Sunday 15 April, 2012

Quelle Surprise: The 2011 SFIWC Winners & Vinturi

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This week, The Tasting Panel Tour 2011 came to Los Angeles, so naturally I had to be there. Even as an Editor for the magazine, I don’t always get a chance to taste every single bottle that’s reviewed, or wins the affiliated San Francisco International Wine and Spirits Competitions, so even for me, the Tour […]




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This week, The Tasting Panel Tour 2011 came to Los Angeles, so naturally I had to be there. Even as an Editor for the magazine, I don't always get a chance to taste every single bottle that's reviewed, or wins the affiliated San Francisco International Wine and Spirits Competitions, so even for me, the Tour (coming to Vegas Nov 1, btw) is a good way to try some new wines and spirits that are clearly worth trying.
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The offerings started big, with Perrier-Jouet's Blason Rosé (NV), an enchanting champagne with softly crisp bubbles, lots of grapefruity acids and a dry finish. This would be the perfect accent for an elegant brunch. Next to that, though, was the remarkable Raza 2011 Torrentés Sweet Sparkling Wine from Argentina (voted Best Demi-Sec and Best In Show Sparkling), a big, sweet mouth of apple, nectarine and peach--and an insane value ($10 retail??)

Three Marlborough, NZ Sauv Blancs followed, each enjoyable: Huia 2010 (nose of unripe peaches with a tart citrus/stonefruits mouth); Saint Clair Family Estate 2010 (very funky, earthy nose of almost asparagus, with a soft, vegetal palate, I'd pair with ratatouille) and Stoneleigh 2010 (another earthy nose  but followed by a tart orange oil palate and soft finish).

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Next was a table with a tent card reading "Boxed Excellence." Since I've obviously seen and heard a lot of remarks about surprisingly good boxed wines, I was eager to try. The two Target cubes didn't impress me, but the Bota Box 2009 Riesling had a nicely balanced, round, soft apple mouth (though it wasn't i cool enough...I guess you can't chill a box unless its in a refrigerator. They should work  on that).

I enjoyed a couple more whites--the Türk 09 Gruner and the Fritz 09 Russian River Chard (a nice balance between old and new style Chard) before moving to Reds. Here's what made an impression:

Hearst Ranch 09 Paso "Best Tempranillo"

Hearst Ranch 09 Paso "Best Tempranillo"

• Jenner 09 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast (big, tart cherry nose with a cherry coffee peppery oaky mouth)

• Scheid 08 Estate Pinot Noir, Monterey (fruity nose, juicy chewy cherry, oak and green pepper palate)

• Hearst Ranch 09 Tempranillo, Paso Robles (soft nose but huge juicy zippy semi-sweet mouth: pair with burgers or tri-tip) Best Tempranillo in Show

• Cakebread 08 Merlot, Napa (fruity nose, softer restrained palate, almost Bordeaux style--good pairing wine) Best Merlot in show

• Henson 08 Syrah, Chalone (big, bouncy fruit)

• Travieso 08 California Red Blend (round, balanced cherry chocolate mouth with a dry finish, GREAT VALUE  at $16 retail)

• Huges Wellman 07 Cabernet, Napa (soft, smooth and solid cherry)

Unfortunately, not all of the show winners were available, in particular, nothing from Hogue (who won Winery of the Year), nor the Poças Junior 1976 Colheita Port (Best in Show, Fortified) or any of the winning ice wines from Jackson-Triggs and Inniskilin.

Spirits actually made a bigger impresssion on me this year--in particular, a rather extensive selection of Tequilas and Mezcals (this category is in huge danger of oversaturation). Many readers will already be familiar with Dan Ackroyd's Crystal Head Vodka and Nolet's Gin, so no need to comment there.

• Smuggler's Notch Vodka, Vermont: Sweet and soft with a long peppery finish

• Mozart Dry, Austria: A "chocolate spirit" with hot fudge nose and dark chocolate peppery mouth ("Best Other Spirit")

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• Oro Pisco Italia Mosto Verde, Peru: Very impressive with a lemon custard nose, and soft lemon peppery mouth ("Best Pisco")

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• Kai Young Coconut Shochu, Vietnam: Impressively smooth and round, softly sweet and very sippable ("Best Shochu")

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• Of over a dozen tequilas and mezcals offered, I was most impressed by Corazon Blanco, Pueblo Viejo Anejo (both values) and Dulce Vida Anejo.

• Lastly, the Tyrconnell 10 year old Single Malt Irish Whiskey (Sherry Finish) made a strong impression, very soft, and taking a lot of sweet, fruity characteristics from the Sherry casks, with just a small bite at the finish. Elegantly sippable.

Oh, I also enjoyed the Camus Cognac VS, though the winning Landy Cognac XO unfortunately wasn't being poured (can't say I blame them, it's a $100 bottle). Best Tequila Don Julio's Extra-aged Anejo Tequila Real ($350 retail) was also missed 😉

The Vinturi Spirits aerator pictured with good friend, The Dalmore 18 year old Single Malt Scotch, Highlands ($165)

The Vinturi Spirits aerator pictured with good friend, The Dalmore 18 year old Single Malt Scotch, Highlands ($165)

Still the most impressive showing of the afternoon wasn't a particular beverage, but a new tool: the Vinturi aerator, which was being demonstrated throughout. While I've tested other aerators before (basically, bottle-top "instant decanters"), the Vinturi, which is hand–or bracket–held comes in different versions for red wines, white wines, and perhaps for the first time ever, even for spirits. With wine, the Vinturi certainly helped open up complexities and smooth over tannins. But the spirits version had an even ore remarkable effect, bringing out dramatic differences and structural elements. What looks like a gimmick may actually be a game-changer.

With The Tasting Panel's head honcho Anthony Dias Blue

With The Tasting Panel's head honcho Anthony Dias Blue

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 2011


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