I had an interesting and mostly fun time last weekend at the 2009 Boston Wine Expo. I volunteered both days taking tickets at wine seminars (classes). When you volunteer at the Expo, in exchange they give you 2 free tickets to the Grand Tasting (value $85 each) for each volunteer shift. So I received 2 x 2 = 4 free tickets for my volunteering and was able to give these 4 tickets to friends to enjoy the Expo.
The first day volunteering was quite well-organized and I received my assignments when I arrived. I took tickets at the following seminars: Champagne Brunch, Rioja and Jerez: Spain’s Wine Royalty, and 2005 Bordeaux ‘The Greatest Vintage Ever!’. A problem with collecting tickets at the seminars is that you often have to leave halfway through the seminar to collect tickets at the next seminar. This was the case the the Rioja and Jerez seminar hosted by the very energetic Doug Frost. I was super enjoying his talk about the history of Spanish wines when I had to get up and leave. Ah, well.
But then I was able to participate in the 2005 Bordeaux seminar hosted by the Bordeaux négociant house Aquitaine Wine Company. This company specializes in distributing wines from less-famous, under-the-radar, more-affordable Bordeaux chateaux. Co-owner Margaret Calvet presented, and available to taste from her company were 18 wines, some quite fine, a very generous tasting. In fact, the class got a bit rowdy after a while, and I actually had to tell a group of 4 women to pipe down as they were partying too hardy.
There were 2 great after-Expo parties but I didn’t attend either of these as I knew I needed to catch the 7:09AM train Sunday morning, as I needed to be back into Boston for a 10:15AM seminar. It turned out I didn’t even have to collect the tickets for that seminar as it was free to the trade only. Argh. However, it turn out to be a super interesting seminar about Biodynamic Agriculture given by Montinore Estate (Willamette Valley, Oregon) winemaker Rudy Marchesi. Mr. Marchesi stressed that he uses biodynamic methods in his vineyards because they work, not because it’s his pagan religion. He stated that, yes, plants have feelings, which I hadn’t heard since the talk from Olivier Humbrecht at Gordon’s last year. When you listen to biodynamic adherents explaining their methods and the results, it’s so clear to me that this is the way to grow happy vines.
I caught a cold or virus from any of 10,000 (?) people but am getting over it now. Also I believe spending so much time running between the World Trade Center and the Seaport hotel in sub-freezing, near zero degrees F weather and generally being nerved up impacted my immune system somewhat.
I saw wine wunderkind and gadfly Gary Vaynerchuk at the Wine Library booth on Sunday and he gave me a t-shirt. He was his usual ebullient, friendly self. I also remembered him mentioning in passing on a WLTV episode that ‘Gary’ is not his actual first name. His real (Russian) name starts with a G and ends with a Y, but is not Gary. Can you guess what it is? First person to guess correctly in a comment will receive a copy of Al Franken’s book The Truth (with jokes) if you want it.
On Sunday with my Press Pass I was able to taste a few wines at the Grand Tasting with my friends. I paid special attention to wines of Greece and wines of New York state. I was curious to taste Retsina again, having experienced the pine-resin influenced Greek wine in the past and found it to be pretty much not palatable. At the Expo, I tasted Retsina from maker Achaia Clauss which was created purely for export to American market, with MUCH less pine-resin influence.
I tasted some great wines from New York state from Dr. Konstantin Frank, including the exotic Rkatsiteli, which is as delicious as it is unusual.
This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday theme is hosted by Tim Lemke of Cheap Wine Ratings (“Good Value Makes Wine Taste Better”). The theme is affordable red wines from Chile (South America). Tim offers a nice overview of this theme in this post in his blog. I enjoy reading Cheap Wine Ratings as it relates more to my wine-buying reality at this point than, say, Unidentified Appellation. But I adore reading that blog too.
My most recent experience tasting red wines of Chile was at a tasting at Gordon’s Fine Wine and Liquors a few months ago of some of the wines of Viña Haras de Pirque, which is a gorgeous winery/horse stud farm in the Maipo Valley, Pirque subregion, Chile. We tasted mostly Cabernet Sauvignon wines that were probably more than $20 per bottle. They were tannic powerhouse wines suitable for aging.
For this Wine Blogging Wednesdsay, I chose from my wine unit the Viña Chocalan Carmenere Selección Maipo Valley 2006. This cost about $11.00 at one of my local wine stores. Carmenere is a grape that was confused with Merlot for quite a while in Chile. This wine received a score of 90/100 from Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate (Jay Miller rating). I remember watching Gary Vaynerchuk who was not so impressed and gave the wine an 84/100 on Wine Library TV. So, how would I feel about this wine?
The answer to that question is: I feel that Gary’s tasting notes and review are spot-on and I know exactly where he is coming from. For me, this ended up being half a good wine experience. I found the color to be a beautiful dark cherry/plum, and the nose to be quite enchanting. The nose is a wonderful combination of wood, dirt, herbs, spice box, vanilla, and maybe even a little chocolate. The mid-palate is sort of like… watered down pepper. The wine goes in your mouth and there is just not a lot there. There is very little finish at all as well. I found this wine to be strange. How did the great nose turn into nothing on the palate? Well, at least it doesn’t interfere with food, is the best you can say.
I understand there are fine Reserva and Gran Reserva offerings from this winery that undoubtedly offer more oomph and I will surely try some of those at some point.
On Thursday evening June 19th 2008 I attended the Boston stop of Gary Vaynerchuk’s book tour. He is promoting his new book 101 Wines Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World. I’ve been a Vayniac (fan) since early November ’07 when I discovered Wine Library TV after reading this article in Slate. I blogged earlier about meeting Gary at the Boston Wine Expo. I also saw him at a Vayniac party at Wine Library (his brick and mortar store) in New Jersey at the end of March, but my memory of that event is fuzzy (just kidding).
This event attracted nearly 200 people and was well organized by Dmitri Gunn. Bravo to him and the other people/groups/organizations who supported the event. It’s possible that the people attending numbered more in the Web 2.0 social networking circles than Vayniacs like me, but I don’t think that stopped their enjoyment.
The event started with a taping of a Wine Library TV (“Thunder”) show in a ballroom of the beautiful Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square in front of the audience. Gary has a lot of charisma and a good sense of humor so was very entertaining, as always. Also he has true wine reviewing chops, of course, which the more flamboyant aspects of his performance are layered upon. He reviewed 4 wines. After the show, there was a ½ hour question and answer session with the audience. After that, he signed everyone’s book and was his usual tirelessly personable self, giving each person attention and appreciation. Then we tasted the 4 wines, 2 of which Gary positively reviewed.
After that, the event moved downstairs to the Foundation Lounge, which is a chic bar. There was complimentary lychee-flavored bubbly which was interesting. There were a few hors d’oeuvres, but you had to tackle the waitress coming out the kitchen to get a sample or 2. We did, but also ordered the California rolls. Also, we just had to try a Mojito which was good.
I managed to ask Gary a few questions at the signing and down there in the lounge which he graciously answered. I had written them down ahead of time:
Q: If your family had never moved from Belarus, what do you think you would be doing right now?
A: I would be dead, probably.
Q: No, I think you would be a Master of the Underground Economy!
A: Yes, but that’s why I would be dead. I’m also kind of a softie.
Q: Are you excited about headlining the Open Wine Consortium Wine Bloggers Conference in October with Alice Feiring?
A: I don’t know who she is… but I get along with just about every one.
Q: Did you link up the Thunder Show (WLTV) recently with Internet Television site Revision3 (based in San Francisco) as practice perhaps for a future TV show gig?
A: No… REV3 will just be another distribution avenue for WLTV. We’re not changing the show at all.
Q: What is your favorite sport… to play? (Everyone who has watched at least 1 WLTV knows Gary is a huge Jets fan, and purportedly is saving up to BUY the franchise).
Q: What is your degree in?
A: Business Administration
Q: Are you a closet Red Sox fan?
A: No, except once when they were behind the Yankees 3-0 in the playoffs, I rooted for them as the underdogs.
Q: Would you consider adding a Drink Responsibly section to Wine Library dot com?
A: I’ve been thinking about it – I may.
Q: You shouldn’t sell Foie Gras at Wine Library – it’s evil. (OK, I know that’s not a question). Site – http://www.nofoiegras.org/
Q: Reading your book, I get the feeling you have really eclectic tastes in food, and wine. Is that true?
A: Lately I’ve been so busy I hardly eat or drink anything at all!
Here is a photo of Gary and myself at the lounge. Also I posted some other pics on flickr here. It was a fun time! Although my head didn’t feel so great the next morning after a mojito, rose, and bubbly. Hangovers – subject for a different blog post.
On April 26th I attended another big mass tasting of wines at The Vineyard in North Andover, MA. This is located on Rt. 114 very nearly across the street from my Alma Mater Merrimack College (where if I recall correctly the preferred potent potable was beer, LOTS of beer). I love these big mass tastings as it gives me, as a newly hatched wine enthusiast, a chance to expand my palate, as it were, and figure out what I like. Also I’ve decided to try to join the Wine Century Club. The WCC sends you a neat certificate if you have tasted at least 100 different grape varietals (compliance is by honor system, and they do email you a nice spreadsheet for keeping track). I’m up to 56 at last count, since last November – I must be some kind of wino.
There were 48 wines there at The Vineyard to be tasted from 6 different distributors. I scoped out the wines beforehand so as not to get my palate fatigued on the less worthy stuff. For instance, I noted that the Bogle Pinot Noir received a VaynerPAZZZZZZ from Gary Vaynerchuk so pazzzed on tasting that one. I also went to the table first with the potentially most interesting selections.
I found several nice wines that pleased my tasting apparatus and went home with a few. Firstly, the Morgon Chardonnay Metallico 2006, a really delicious & crisp Monterey CA chard that I can only describe as mouth watering. Also splurged on the Clayhouse Vineyard Estate Cuvée 2004 which is a really fine “Rhone blend” of Grenache, Petite Syrah, and Syrah. This received the following review from Stephen Tanzer/IWC Sept/Oct 06 review (from Clayhouse Vineyard website):
2004 Clayhouse Estate & Vineyard Estate Cuvee Paso Robles 85
($30; 43% syrah, 43% petite sirah, 14% grenache) Bright ruby-red. Raspberry liqueur, dark chocolate and pepper on the rather roasted, exotic nose. Sweet, dense and unrefined, with a somewhat gritty element of torrefaction and a saline quality. This is stuffed with dark berry and spice flavors but comes across as rather ungiving.
I thought this cuvee was the most giving thing I tasted at the Vineyard :-). Well, maybe a year in a half in bottle since this review has made it more generous. Tanzer liked the Clayhouse Hillside Cuvee 2004 much more (91) so I feel just obliged to try that out sometime as well. Next I found the overperforming Santa Ema Reserve Merlot 2004 from Maipo Valley in Chile. At about 10 bucks, this is a must buy. In fact, if I had a ‘house red’, this would probably be it. Lastly, I fell for the very fruity Pure Love Layer Cake Primitivo 2006. The Italian varietal Primitivo has been proven via DNA tests to equivalent to the CA varietal Zinfandel. This wine was jammy and aromatically reminded me of cake batter, which doesn’t bother me. We also picked up 2 really excellent Sauvignon Blancs – the Marlborough New Zealand Dryland Sauvignon Blanc 2007 which was just about the most varietally correct, crisp SB I’ve ever had, and the interestingly fizzy & zesty Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc 2006 from Sonoma.