nature of this Cabernet Sauvignon make it a strong partner for meat dishes such as beef stew and roasted venison. Try it also with a flavorful starter, such as gorgonzola and walnuts, or a simple dessert like espresso gelato.

I found this to be very true. I wrote the wine us as follows: This is a great wine especially considering the price. Great nose followed by a taste which includes dark cherry and black currant flavors. Some structure underneath the berry flavors with tannins. Nice feel in the mouth and it finishes strong and lingers.

RECOMMENDATION: If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, buy this wine. For about $10 per bottle, the price is great and the wine drinks very nicely and it should continue to drink nicely for a few more years.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Parador Cellars: A Review

During our Napa trip, and I guess on any trip, there is always the hope that I will discover something that not everyone else has discovered. Of course, with all of the wineries and commercialism in Napa and Sonoma, that is nearly impossible to do.

Chris and I along with my sister Pennie and her husband Scott; however, did find that unique memory of the trip in the form of a very small winery called Parador Cellars. How it happened is almost as much of a story and the pure enjoyment we got from "discovering" something that not everyone finds.

Parador is run by the winemaker--Steve and his wife. Steve is solely responsible for the quality of the wines and the blends. And, I believe he hit it perfectly in the wines he makes. A visit to the Cellars, is a visit to their home in Napa--and a phone call for an appointment.

We were introduced to Parador Cellars at Zu Zu, a tapas restaurant in Napa where we found the Parador Red Wine, a Cabernet-Tempranillo blend on the wine list and tried it. It is fabulous. As is the Tempranillo that Parador produces.

We were treated to a personal tasting at the house and were able to taste an assortment of the wines. I was able to taste the 1999 Reserva which was a Cabernet-Tempranillo-Sangiovese blend as well as the 2004 and 2005 red which was the Cabernet-Tempranillo blend and complimented the 2003 red we enjoyed at the restaurant. We also sampled the 2005 Tempranillo and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon which were used to create the red.

I highly recommend these wines and the experience of meeting the winemaker, Steve and his wife, to discuss the wines and get to know them was fantastic and was truly a highlight of the week in Napa.

The find of the week! Fine wines and a great winemaker.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sterling Winery: A Review

The first winery we visited, right out of the barrel was Sterling.

Sterling is located in Calistoga, near the north end of Napa Valley.

Although I had read mixed reviews about this winery, we still wanted to visit it because it is just plain neat--with the cable car ride up the hillside to the winery.

We upgraded to the reserve tasting, so the admission was $30 per person. That is pretty standard around here for tours and tastings. The basic tour and tasting was $25--so we really only had a minor upgrade.

The gondola ride was beautiful and provided a nice way to see the valley in the morning sunlight. It was a beautiful way.

The tour is self-guided--but the positioning of tasting stations along the tour route was really nice and creative. The winery is beautiful. The tour is great and fun to wander around the various stations. Although the tour is not informative about the history of the winery.

Here is the real thing: the wines are not that good! They are so-so wines. Fun to taste, but even though it was our first winery, we knew that these were not the great wines of Napa County. They are OK--and over priced OK. There are much better wines out there.

But the winery is fun and is a must visit kind of place.

Recommendation: Visit this winery. The gondola ride is fun and the construct of the tour is unique. The winery is beautiful and definitely with the visit. Use the wine tastings as a baseline for other wineries.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Angeline Merlot 2007 Sonoma Valley - A Review

We had a bottle of the 2007 version of this wine the other night.

The nose was very fresh and light with hints of berries. The taste is smooth and light and continues the light berry flavors, and adds some cherry and a hint of vanilla and some mild tannins. The light purple color is very pleasant. I found the finish a bit weak however. It does not linger very long--and is too soon gone. I would wish it to linger a bit longer to add to the enjoyment.

If you are looking for a light wine to enjoy with some light munchies--this is the wine to try.

Don't look too close at the label depicted here--we had the 2007 Sonoma Valley wine--which has the same label except for it says Sonoma Valley instead of Russian River Valley. But the label otherwise is identical.

RECOMMENDATION: A good buy at $12 per bottle.