A few weeks ago, I was perusing a small Denver area newspaper and saw an ad for a charity wine tasting featuring hundreds of wines exclusively from the Napa Valley. The combination of the words/phrases “charity”, “wine tasting”, “hundreds of wines”, “Napa Valley”, and “$30.00″ was a quick sell to me, so I purchased a couple of tickets.
Denver’s Argonaut Liquors sponsors several of these tastings throughout the year, each with different themes, such as Napa Valley wines, Sonoma County wines, and Colorado/Oregon/Washington wines. This past Tuesday, my wife and I attended the Napa Valley tasting.
I have been to a similar tasting before, although hosted by a different sponsor, so I was able to utilize the most important lesson that I have picked up: bring something to spit your wine into. Most of the tables at these tastings have one dump bucket, but unless you’re lucky enough to see an opening right next to it, it’s out of reach. So you swallow a little bit here and a little bit there. Pretty soon, you’ve got a nice buzz going on and any hope of evaluating the wines that you’re drinking is lost.
The perfect spit bottle (L) and the not-so-perfect spit bottle (R).
My intention for the Napa tasting was to evaluate fifty wines, with the help of my trusty notebook and pen and spit bottle. A lot of thought went into selecting the right spitting vessel for such an event. If it was too flimsy, such as a Dixie cup, it could easily be spilled amongst the crowd. I also didn’t want it to be clear, as I’m sure that people wouldn’t be too happy seeing my wine spit sloshing around in the container. After much searching, I located the perfect spit bottle–a solid-colored Nalgene with a wide mouth.
Shortly after leaving the house for the tasting and amongst thick traffic, I realized that I had left both my notebook and spit bottle. The tasting was scheduled for only two hours, so after a minor (or my wife might say major) meltdown, I decided that we would stop at Target along the way and buy replacements. The traffic became thicker and by the time we reached Target, I was in serious rush mode. I ran in and made a beeline for the sporting goods section to find a water bottle. There was a miniature version of the bottle that I had recently purchased, so I quickly grabbed it, grabbed a notebook, paid, and ran back to the car.
The tasting was held at a golf club near downtown in a smallish room with sixteen tables full of wine. My strategy was to start with the whites and finish with the reds. Unfortunately, the whites and reds were mixed within the tables so much table-hopping was required. It was crowded and it became difficult to lug my pen, notebook, spit bottle, wine list, and tasting glass from table to table while trying to make my way through the crowds to get a pour. I simply did not have enough hands!
Going in, I didn’t have any grand visions of getting detailed notes for all of these wines. I did hope to get abbreviated notes for each one that I tasted. With a lesser crowd and with the wines organized by varietal, I may have had a shot of accomplishing that goal. As it was, I decided to write notes for a few of the thirty or so wines that we tasted that really impressed me. In order to increase my luck at the next tasting event, I’ve decided to list reviews for a lucky number seven of the wines tasted.
1. Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2008–Wine of the night. Tantalizing dark berry aromas, sultry in the mouth, with a finish that went on and on. Suggested Retail Price: $125.00, Rating: Stellar
2. Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2010–Could be the best Sauvignon Blanc I’ve had this year (along with the Duckhorn). Pure of fruit, zesty, with a zap of acidity. Suggested Retail Price: $32.00, Rating: Highly Recommended
3. Trefethen Dry Riesling 2010–Would have sworn this was German. Bright and loaded with slate, minerality, and green apple. Suggested Retail Price: $22.00, Rating: Highly Recommended
4. Girard Artistry 2008–Mouth-watering cherry aromas, with a strong acid backbone and wonderfully smooth texture. Suggested Retail Price: $40.00, Rating: Highly Recommended
5. Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2009–A regal zin with rich aromas and a velvety texture. Suggested Retail Price: $36.75, Rating: Highly Recommended
6. Sequoia Grove Carneros Chardonnay 2009–Gorgeous honeydew and smoke aromas, well-balanced, and just the right amount of oak. Suggested Retail Price: $28.00, Rating: Highly Recommended
7. Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah 2009–Mouth-coating blueberry, pepper, and a bit of tea leaf. Suggested Retail Price $38.00, Rating: Highly Recommended
I would guess that these stains were 75% Cab Sauv., 15% Merlot, 5% Zinfandel, and 5% Petite Sirah.
I mentioned earlier that the replacement spit bottle was a miniature version of the bottle that I had so carefully selected and then forgotten at home. The mouth of the mini bottle was very narrow and difficult to spit in. Engrossed with the tasting, I failed to notice that periodically a little bead of wine would stick to the outside of the rim or trickle down the side. Further, I failed to notice that I had touched the spit bottle to my shirt several times, so that it had stained my shirt in several places. The stains weren’t to the degree of Miles in Sideways (after chugging the spit bucket) but highly noticeable nonetheless. It also didn’t help that I was sweating like a mad man in the crowded room.
The wine list became an effective tool to shield my stained shirt but I was slightly embarrassed. My wife joked that I was probably the most sober guy there (due to spitting out the wine) but looked the sloppiest. I did learn another important lesson for the next marathon tasting–wear a dark colored shirt rather than baby blue.
Did the evening go exactly as planned? Not at all. Am I going to go back? Of course. There aren’t a plethora of tastings of this magnitude in the area. The next tasting in the series is in late June and features Colorado/Oregon/Washington wines. I’m looking forward to seeing how the wines of my adopted state stand up to those of Oregon and Washington.