If one had to imaging a single wine region and corresponding varietal which
are globally recognized and respected, California Cabernet Sauvignon
would probably be among the first three, perhaps sharing the leadboard
with Bordeaux and Burgundy, but as I previously pointed out, after the
Judgment of Paris and in recent years, I would not be surprised to see
California Cabernets at the very top.
Nevertheless, even globally accepted excellent wine can use some extra
publicity, so here I am, reporting on Passport to Cabernet 2013, a
wonderful wine event organized by the California Cabernet Society.
It is not a secret that I love California Cabs. But honestly, who
doens’t? This event provided an excellent opportunity to taste the
latest vintage of California Cabs, and it was as good as it
sounds. There were so many excellent wines that it is hard to choose
which ones to report. There wasn’t much point in blind tasting, but
even without blind tasting, this was definitely one of the best wine
tasting events of the last year.
A few favorites:
- Everything from Cornerstone: 2010 Stepping Stone
(great value), 2009 Napa Valley and 2009 Howell Mountain, both
spectacular and fairly priced relative to Napa standards (don’t expect “cheap” – but very good value at the Napa price range)
- Linked Vineyards 2008 (great name: people came over and asked, “Are you linked?”)
- Louis M. Martini with great value for Napa, especially
the 2010 Alexander Valley which is practically a steal (again, in Napa price standards), and the Monte
Rosso which was so good it has to be my favorite wine of the day, and apparently I was not
alone in this preference, based on the number of people who came back
for a second and third tasting, highly unusual in an event with so
many excellent wines
- Peju, as always making quality wine, with the
2009 Reserve and the 2010
- Steven Kent, pricey but excellent wine from
the under-appreciated Livermore Valley – at least, once you taste Steven Kent’s wines, you realize it’s underappreciated.
Excellent food pairings (especially cheese worthy of California Cabs) were provided by Winery Chefs.
I can hardly remember the last time I tasted so much great wine in a
single event – as always, respect to California Cabs and many thanks
to the California Cabernet Society for organizing this great
The California Cabernet Society is “an alliance of wineries committed to expanding worldwide regard and appreciation for California Cabernet Sauvignon”. I was not really aware that worldwide regard and appreciation for California Cabernet Sauvignon was lacking anywhere, especially after The Judgment of Paris (twice!) and Bottle Shock, but there is no harm in making a good thing even more globally appreciated, of course. I therefore add my own voice and recommend attending the 2013 Passport to Cabernet and evaluating barrel samples from the most recent vintage. Don’t miss it!
A friend and I set out to do a massive blind tasting of four completely different food categories: 100% dark chocolates, rainbow carrots (purple, yellow and the good old orange), heirloom tomatoes (yellow, red, purplish green and an outsider beefsteak tomato) and greek yogurts (Fage, Chobani and Vermont Fromage Blanc). The goal was to learn to classify them all blind.
The protocol was as follows: in each round, one of us randomizes (on a computer, to ensure good pseudorandomness) one item in each category and the other tastes it blind and guesses its identity, and then we switch. Four items, one in each category, and four corresponding guesses for each of the two of us.
100% dark chocolate
Lucienne’s 100% dark chocolate bar – unsweetened:
Grenada organic 100% chocolate:
Pralus Madagascar 100% dark:
Chocovivo 100% dark:
Ghirardelli 100% Cacao Unsweetened Chocolate Baking Bar (no picture was taken).
Orange, yellow and purple carrots (from the farmer’s market):
Purple, yellow and red heirloom tomatoes, and a distractor (a regular beefsteak tomato):
Fage, Chobani and Vermont Fromage Blanc (which is very similar to a Greek yogurt):
No strong preferences were observed except perhaps for the red heirloom tomato.
Participant 1 got better at identifying the chocolates and the tomatoes, but got progressively worse with yogurts, and showed no trend with carrots. Participant 2 learned to identify the carrots but got worse with all the other items. These results seem to suggest that the number of trials used or the protocol used were not sufficient to identify a robust learning effect.
Participant 1 mastered the carrots and the chocolates. Otherwise, both participants failed to reach mastery on any category. Again, it would seem that more trials are needed.
Mount Veeder is a Napa Valley appellation adjoining Carneros with a variety of climates and unique growing conditions for winemaking. I had the pleasure of attending the Mount Veeder spring tasting in San Francisco at the beautiful Presidio Golden Gate Club.
The event was well-organized, educational and fun. It started with a discussion of three panelists: Carole Meredith (of Lagier Meredith), Dave Guffy (of The Hess Collection), and Matt Ashby (of Mount Veeder Winery). They presented their unique perspective on various aspects of Mount Veeder winemaking.
The panel discussion was accompanied by a tasting of three very different Mount Veeder wines: first, the Lagier Meredit Syrah, was to me the least impressive of the three. Strong grapefruit flavors dominated (somewhat unusual, for me, in a red wine, but so strong that grapefruit was by far the lasting impression), along with overpowering tannins. The lack of balance made me feel as if I was drinking a super-tannic, alcoholic grapefruit juice. Second, the Hess Collection Malbec, rich, spicy with dark fruit and a complex, long finish. Finally, the Mount Veeder Winery Cabernet Franc, with big concentrated dark fruit and big tannins. I enjoyed the fruity expression of the Cabernet Franc, but my favorite of the three was the Malbec, due to its complexity, and it just seemed to get better with every single taste.
Then came the main tasting portion where almost 30 Mount Veeder wineries poured a wide variety of excellent wines. I was tasting most blind and took a long time to focus and take notes on each wine, so I did not even come close to tasting a significant portion of them. I will therefore mention a short list of favorites which I greatly enjoyed.
Hess Collection poured some of the best-value wines, in retrospect (I avoided the prices while tasting). The Gruner Veltiner was crisp, citrusy and floral, providing a rich flavor experience for a good price ($28). The 19 Block Cuvee felt to me like a well-balanced oaky, dark and “California delicious” French Bordeaux, again a great value at $38. The 2009 Cabernet sauvignon is a bit more expensive ($55) but excellent.
Foyt Family Wines 2009 Cabernet sauvignon, a bit young but showing radiant concentrated red fruit. Marketta Winery poured an enjoyable Bordeaux-style 2006 Mount Veeder Red Blend. Meadowcroft Wines 2009 Cabernet sauvignon showed concentrated dark fruit. On the more affordable end, Sky Vineyards poured a very bright-fruity 2008 Estate Grown Syrah ($25) and a similarly bright-fruity 2009 Zinfandel ($38). Trinchero poured a 2009 Cabernet, with a tart, dark nose that makes way to a bright expression of red tannic jamminess. Vinoce Vineyards poured a 2009 Cabernet franc, complex and elegant, dark and ripe with a great finish. The 2009 Cabernet sauvignon exhibited an explosion of concentrated dark fruit. Both were excellent. Yates Family Vineyards poured a ripe, red-fruit 2009 Cabernet franc and a bigger, strawberry/raspberry jammy 2009 Proprietary Blend with a complex finish.
One of my favorite wineries was Spotted Owl. A 2010 Chardonnay, crisp but not mineral, adequate fruit an a pleasant finish. The only Pinot Noir (2011), classic, strong and true to the varietal. 2009 “Lev’s Cuvee” (a Syrah-based blend), fruity and bold, and the 2009 “Mountain Cuvee”, darker and concentrated with fruit flavors, and my favorite, the 2009 Cabernet, big, bold, oaky and memorable.
The Mount Veeder tasting, being a single appellation, provides an excellent opportunity to test the correlations between prices and my blind ratings without confounding variables from different regions. The results show a strong correlation, although as expected (and as usual), far from perfect. I had a small number of data points since I spent much time on each wine before moving on, but the trend is still clear (Spearman’s r=0.59). Once again, I did not get a chance to taste most of the wines, so I am sure there were many more excellent wines.
Thanks again to the Mount Veeder Appellation Council for organizing this educational and enjoyable event!
Blackberries are delicious. Are they all alike, though? A quick blind taste provided a negative answer. I compared Driscoll’s, Berry Fresh, Berry Sweet, and Splendor.
The results: Splendor did not live up to their name, consistently rated lowest. Berry Fresh were already much better, but still came behind Berry Sweet and Driscoll’s, which are indistinguishable to me. Of course, there may be considerable variation between individual packages, and only one of each was used for this quick comparison, so I can’t say anything about the reliability of these results. Nevertheless, the differences among these packages were big enough that next time I buy blackberries, I will definitely avoid Splendor, and go with Driscoll’s or Berry Sweet if possible.
This comparison was not funded by anyone, I declare no conflict of interests.
There’s nothing petite about petite sirah, they say. Combined with chocolate, cheese and bacon, the combination is evolutionarily irresistible.
This is Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah, a PS I Love You event featuring dozens of wineries pouring petite sirah, with food pairings that are mostly based on chocolate, pork or a combination of both. The kind of thing that makes you happy while your arteries are desperately screaming for help.
No wonder my co-spectator and I discussed the modern healthcare system on the way back from Alameda.
The event was hosted by Rock Wall Wine Company, a long-time favorite of Blind Spectator and friends. Rock Wall indeed rock at both wine and hospitality, and this event was no exception.
The event began with a tour and tasting with Shauna Rosenblum, the charming winemaker at Rock Wall. That was fun and informative and the tasting was a pleasure. I learned that in addition to being expert winemakers, Rock Wall are also experts at geodesic domes. How about that for “fields of expertise you wouldn’t expect to find together”?
After the tour we headed over to the main event. As usual for events like this, I will not describe every single wine and food pairing, but give a general summary and mention some favorites and share tasting data in some future post after compiling and analyzing my notes and those of my co-spectator.
First, wine. The essence of the celebration. This kind of event is the perfect opportunity to discover how much variation there is in a single varietal, just within California. Fruit, oak, acidity, tannins, mouthfeel and more, all vary greatly, and the challenge is bringing balance to it all.
It’s not easy to make a great, balanced petite sirah, and indeed many wines disappointed me – with petite sirah, it’s easy to go wrong. But I don’t want to focus on the disappointments when there was so much good stuff to enjoy. I especially liked the wines which allowed the dark fruit to shine with complexity.
Some favorites included: Delectus, Lava Cap, Tres Sabores, Shadowbrook, Vina Robles and the “R”’s: R&B, Ridge, Rock Wall, Rosenblum.
As for food, that directly targeted our evolutionary ancestors: Chocolate. Bacon. Bacon-covered chocolate and chocolate-covered bacon. Pulled pork sliders. Cheese. French country pate. Pork sausage. Petite sirah ice cream. More chocolate, and some more chocolate. In the end of the evening, I felt two things very strongly: first, that I am definitely genetically predisposed to find all that delicious, and second, that I’m ready to head directly to the nearest hospital for a new set of arteries.
Then again, maybe all of us at the event were protected by the well-known French paradox: eat delicious fatty food and drink red wine for a long life. Yes, let’s just choose that version, it sounds so much better.
I did crave something lighter, like strawberries. That would have been just right.
Food favorites included the pork belly sliders, braised oxtail, French country pate, Mama Tina’s meatballs, beets in blue cheese, Fiscalini cheese, Chef Tyler Stone ice cream, and desserts from Bert’s Desserts, Coco Delice, Coco Tutti, and Monterey Chocolate Company.
Thanks to PS I Love You and Rock Wall Wine Company for a great event! Now excuse me while I eat broccoli and drink water for a couple of days to allow my senses to recover.
February 24th, 2013 in
Domenico Winery hosted a fun winter wine festival, with good wines from 9 wineries and plenty of chocolate in various forms! As expected, this was highly enjoyable.
Yes, there was a chocolate fountain, too.
Nearly all the wines were good and the chocolate pairings were, of course, delicious. The event was very popular, with big crowds especially at the counter of the hosts themselves, Domenico, who nevertheless kept their patience, smiles and friendliness.
There were many enjoyable wines, but if I had to pick one winery that I really liked, that would be Mica Cellars. I have to admit I have not heard of them before, and was delighted to discover them! Hat tip to my friend Michael who told me I should taste their wines at the event.
Thanks, Domenico, for hosting the event, and thanks to all the participating wineries for their wines, chocolates and friendly conversations!
February 21st, 2013 in
ZAP is over, and the pictures are up, but Blind Spectator’s job is not yet finished. My co-spectator provided his own ratings of the wine, taken blindly and independently from myself, without exchanging information during the rating process. What do you think? Would two blind spectators agree?
It turns out that the answer is a resounding “yes”! The inter-rater agreement, measured by Spearman’s correlation coefficient ρ, is 0.686! This is very high.
Also, the following plot shows both ratings as ranks, against the real price (not known at the price of rating).
I think these results provide further support than within a region and varietal, there is a significant objective component to wine quality, as demonstrated both by the correlation between both raters, and the correlation between the actual price and both of the ratings.
Some of you may know Rock Wall are one of my favorite California wineries. Next week, they are hosting the “seventh annual Petite Sirah extravaganza”, Dark & Delicious. I expect this to be a great event for all who love food and wine! Tickets are available here.
February 15th, 2013 in
As expected, the grand tasting at ZAP 2013 was an incredible adventure of Zin flavors and varieties. Indeed, it is hard to believe that so much variety could come out of California Zins.
I could not taste truly blind at an event like this, of course, but I made sure to ask the kind pourers not to reveal any information about the wines, and I did not know their prices until after taking my notes. Since there was so much variety and so many wines, I will not post tasting notes of each wine I tasted, but rather mention some favorites, and focus on a short quantitative analysis of my ratings compared with the actual prices, which I learned afterwards.
Some of the excellent wines I tasted include:
The above is, of course, just a taste (excuse the pun), since there were many wines I did not get to taste at all. In an event like this, it is a tradeoff between deep focus and wide coverage – I tried to truly focus on the wines I tasted, take notes, rate them blind, and combat palate fatigue by not overdoing it. I am glad I had the good fortune to try so many excellent wines! Many of the wines I tasted and did not list above were also very good, but I tried to limit the list to the very highlights.
Next, I will try to address the question: are price and quality correlated? As some of my readers know, my personal belief is that price and correlated truly are correlated for wines, but the correlation is strongest within region and varietal. Fortunately, the ZAP grand tasting was all about California Zinfandels, and although California has several regions with different price levels, most of my notes were for Napa and Sonoma wines.
So, to briefly summarize the result, my ratings show a strong correlation with price: Pearson’s r=0.48 (n=42), and see the scatterplot below. I remind the reader that all ratings were done without knowledge of the price.
Thanks again to ZAP for organizing a wonderful event. Not only was it an adventure of flavors and an educational experience, it was very well-organized and everyone I talked to at the event or later had a great time.
Looking forward to ZAP 2014!
February 14th, 2013 in