A couple of weeks ago, I received an invitation to my first winemakers’ dinner. I immediately began to imagine what a winemakers’ dinner might entail. The logical, conservative part of me was guessing that it would be a chance to sit down with a winemaker or two and discuss and taste their wines over a meal. The irrational, zany part of me was imagining a dinner where obscure wines would be presented for blind tasting, with those failing to properly identify the wine being forced to squeal like a pig, a la Dazed and Confused. Thankfully for all, the dinner was much more like the former vision.
On April 3rd, a couple of wine journalists and I (I introduced myself as a “blogger”) met with Jay Turnipseed, a winemaker for Franciscan Estate in St. Helena, California, Clay Brock, GM and winemaker for Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards in Templeton, California, and Mark de Vere, MW, at Earl’s Kitchen and Bar in downtown Denver. After some brief introductions and exchanging of pleasantries, it was time to get down to business and taste some wine.
The first wine up was the Franciscan Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, 2010. This wine exhibited pure citrus notes, with a shade of herbaceousness. It’s a steal at $16.00– I’m sensing a $20 Below review in the upcoming weeks. Jay mentioned that Franciscan attempts to limit the green pepper and jalapeño attributes from their Savugnon Blancs by arranging the canopy of the vines for maximum absorption of sunlight (sunlight neutralizes the compound responsible for the green pepper and/or jalapeño features). This philosophy really hit home with me, as I commonly detect an excess of green pepper in California Sauvignon Blancs. I’m ok with green pepper notes when they’re limited but I’ve literally had wines where I’m thinking “I detect green pepper, a bit of citrus, with green pepper and more green pepper.” I did not detect any green pepper or jalapeño in this Sauvignon Blanc.
Next up was the Wild Horse Unbridled Chardonnay, Bien Nacido, 2009. This wine was uber-rich but firm, with notes of butterscotch and lemon cream, and sells for around $24.00. Clay gave me a bit of background on the famous Bien Nacido vineyard. Owned by the Miller family, this famous Santa Maria Valley vineyard encompasses approximately 800 acres. Wild Horse is a long-time Bien Nacido customer.
Then came the Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, 2008. This wine certainly had a wow effect, with rich, dark berry aromas, a bit of spice, and a velvety texture. The suggested retail price is $60.00 and I promise you it’s worth every penny.
By this point, I was having a really great time. So great, in fact, that I committed a wine sin and ordered the mixed green salad that came with a vinaigrette dressing. For those uncertain of how I sinned, take a drink of wine after eating a vinegar-drenched dish (make sure it’s cheap wine) and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I realized my mistake shortly after I placed the order. When the salad arrived, I picked at the toppings, munched on some greens sparingly, and thankfully did not ingest much vinegar.
Two more wines to go! As we were drinking the wine and not spitting, it was definitely becoming more difficult to evaluate the wines at this point– plus, I had indulged a bit on the Cheval Sauvage. Out came my steak (it was great by the way) and to accompany it, the Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2009. This cab was solid and interesting, as it was complete with oak flavors, but without any rough tannins on the back of the tongue. Jay took pride in the fact that this was an affordable cab, which I found refreshing. By the way, this wine is readily available and retails for $28.00.
The grand finale of the evening was the Franciscan Magnificat 2007, a Meritage blend consisting of 71% Cab. Sauv., 26% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec with a suggested retail price of $50.00. If I had to describe this wine in two words, it would be “muscular” and “polished”. I am looking forward to giving this wine another try with a fresher palate.
I am happy to report that no squealing took place over the course of the night and it was a great experience. Any time that a group of wine lovers, whether they be journalists, winemakers, or bloggers, come together and gather around a table with good food and good wine, it’s going to turn out well.