100 wineries plus one 110-pound woman equals one enormous challenge. Wednesday night oenophiles packed the Galleria at the San Francisco Design Center for the 6th Annual Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries event. I wish I could say I tried everything, but with so many wines, I am ashamed to say that I only scratched the surface. But, if anyone has ever had crème brûlée, the surface can be pretty sweet.
The event was in full swing by the time I arrived and grabbed my Riedel glass. I swiped a map of the layout and planned my attack. Knowing that time and body weight, rather than gusto, were going to be my limitations, I decided to try two of every category. I was able to stick with that plan, more or less, and leave the place sober and content. Luckily, t he wineries were arranged by category and each category arranged in a logical tasting order.
One unexpected highlight was disgorging my own bottle of sparkling wine. Movia’s winemaker Alec Kristancic was on hand to show me how. Movia’s Puro sparkler comes with the lees still in the bottle, so upside down storage is necessary. I was a bit nervous for my fellow attendees and not sure they knew what I was doing, I sure didn’t. But all projectiles landed safely in a water bucket and I spilled only a little bit (ok, ok, I did spill some on the table). I am not sure how I would do this at home because he uses a special tool to rest the cork in while you turn the upside-down bottle slowly. Once it pops you quickly turn the bottle upright and there you have it!
In the interests of time and space here are my favorites in several categories:
Sparkling: Schloss Gobelsberg NV Brut Reserve (Austria)
Not only do they make phenomenal Gruner Veltliner still wines, but they also make this sparkling wine made by the traditional méthode champenoise, complete with hand riddling. The wine is made from 70% Gruner Veltliner and accompanied by Pinot Noir and Riesling. Subtle aromas of crushed stones and slight citrus notes preceded a disarmingly smooth mouth-feel.
Crisp Whites: Boutari Santorini 2008 (Greece)
Made with 100% Assyrtiko, Boutari’s Santorini is a steal at around $20. I really enjoyed the unique aroma. The rep hit the nail on the head and pinned down the aroma as that of oxidized fruit. Think of the aroma of an apple or pear that’s been sliced and left out in the air. I didn’t find it particularly acidic or crisp, but then again, I think it was served a bit warm. At a cooler temperature I think the acidity would have jumped out a bit more.
Rich Whites: E. Guigal Condrieu 2007 (France)
This wine does not need any alcohol to be intoxicating. Honeysuckle, orange blossoms and a hint of spiced bread predominated. Weighty without being heavy handed, it’s a luxurious wine.
Pinot Noir: Louis Jadot Corton-Grèves Grand Cru 2007 (France)
One winemaker for 150 labels? Yes, Jacques Lardière has the privilege of this Herculean task. His rep at the event said he exudes energy and passion. She described how at harvest he is a man possessed and even over the telephone she can hear his anxiousness to get off the phone and get back to work. And what a marvelous fruit his labor bore. Possessing a gorgeous ruby red color, aromas of tart red fruit and the subtle scent of smoke and cloves hovering in the background. Good thing for Jacques, at the end of his work, he created something worthy of quite contemplation.
Rhone Family: Delas-Frères Hermitage Marquise de la Tourette 2005 (France)
Hermitage truly is a beast and I mean that as a compliment. Spicy, tannic and just plain immense, this wine should really come in a bigger bottle. Black fruit and pepper lead the way to long and sumptuous finish.
Cabernet Family: Henschke Eden Valley Cyril Henschke Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Australia)
This was a bit of a preview, as the wine is not yet available. A phenomenal year for Australian wines, Eden Valley is more known for Riesling than Cabernet. This particular hillside is planted with old vine Cabernet and small strips of Cabernet Franc and Merlot for blending. Cassis and pitted black fruit aromas prevailed. Most impressive was the mouth-feel, walking the razor thin edge between elegance and tannic, cellar worthy structure, I loved every second of it.
Runner-up: Ridge Monte Bello 2005: Straight-forward and precise.
Port: Niepoort 1991 Porto Colheita (Portugal)
Simply delightful. This wine was the life of the party and conveniently located next to the Brix Chocolate table. Bright red fruit flavors melted away into a rich consistency.
Sherry: Lustau Jerez-Xérès-Palo Cortado VOS 20 (Spain)
This dry sherry made me wonder why it’s so hard to find them. Complex and refined, with incredible depth of color and flavor. It reminded me of the smell of the ocean and perhaps some toasted hazelnuts.