Festival of Wines: Taste, don’t drink

Festival of Wines: Taste, don’t drink

It’s one of my favorite events of the year: the Festival of Wines benefiting the American Heart Association.

This year’s event, Festival of Wines: Cocktails & Cuisines, will take place Thursday at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/festwine2017.

I always look at large tasting events as an opportunity to sample and explore many wines in a short amount of time. But the key words to keep in mind are “countless wines” and a “short amount of time.” So, how do you make the most of it without over imbibing? Spit and spit often. Spitting is part of the tasting experience. If you drink the full amount of each tasting, you’ll be intoxicated long before you’ve even made a dent in all the wines there are to explore. If your intention is to try as many new wines as possible, and assess them, use this rule.

A large tasting event such as the Festival of Wines can be a bit overwhelming. When you arrive take a quick look at the event handout. Are there any regions, grape varietals or producers you’re especially interested in? Find these tables first to make the best use of your time.

Take simple tasting notes and don’t worry with long narrative comments. I will use my event brochure and scribble in smiley faces on my favorites, question marks on wines I want to consider tasting later and then of course a quick photo with my phone for those I want to remember and buy in the future.

This year I got a sneak peek of the wine offerings and this is just a sampling of the many worth searching out for a quick taste.

THE VALUES

  • 2016 Voga Friuli Grave Pinot Grigio, Italy (about $10 retail)
  • 2016 Gassier Sables D’Azur Rose, France (about $15 retail)
  • 2016 Turtle Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $15 retail)
  • 2015 Don Rodolfo Tannat, Argentina (about $11 retail)
  • 2015 Llama Malbec, Argentina (about $15 retail)
  • 2015 Rabble Red Blend, California (about $15 retail)
  • NV Zonin Prosecco, Italy (about $15 retail)
  • 2014 Alexander Valley Vineyards Temptation Zin, California (about $12 retail)

THE SPLURGES

  • 2015 Seghesio Old Vine Zinfandel, California (about $21 retail)
  • 2015 Seven Hills Walla Walla Red, Washington (about $36 retail)
  • 2015 Rutherford Ranch Merlot, California (about $18 retail)
  • 2015 Predator Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $16 retail)
  • 2016 Niner Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $21 retail)
  • NV Chandon Blanc De Noir, California (about $17 retail)
  • 2014 Tooth and Nail The Possessor, California (about $30 retail)
  • 2015 Stasis Chardonnay, California (about $36 retail)
  • 2015 Chateau Du Caillau Cahors, France (about $16 retail)
  • 2014 Round Pond Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $59 retail)
An industry great is still unassuming

An industry great is still unassuming

Rock star

noun

  1. a rock ‘n’ roll star or celebrity.
  2. a star or celebrity in any field or profession, or anything highly admired: TV chefs are the new rock stars.

There is something that occurs when winemaker Anthony Bell visits our state. There’s no other way to explain it other than there’s an excitement in the air.

Some are eager to hear of his Napa Valley adventures, and for others, like me, it’s the chance to see a longtime friend.

At a tasting event with Bell recently, I watched him visit with guests in his humble, soft-spoken manner. Likely few people there knew how he has influenced the business.

Bell’s early career sometimes goes unnoticed because of our appreciation of his current wines’ stellar status. But it was in those early years that Bell contributed to and helped mold what most consider today’s Napa Valley wine culture. In 1979, Bell joined Beaulieu Vineyards as assistant winemaker and viticulturist. He was responsible for Beaulieu Vineyards’ extraordinary and iconic Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet for 15 vintages. During his time at Beaulieu, he became involved in many projects, from the creation of the Los Carneors American Viticultural Area to collaboration on the Rutherford, Oakville and Yountville appellations (areas where wine grapes are grown).

During the 1980s, Bell began designing the first Cabernet clonal evolutions studies. During this time, he introduced the Bordeaux Clone 6 cabernet sauvignon to commercial production after almost 100 years of neglect. The clone was found in an abandoned University of California vineyard. This aspect of his career would lead to years of producing Napa Valley’s first single vineyard, single clone Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 6 in 1991.

As I continue to enjoy Bell Red Blend as my go-to wine and Clone 6 on most special occasions, Bell will always be one of my favorite winemakers and, of course, a dear friend.

THE VALUES

  • 2015 Bell Red Blend, California (about $17 retail)
  • 2016 Bell Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $17 retail)

THE SPLURGES

  • 2014 Bell Syrah Canterbury Vineyards, California (about $28 retail)
  • 2014 Bell Yountville Merlot, California (about $46 retail)
It’s not easy being wine ‘supertasters’

It’s not easy being wine ‘supertasters’

Do you have to be a “supertaster” to be a better wine taster or top foodie? You would think the mere mention of anything with super status would be a good thing, much like a superpower. It’s wonderful to have heightened senses like sharp hearing or better than 20/20 vision, but a heightened sense of taste — no matter how much superhero status it implies — may be a hindrance for wine drinkers.

The term “supertaster” was coined by psychologist Linda Bartoshuk in 1991. Bartoshuk studies sensory perception of food. A supertaster is someone who has twice as many taste buds as the average person. The science behind supertasting could be linked to people’s sensitivity to a bitter chemical called 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP), which makes supertasters much more sensitive to bitterness. It’s thought that this sensitivity developed as an evolutionary defense mechanism, one that would prevent us from eating potentially toxic foods.

Many test experiments have been done using PROP with wine consumers. I have a firsthand look at this test because I use it in my wine study classes. My students are given a paper strip treated with drops of the chemical and asked to taste. Some find it tasteless (nontasters) while others either mildly (medium-tasters) or extremely bitter (supertasters). Without fail, each class has a large division of those extremes.

The flavors of wine, acidity, astringency, spiciness and bitterness may make some styles of wine relatively unappealing to the supertaster. In the book The Science of Wine, Gary Pickering, professor of Biological Sciences and Psychology/Wine Science at Brock University, writes “I would speculate that supertasters probably enjoy wine less than the rest of us. They experience astringency, acidity, bitterness, and heat (from alcohol) more intensely, and this combination may make wine — or some wine styles –relatively unappealing.”

This simple concept of a person’s taste perception offers a probability as to why many also have such diverse preferences in their wine choices.

So, a question I am continuously asked in my profession, “Am I a supertaster?” Yes, most likely professionally when I am assessing wines. But, when enjoying and exploring the exceptional world of wines when drinking … I enjoy all styles of wines from sweet to dry, raging tannic cabernets to dainty tannic pinot noirs and intensely acidic sauvignon blancs to soft subtle chardonnays.

To gauge your detection of “bitter” consider a tasting homework with cabernet sauvignon. Ask yourself, what do you taste and how does it feel? Does the wine make your tongue tingle? Does it make your mouth pucker? Is it acidic? Can you taste/feel the alcohol? Is there a long aftertaste? Does your mouth feel dry?

THE VALUE

  • 2015 Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $15 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2015 Stoller Family Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, Oregon (about $27 retail)
Washington wines an unlikely success

Washington wines an unlikely success

If you think of the most inhospitable or unlikely vineyard sites in the world, the state of Washington may not come to mind. There are two dramatically different landscapes in Washington. There’s the one most of us think of when we think of the Pacific Northwest — cool, damp and foggy. But most of Washington’s most exceptional vineyards are located in the other one — amid dry mountain air, scarcely populated and barren ridges in the Columbia River basin.

The Columbia River basin is a unique viticulture map. It is on approximately the same latitude (46 degrees north) as some of the great French wine regions. The Columbia Valley is much different from Seattle’s rainy climate thanks to the Cascade Mountains. It lies in the rain shadow of the mountains with an annual 6 to 8 inches average rainfall, compared to 100 plus on the Olympic Peninsula. This sparse rainfall allows vineyards to control vine vigor through irrigation from the rivers. Without human effort of irrigation, this whole area would be a sun parched expanse. Irrigation has changed this area into a prolific wine grape growing area. Another contributing factor to its success is the advantage of long hours of sunlight, averaging 17 hours during the growing season.

Washington’s American Viticulture Area, or a AVA, comprises 14 regions — Ancient Lakes, Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, Lake Chelan, Lewis-Clark Valley, Naches Heights, Puget Sound, Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain, Yakima Valley, Wahluke Slope and Walla Walla Valley — with many subappellations all within the Columbia River basin. The Columbia Valley is the largest with almost 11 million acres and with the exception of the Puget Sound and Columbia Gorge, all growing regions are subappellations of the Columbia Valley.

How this summer’s widespread wildfires will affect this year’s grape crop remains to be seen. However, it is possible the smoke from the fires could transfer to the grapes, tainting the vintage, according to reports on KOUW.

In 2007, Washington winemakers crushed 127,000 tons of grapes, last year they crushed more than 250,000 tons. In other words, the Washington wine industry has nearly doubled in size in just a decade. If you are looking for a region in the world to watch, this is your state.

THE VALUES

  • 2016 Hogue Riesling, Columbia Valley (about $13 retail)
  • 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer, Columbia Valley (about $12 retail)
  • 2015 Snoqualmie Naked Riesling, Columbia Valley (about $14 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2015 14 Hands Merlot, Columbia Valley (about $15 retail)
  • 2015 Columbia Crest H3 Horse Heaven Hills Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills (about $20 retail)
  • 2015 Eroica Riesling, Ancient Lakes, Yakima Valley, Columbia Valley (about $29 retail)
Lede family rocks the vineyard blocks

Lede family rocks the vineyard blocks

I can confidently say, Jason Lede knows the Lede Family Wines portfolio intimately. The son of founder Cliff Lede, he has been around wine most of his life. Jason was born and raised in Alberta, Canada, and spent summers as a teen in California’s Napa Valley. His passion continues as he works to spread the winery’s name around the word. During lunch recently, I was honored to hear the story behind the winery and, of course, enjoy a tasting of the impeccable wines.

It was his father’s love of wine and enthusiasm for building that would point the family in the direction of Napa Valley. (That knack for building was no ordinary hobby, his father helped run one of the world’s largest construction companies.)

Cliff Lede Vineyards (pronounced “LayDee”) was founded in 2002 after Cliff Lede, a Bordeaux enthusiast, bought a 60-acre estate in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. From a viticulture standpoint the vineyards have the best of both worlds with valley floors and hillside land.

If you read my column regularly, you know I always enjoy hearing the stories behind the wines. Jason’s explanation of the vineyards was a favorite. Instead of numbering the vineyards’ blocks, as is often done, Cliff Lede devised a system better fitting his style. He named the blocks after famous rock albums and songs including “Walk on the Wild Side” “American Girl” and “Dark Side of the Moon.” Today they are referred to as the “Rock Blocks.”

In 2005, a 25,000-square foot winery and cave system were built into the hillside overlooking the estate vineyards. The winery was designed by world-renowned architect Howard Backen. And staying with the rock theme, the winery features the White Room, named after The Beatles’ White Album.

THE VALUE

  • 2016 Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $27 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2014 Cliff Lede Napa Valley Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $87 retail)
28 American wines to simplify holiday

28 American wines to simplify holiday

Labor Day is a celebration of America’s labor movement and the contributions of American workers, but for most it is a time for family and friends to convene on location — preferably near a body of water or forest — and enjoy the last three-day weekend of summer.

There is no better time to keep wine choices uncomplicated and versatile. For this week’s recommendations I’m focusing on value wines from American wineries.

 

THE REDS

  • 2015 Simple Life Pinot Noir, California (about $14 retail)
  • 2015 Bogle Essential Red Blend, California (about $13 retail)
  • 2015 Force of Nature Red Blend, California (about $18 retail)
  • 2014 Cline Zinfandel, California (about $17 retail)
  • 2015 Sean Minor Pinot Noir, California (about $14 retail)
  • 2015 Francis Coppola Diamond Edition Claret, California (about $16 retail)
  • 2015 14 Hands Merlot, California (about $15 retail)
  • 2015 Bell Red Blend, California (about $18 retail)
  • 2015 Seven Falls Cellars Merlot, Washington (about $16 retail)
  • 2015 Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $17 retail)
  • 2015 The Federalist Cabernet Sauvignon, California (about $16 retail)

 

THE WHITES

  • 2016 Five Rows Chardonnay, California (about $17 retail)
  • 2016 McManis Family Vineyards Viognier, California (about $14 retail)
  • 2016 Simi Chardonnay, California (about $20 retail)
  • 2016 Bell Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $17 retail)
  • 2016 Olema Chardonnay, California (about $15 retail)
  • 2016 Charles Smith Vino Pinot Grigio, California (about $15 retail)
  • 2016 Charles & Charles Riesling, California (about $16 retail)
  • 2015 Kendall Jackson Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $12 retail)
  • 2016 Leese-Fitch Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $12 retail)
  • 2016 Sivas-Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $15 retail)

 

THE BUBBLYS

  • NV Scharffenberger Methode Traditionnelle, California (about $20 retail)
  • NV Roederer Estate Brut, California (about $32 retail)
  • NV Piper Sonoma Blanc de Blancs, California (about $22 retail)
  • NV Mumm Napa Blanc de Blancs, California (about $29 retail)
  • NV Gruet Brut, New Mexico (about $19 retail)
  • 2012 Domaine Carneros Brut, California (about $36 retail)
  • NV Chandon Brut Classic, California (about $24 retail)