Thursday, March 20, 2008

Savor Sonoma, cheers & jeers

This past weekend was the Savor Sonoma wine tasting event, and after inviting several friends to this barrel tasting event for the umpteenth time, I thought it'd be a good post if I had everybody gather all their impressions at each winery and put it all together. Here's a run-down of what the group found to be the best (& worst) of the weekend.....tasting staff and volunteers were all very helpful, except where noted otherwise...


Mayo Family and Collier (at Family Winemakers in Kenwood) tied for the best overall performances, and the 2-for-1 special at Collier was fantastic (bought a case of the '04, got a case of the '03 FREE! THAT's marketing!), and the winemaker at Collier was a hoot!
Mayo was very good overall, with very drinkable sangiovese, chard, and viognier. The petite sirah was a tad aggressive, but would do well with a bit of age on it, and the
cab franc was classically (read as "old world") less-ripe than most of the other cab francs produced these days in California, so a nice change on that varietal. The Meritage and Cab were both put together very well, and could use a few years to pick up some bottle bouquet. The port was excellent, and was "futures" worthy.

Eric Ross Winery had a very nice "light style" pinot, which was also worthy of buying futures, but the rest of their wines were not all that exciting. I'm still surprised Gallo hasn't tried to sue them for having a black rooster on their label...perhaps they're waiting to see if the Chianti Classico organization in Italy will take care of that for them...

Valley of the Moon had the best food pairing, with a tomato-bread soup that paired perfectly with the wine. The recipes were available on postcards for everyone to pick up if they wanted...another nice touch. The syrah they were sampling wasn't all that great, otherwise they were good.

Muscardini had some nice wines, the Unti Syrah was good, as was the sangiovese and the "Tesoro" blend, which we grabbed a few bottles of for dinner that night. a tent outside the tasting room right on HWY 12 in Kenwood, we felt a little like we were going to be hit by a car careening off the road at any time, but the wines were good: both their primitivo and the Dante blend were very good to excellent.

Ledson......has been much better in the past, not very impressive this time around. Also, the "kid" who was pouring behind the bar was, well... the best phrase is "somewhat lit". And as he poured us all a Brett ridden petite sirah, proclaiming how "...most wines need quite a bit of time before they're ready, but this wine's ready to drink right now. Really just an excellent barrel of wine..."
Right. It was poured out directly into the spittoon, and I even opted for a fresh glass, but was disappointed by receiving another Brett wine, this time a Cab.
(So, if you're going to have a wine event, make sure your employees aren't drinking more than your guests, and make sure they know the difference between Brett and complexity from

Benziger. How could I NOT stop by the Sonoma bastion of all things biodynamic?
Ok, to be fair, they had a very nice Sauv Blanc barrel
being sampled, which was paired extremely well - most of us felt perfectly- with a slightly spicy asian noodle salad. I also hold their stated desire to farm as responsibly as possible in high regard. But the rest of the wines were average to disappointing, with both the BD wines being Brett tainted. Not a great advertisement for the potential for BD which they preach so loudly...

As we made for the exit, I recognized one of the gals behind the bar as the one who'd helped some guests
and myself a few years back...and for a moment I panicked that she recognized me also, as my friends stopped to taste what she had to offer behind the bar.

This I should explain: on that particular occasion years ago we had gone to their tasting room for my guests' introduction to what BD was, and how the resulting wines turned out. We had tasted thru the wines available at the bar, and had opted for the "premium" reserve tasting. We paid our money and shuffled into an adjacent room where this gal got into the whole BD is the best-thing-since-sliced-bread was invented, and how the wines we were about to imbibe were fantastic, low-yield vineyards, and how no better example of what quality wines BD could produce. Long story short, we tasted thru the first wines with not much comment, happy to let her go on-and-on with the winery's spiel...until she poured what she assured us was the finest of their offerings: a BD cab sauv from McDowell (?) vineyard. I was the lucky schmuck who got the first pour, and before she had gotten the glass poured for the person next to me, I was pouring mine into the spittoon. It never made it closer than arm's length from my face - it never was tasted.
At this point she stops pouring,
aghast & with a unique mixed expression of disbelief and utter shock, said "That's our best wine...".
My reply was "No. Thanks, but I can smell band-aids and barnyards as soon as you started pouring. That wine's contaminated with Brettanomyces yeast."
She haughtily countered with "It's a style...." (as if I was an idiot she could pull that crap on.).
Flatly I replied, "No it's's a contaminant yeast which is producing those aromas. There's no fruit to be found in here...what's next to pour today?"
The pissed off look on her face spoke volumes.
Needless to say, our tasting ended soon afterwards...and we broke for the parking lot...

How this all ties in: This same lady just this past weekend, while pouring a BD wine for one of my guests which was Brett ridden, started waxing about how great a wine it was, and about the exquisite fruit it came from. My pal, quick to get the strong band-aid odor wafting from his glass baited her by asking "what is it that you smell in this?"
Her reply - "All that makes this vineyard special, the terroir of the site."
My pal persisted "It smells quite strong..." to which the gal replied "That's the soil you're smelling..."
He poured it out & took her to task by saying "No. That's Brett making that band-aid smell, NOT the soil!".
(I felt quite happy with myself, as though I'd just completed some magna opus, hearing my pal stand up for himself to this snotty lady...)

Here it was several years later, and I found my party walking out of the tasting room - again - and this particular pour staff gal still hasn't improved either her demeanor or her knowledge base.
If indeed she DOES know what Brett is, then she needs to improve her delivery to people so she's not continually talking down to them. It was just insulting.

I think she's had enough of the company Kool-aid, boys...
PS - it's time to change your staff out when they can't offer anything but a scowl to your patrons...I don't recall her smiling once the entire time we were there. Frankly she looked like she'd just swallowed a live scorpion.

Better luck next year...I hope....

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brett is a spoilage organism, or a style choice. It depends on where you are and what you are trying to do with your wine style. The real art is keeping it out if you don't want it in the barrels. It does indeed mask fruit. I think this entry is a rant, and the bold print with exclamation points is total overkill.

April 20, 2008 8:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think someone has learned a new cocktail party term and throws around "bret" just to seem smarter than his pourer. If a wine with bret is not your style, then move on and try not to feel the need to belittle the staffer who poured it for you.

May 29, 2008 12:30 PM  
Blogger St. Vini said...

Your staff which is pouring wine should be well versed in what wine flaws and acceptable levels of defects are.

Presenting a wine which had a brett level so high that there was nothing behind it which remained detectable is a problem, especially when the person pouring lauds the wine for its fruit and ripeness. When the person in question goes further to claim that those aromas are “terroir”, well Sir (or Madam), I’d suggest they be retired from the pouring position until they have had a chance to sit down with their winemaker and go over such topics.

Brett as spoilage/stylistic choice…..
Yes, yet another one of those debates that will go on for eternity like the definition of “terroir”. My position on the issue is that when the brett character is noticeable & identifiable on its own, then it is getting “iffy” calling it a stylistic choice. By the time it has started to mask fruit, it’s reached the “defect” (spoilage) level in my eyes.
Granted the range at which people detect the compounds responsible and find it offensive varies greatly, and this is at the base of the argument which still rages today. However, there was nothing debatable about the levels of brett fouling in this wine: it was unanimous in our party that the wine was compromised, and a dud. Defective levels of brett were obvious well before the wine was even raised to the nose!

As for this being a rant…….well, I have been noted to do that from time to time, and I do have issues with what the people are saying who are supposed to be the vanguard of experiences that tourists have here in wine country – when they don’t impart useful knowledge and instead seem only to offer the same old wives tales regarding what people are finding in their glasses. Or when all they seem able to do is regurgitate the back-label copy of their employers. However, we had 7 people in our party this year, and nothing is posted in which we couldn’t get at least 5 people to agree upon.

Have I just learned the term “brett” and am trying to put on airs?
You have missed many posts of mine, as well as 30+ years of wine industry experience I possess.

See the link below for the list:
Brett posts

June 05, 2008 5:56 AM  

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