“Animal House” Wine Tasting A Summer Tradition

BacchanaliaWEBAll the cliches were operative at the tBoW summer kickoff wine dinner: “wine – the way classy people get trashed”, “we’re on double secret probation, what should we do? Road trip!” A tasting dinner with wine-loving friends does not have to be a wine shipwreck.

Here are tBoW’s secrets to keeping the ship somewhat afloat in the midst of besotted rough seas. (1) Keep the tasting to a minimum with enough affectations -notes and rank sheets – to hold tasters’ interest. (2) Get the tasting portion over with early. (3) Invite guests willing and able to provide decent post-tasting wines. All conditions were met with smashing success such that even the fussiest tasters (all men!) remained on board through to the happy ending.

The following reviews represent the best wines of the evening in no particular order. There were other wines including two prelim Santa Barbara and Provencal Rosés, a Mosel Riesling and the Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc reviewed recently that, along with less favored reds, are not covered.

Grilli06WEB2006 Grilli di Testamatta Toscana $n/a: tBoW’s personal favorite this evening as it was 15 months ago in March 2012. This Sangiovese wine has everything we love in Tuscan Sangio: soft spicy fruit, medium weight, balance, a solid seductive effort. The tobacco flavors have faded into pure Tuscan late afternoon sunshine. Too bad it ain’t available anywhere! 13.5%

OjaiCP02WEB2002 Ojai Vneyard Close Pepe Pinot Noir $50 (K&L Wines so they say!): Nobody else has this wine but K&L does for $50 which is outside our price range for SRH Pinot Noir. We bought this at the Santa Barbara Futures Tasting event probably in 2004. The wine has two selling points: made by Santa Barbara original savant Adam Tolmach from fruit grown by second wave savant Wes Hagen. Eleven years later this showed very well. It was either the top pick or the second top pick among the tasters which is notable since the gap between the top 2 and the bottom 2 was wide; also the tasters displayed focus in the earliest stage. The funky “forest floor” nose put off several tasters but enchanted others more familiar with this Pinot Noir character. The color was remarkably red for the oldest wine in that group. Should you be fortunate enough to find this in an obscure liquor store bargain bin for $25 snap it up. 14%

Chap08WEB2008 El Chapparal De Vega Sindoa Old Vines Garnacha Reserva $12: Muy popular! The cork was pulled about three hours into the the evening as many wines remained half full on the table. Dark berry flavors with coffee undertones. Well made and tasty without being robust. This was drained with haste mostly by the lady tasters. 60 year old vines from the lesser known region of Navarra Spain north of Rioja and south of San Sebastian. U20 winner and must rebuy! 14%

HautBages03WEB2003 Haut Bages Liberal Pauillac $42 (Total Yawn): Well knitted wine with classic style like a Navajo blanket. Perfectly balanced classic Pauillac. Showing fabulously at 10 years. 80% Cab and 20% Merlot. Property is adjacent to the First Growth Latour. But the wine is not about pedigree. It is about a deft hand in the vineyard and the cellar. This is the antithesis of Napa Cabernet blends. While we often tout Napa Cabs as “world’s best” this force us to reconsider. The Handle Man provided his last bottle from this vintage! 13%

RidgeAlegria95WEB1995 Ridge California Zinfandel Alegria Late Picked $35 (K&L again! One bottle with a torn label): The evening’s most controversial wine but not for its flavorfulness. Is it a dessert wine? This was bottled under the former Ridge Advanced Tasting Program (ATP) which aimed to provide advanced tasters circa 1990 with wines other than the same old Cabs and Chards. The wine says Zinfandel but the label explains it is a “field blend” in a couple of ways. The Zinfandel component (77%) is actually a majority of 90 y.o. vines with a minority of new Zin vines. The balance is 12% Petite Sirah and 11% Alicante. “Late Picked” means it is a “dry wine made from grapes this ripe.” The wine was incredibly rich flavored. The alcohol was undetectable. The robe was worn by King Arthur. A great illustration why Ridge is California’s premier wine house – forward thinking and innovative. Arguably, wines like these kick-started the legacy historical vineyard movement. The Alegria vineyard 3 miles south of Healdsbug is listed as a historical vineyard. Graciously sacrificed by Dotoré. 15.7%

Stemmler06WEB2010 Stemmler Estate Carneros Pinot Noir $25 (K&L): The favorite choice in the blind tasting by enough tasters to win notice. Made by Anne Moller-Racke of Donum Estate in Carneros. Smoky cherry nose. Medium weight. Approachable right now. Nicely balanced. Showing off Ms. Moller-Racke’s softer touch. She has rejuvenated a winery that slipped to the rear in the way overcrowded domestic PN field. At this price the wine is a very good choice if you want premium flavors at great value. 14.5%

Other notable wines included a 2001 Bianfi Brunelllo, and two fine Nebbiolos – the 2007 Travaglini Gattinara ($30 if you look for it and a tBoW favorite) and StuNBaby1WEB2010 Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe ($19 K&L) plus two outstanding dessert wines – a 2009 Château du Grand Carretey Sauternes (IGTY) and a 1995 Kracher #12 TBA Osterreich Neusiedlersee. The Gattinara is very good value for “declassified” Barolo. The Produttori is a U20 bargain young vine Nebbiolo. Both offer great opportunity to learn what is all the fuss when it comes to Nebbiolo from Northern Italy. The Sauternes is available at Total Yawn. The Kracher is tougher to find.


  1. Wavatar
    tBow Jr. says:

    Ojai Clos Pepe was the boss! My second favorite was a certain meritage that we may never find again.

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    maybe4less says:

    Can’t believe I missed a Kracher!

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    Mouse says:

    never put ‘same old chards and cabs’ anywhere near my lovely Ridge again, please…

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