I don’t often use my blog to tell you guys about my day, but this week has been so fun I just had to share. It’s been an oenophile’s dream.
On Wednesday I was at Ridge Vineyards to meet with Paul Draper, the head winemaker there since 1969. For three hours I had the run of the winery on Monte Bello Ridge with the ultimate tour guide as my host. I tasted the ’08 MB Cab, wine that was just on the vine only a few months ago, directly from the barrel. It’s a surprisingly smooth wine even this young and will probably be drinkable immediately upon release some time next summer. I drank the ’07 MB Cab straight from the fermenting tanks where the barrels had been recently combined before bottling this week. I had the ’08 Geyserville Zin straight from the hose as it was being racked. Both of the latter two wines had big tannins that will make them a little harsh when first released, but will enable them to improve with age.
Then I went to the tasting room where Paul wanted me to compare the ’07 Geyserville with the ’97 (a great California vintage) so that I could see how it stood up to time. The answer: quite well. It was much softer than its younger brother, but still had all the fruit, spice, and character you expect with a fine zin.
After that it was up to Sonoma so that I could meet with Joel Peterson of Ravenswood Winery, a legendary producer of big zins. He and I spoke for about an hour and then it was off to taste wines. All of his zinfandels were what you would expect: huge. Ravenswood’s motto, after all, is “No Wimpy Wines!” But the biggest surprise was his gewurztraminer. Actually, it was two surprises in one. I was first surprised that he made a gewurz, and then I was really surprised how good it was. And at only $17, it’s a steal. But, alas, I can’t order it online because I live in one of the 22 monopoly states that don’t allow direct shipment of wine because that would keep the wine wholesalers from getting their unfair cut.
The next morning was an early flight so that I could get back home for l’Ete du Vin, a great cause and serious wine event. Here I encountered Napa in Nashville. Barely an hour off the plane I was at a tasting with Chateau Montelena’s Bo Barrett (yes, that Bo Barrett, of Bottle Shock fame). His wife, Heidi Barrett, a great winemaker and wine consultant in her own right, was there with two very different and very good offerings from La Sirena. Laurent Sarazin brought two sparkling wines from Schramsberg–his ’05 Brut Rose was killer. Dirk Langford came from Beringer with a ’98 Private Reserve Cabernet, which I found disappointing, but the ’05 was seriously good. Damian Parker of Joseph Phelps Vineyards brought his Insignia cabernet brand from ’98 and ’06. There, the situation was reversed; the older wine was spectacular while I found the young one a little tired. Finally, Peter Mondavi Jr. was there from Charles Krug Winery. His ’04 “X Clones” Cab was phenomenal.
Then today, a good week got even better when I had the opportunity to sit down with Gary Vaynerchuk to discuss wine retailing, Jets football, and family. I had a bunch of questions for him, but the one I most wanted to ask was the last:
You are offered ownership of the New York Jets, but you have to give up drinking, selling, and writing about wine; what’s your choice?
Gary’s answer: “If you cut my veins open, I bleed green.”
If you don’t know who Gary Vaynerchuk is, or if you don’t like wine, or even if you think you don’t like wine because it’s snobby, foreign, and pretensious, you need to watch Gary’s daily video blog, already viewed by more than 80,000 “Vayniacs” every day. He makes wine approachable and fun.
That actually was true of everyone I met this week. These guys are legends in the wine world. Bo Barrett’s Chateau Montelena Chardonnay bested the very finest white Burgundies at the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris. Paul Draper’s 1971 Monte Bello Cabernet came in first over Bordeaux’s greatest red wines at a thirtieth anniversary retasting of that epic event. Everyone of these folks was approachable and fun.
Which is the lesson of this week . . . wine is meant to be approachable and fun. It’s not just for the snob at the country club or for special occasions. There is a wine for every occasion and in every price range. So get out there and find the ones that you like.