Saturday, December 3, 2011

Wines Of The Year

 Okay, before I get started here I would like to say that I’m not really a fan of this whole premise. Wine of the Year, Top 100, Top 10 lists, they have never made sense to me as I tend to see wines in context and find merit in their individualism, ability to pair with whichever dish and frankly, wine is much less of a thing to me than it is a moment, setting, memory….so I would much rather see a Top 10 Wine Moments kind of deal on blogs and in magazines than some beauty pageant listing of random wines. That being said I know I’m not in the majority on that and as someone that has worked at The Wine Country for 15 years, (wow, still cannot believe that) I know how customers look forward to seeing what wines we come up with. And outside of Randy asking us at the tasting table during judging, very few people ask us why we picked the wines we did. Lots of folks get all aflutter with excitement over these kinds of things and far be it from me to block anyone from getting their flutter on.

So for our Wine of the Year selections there are some very real constraints as to what we can chose, I mean we are a retail shop and unlike the goddamn Wine Spectator we aren’t about to select wines that no one can get their hands on! That chunk of stupid does us no good in the sales department and as someone that has, many times, had to shake my head and say, “No that’s long gone” to some poor person that comes in with the WS list thinking they are going to find the Spectator’s #1 pick for their wine loving friend/boss/wife/husband for the holidays, well I can tell you from firsthand experience that it just pisses people off. So first and foremost the wine needs to be available to sell, which depending on price, means anywhere from seven or eight cases for the wines in the over $60.00 price point and anywhere up to twenty cases of wines closer to the $30.00. So already many wines we might have picked, say my beloved 2010 Clos Marie Rose, cannot be a contender….even though that was clearly one of the most compelling wines I had all year. None to sell, out of the running.  The next part up for consideration is the broad appeal. How many people are going to “get” and love this wine, the objective being that we can sell more wine if we keep that in mind but truthfully, I rarely let that influence my decision. I have plenty of faith in our customer’s willingness to try new things and I just can’t get excited about, “Because it’s easy” as my reason for selecting something that I am saying is my Wine of the Year….just a pain in the ass like that. Lastly price, especially in a troubled economy, while not a deciding factor, is something we try and keep in mind. We do want people to be able to afford the wines we’re all geeked out about, that and let’s be honest, crowning some $300.00 bottle of wine as Wine of the Year is kind of dickish and snobby and that, that has never been what The Wine Country is about. So last month the four buyers for the store tossed their selected wines in the tasting ring….

We gathered after closing on a Tuesday night. I had the day shift, (was in the middle of my hell weeks so of course I was the one pulling the thirteen hour shift…goddamn it) so I had contacted the people that were off asking them which white wines they would like me to get chilling for them. All but one of us having our wines selected well before the tasting, one….well he has a more organic approach to this yearly event. He walks around the store for two days, including the day of the tasting, scanning the racks, hovering over wines he feels might be winners, popping corks to revisit them then rushing to the back room to call the supplier to see if there is a healthy supply of them. Cracks me up. He struggles with the Wine of the Year thing as much as I do and likely for the same reasons, guess it makes sense seeing as he is my boss and the one that inspired and cradled my passion for wine from the beginning. I do love that man so.

Registers counted, doors locked, entire staff, buyers and non, (well aside from Dale who is a wine lover, not a wine taster and doesn’t care for these kind of slurp and spit events) present and accounted for, two stacks of paper in front of all of us, one full sized sheets for taking notes, the other little piles of cut up scratch paper for the secret balloting, and we launched into our Wine of the Year judging. Now, there are five categories total: Champagne of the Year, White Wine of the Year, Red Wine of the Year and Sweet Wine of the Year, from those we re-taste and come up with Wine of the Year. So lots of tasting, explanations and at times, arguing as each one of us fights and makes a case for each of our wines before everyone is tasked with selecting their top two wines in each flight. There have been years when we have had to re-vote, numerous times in each category just to come up with a winner but this year, having a much smaller staff, two of which are brand spanking new to wine, well it went pretty damn smoothly….except for one minor hiccup.

“I think this is corked” Bennett, our new world wine buyer was the first to bury his nose in the glass of 2007 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Red that Randy had put up for Red Wine of the Year. We had been working our way through the reds and I still had some 2006 Produttori del Barbaresco in my glass, lost in the aromas of Nebbiolo and wondering if the wine might have the muscle to trump my selected Burgundy. Bennett gave me a, “What do you think?” look and I sadly dumped my Barbaresco and poured myself a glass of the Ridge. “Yup, corked” I confirmed. “Everyone get a new glass” Randy announced as he leapt from the tasting table and began gathering clean glasses for all of us. “Tim, can you go grab us another bottle of Ridge?” and our newest employee went scampering for a fresh bottle of Ridge. Foil and cork removed, new glasses poured and after one sniff the whole damn table went mute. Gone were the mutterings, scribbling, bickering voices…silence. “Holy shit” all I could think to say as these rich, deep, elegant aromas pulled me deeper and deeper into the glass. The hush at the table broke and this excited energy splashed from person to person as we all began sipping the wine. It became clear, in a matter of seconds that Randy’s under $40 red blend was absolutely going to win Red Wine of the Year, after my third sip I was sure it was going to take top seed as Wine of the Year as well. “I just can’t believe how beautiful this is” Bennett effused “It’s almost like drinking Montebello” the words hanging from his lips like a caption in a cartoon as my eyes fell on the bottle we were tasting….um.

“That would be because we are drinking Montebello” I announced.

 Did I mention that Tim, the one we sent for a replacement bottle of Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Red is our newest employee? Did I also mention this is first ever entree into the world of wine? Poor kid ran off to do as his boss told him to but we failed to mention to him that all the Ridge wines have the same label. The wine that sent a hush across the whole table was not the Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Red, it was in fact Ridge winery’s top of the line blend and a far cry from $36.99. No, the Montebello sells for a whopping $110.00. “Guess it goes to show, sometimes wines are worth their price tag” I whispered to Randy. 

We got another bottle of the Santa Cruz Mountains to taste, which of course tasted like poo after tasting the Montebello and we now found ourselves in a bit of a quandary….should we even vote for the Montebello? It wasn’t even a candidate, just a fluke accident but now, now it was a “situation”. Bennett and Randy both thought we should chalk it up as a funny story and go back to the originally selected wines and they had very valid points, not the least of which is that we don’t want to look like assholes by proclaiming what many already know is a spectacular wine, our Wine of the Year, or even our Red Wine of the Year…that and it’s pricey and we feared looking like elitist douchenozzles. “There is no way we can leave that wine out. It was clearly the wine of the night.” He re I was arguing not only for the most expensive wine but for an expensive wine from California. The wine was, without question, the wine of the night and snobby be damned, it deserved its shot and its win. Congratulations Tim, even though you are not a wine buyer your “selection” is The Wine Country’s Wine of the Year!  

Is the 2007 Ridge Montebello worth $110.00? Absolutely and I feel lucky to have tasted it. To know great wine is to taste something like this and you owe it to yourself as a wine lover to try it.

My Wine of the Year Nominees 

N.V. Gonet-Medeville Brut Tradition $41.99
Opting this year to step away from my usual meaty, full, rich and exuberantly fruit focused style of Champagne I went for more of a wine lovers Champagne. Each time I opened a bottle of Gonet-Medeville Brut Tradition I was floored by the complexity, the toasted almonds, seashells and grilled citrus. The wine drinks almost Sherry like and seeing as I have a mad crush on Sherry at the moment it just tingles my bits. Not a wine for the Champagne as a style set. This is a serious, nearly savory bottle of bubbles and I find it truly remarkable.

2008 Domaine Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fume de Pouilly $64.99
Seems like nearly every year one of us selects a wine from this estate and it’s no wonder why, they are simply stunning and hands-down the most compelling Sauvignon Blancs on the planet. I have a personal connection to this winery but I assure you, even without that I would have chosen this wine. Benjamin, (Didier’s son that has been making the wines since Didier’s passing) has not missed a step even though he is filling some very large shoes. It’s the texture, the weight and silkiness that kills me about this wine. Fierce minerals, loaded with tangy citrus rind and a tingling blast of acidity on the finish. I would drink this over most every white Burgundy we carry.

2008 Domaine Maume Gevrey-Chambertin $45.99
“Fuck” was all I could say after smelling this wine at a recent red Burgundy seminar I gave and the lustful, erotic aromas have been haunting me ever since. I had actually planned on putting up one of the Domaine de Montille red Burgundies we tasted when Etienne was here a few months ago but after one night with this wine….signed, sealed, delivered “I’m yours”. Anyone that has ever wondered what the hell I’m talking about with regards to a wine that smells sensual needs to bury their nose in a glass of this wine. Dark cherries, roasted meat, mushrooms, truffles, stone fruit…like nectarine, and spice. Brilliant. Sexy. Captivating. Period. 

For the rest of the staff selections please visit


Ron Washam said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,

I always used to tell customers that anyone who lists his top five Cabernets from California and doesn't list Ridge Montebello is someone you should ignore. It is one of the great wines on the planet, and is a flatout STEAL at $110. You'd pay four times that for any Bordeaux that could legitimately give it a run for its money.

To those smart enough to buy a bottle--Decant, Decant, Decant. Eight hours, ten hours, two days... It just gets better and better.

And I'm with you about lists when it comes to wines. We love to rank wines, compare them to each other, but we usually sit down and drink them one at a time. I know anything I drink in your company is going to be the best wine I've had in months, but it helps that I'm looking at You the entire time. Context is everything.

My top ten wine moments this year were all with My Gorgeous Samantha. Just seeing those labels again makes my heart pound.

I love you!

Marcia Macomber said...

A great list and a great story. It's been years since I sampled a Montebello. Sure miss it.

webb said...

Am doubting that I can find many (any?) of them on the East Coast, but will look. Will need to rob a bank to buy the Montebello, but it sounds like it would be worth that, too.

Interesting post. thanks.

Carolyn Blakeslee said...

Interesting that your first Ridge was corked. Recently at our favorite wine bar we had TWO Ridge wines that were corked -- in one evening! Yes, the fresh bottles were good, but it makes ya wonder about their closure. Thanks for another wonderful post!

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,
How is it that I can write a whole blog trying to make a point and you can come in and swiftly make my point in one goddamn sentence? Always the smartest kid in the room it seems....which is why you drive me crazy and leave me in awe.

I can think of a few wines that now hold a very special place in my heart due to the fact that I shared them with you. Wine, just like my life is far sweeter, complex and full of wonder when I have you to share them with. Thank you for being all that you are and I love you!

A remarkable wine and no matter how long it has know which is what all true wine lovers should. Thanks as always for checking in.

I'm think the Maume might be findable on the east coast but if I recall from some of your earlier comments you tend to like wines with a bit of sweetness on them, you might check out our website and see the Riesling that got sweet wine of the year. It's sweet but not thick our fact the acidity makes it appear far less sweet than it actually is. I would seek that out too. Good luck and once again, should you not be able to find them near you, we do and will ship to you!

Yikes. Two in one night, that's gnarly and I too would be a tad concerned. I can say that we opened 5 bottles of the Montebello for this afternoon's tasting and all were fucking perfect so....might have been, much like out Wine of the Year deal, a fluke. Thanks for reading lady.

TWG said...

That's one smart guy.

Samantha Dugan said...

Unintended brilliance is often the best kind.