Bravely blind testing the best wines for county fairgoers to drink.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
In medievel times, sommeliers were the first to taste a wine to see if it was acceptable for the king and queen. If it was spoiled or poisoned, he’d save them.
Some things have changed since then. Fewer sommeliers are keeling over. But other things haven’t changed: There’s still wine worth avoiding. And sommeliers still do some dirty work.
Earlier this summer, Taste of Monterey Director of Operations Ken Rauh and Dave Eriksen, special events manager for the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell, facilitated a blind tasting of more than 40 local wines at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. Medals for the best wines were awarded, 24 judges (including myself) received complimentary food, and a lot of wine was spit out.
Most important, for those attending the Monterey County Fair Aug. 12-17, we discovered the good stuff to savor. Our findings mean fairgoers shouldn’t have to suffer like the judges did.
Like in-laws, some of the wines lacked character. Some duped judges with alcohol, oak and forward fruit. Since the fair charges a flat fee to taste any and all of the wines, guests can afford to be selective and avoid wasting time on humdrum juice.
We judged on balance, ripeness of fruit, acidity, tannins, length of finish and overall character. The following wines fared best on those frequencies, and are the ones that people who visit the wine tent want to make sure to taste.
Sir Swirl-a-Lots, grab a goblet and sample some of these:’06 Bargetto Sauvignon Blanc ($14)
Begin with this palate cleanser. It will make the mouth salivate so quickly that you might ask, “Is that grapefruit? Or lychee nuts? Or passion fruit? Are all of these aromas existing in harmony?” Then it’ll have you reciting Outcast lyrics, as in: “Wow! This stuff is ‘cooler than a polar bear’s toenails.’ ”’06 Cru “Two Vineyard” Chardonnay ($19.99)
It’s round and rich, but has a leaner personality than most California Chardonnays. When most winemakers mute the flavors of Chardonnay by using too much oak, this pleasure ball has enough acidity to back up its butterscotch identity.’05 Silver Mountain “Tondre” Pinot Noir ($38)
The Santa Lucia Highlands produces Pinot Noir that’s schizophrenic: delicate and powerful in a single sip. Its viscous mouthfeel comes through like a black cherry compote that’s backed by a bouquet of strawberry and spice.’05 Boete Cheval Rouge 60% Cabernet, 40% Franc ($30)
Some of the best wines in the world are blends. Here the powerful chocolate mint and cassis flavors shine through thanks to the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon. The dust, earth and inoffensive bell pepper flavors come from the Cabernet Franc. Together, the flavors harmonize like The Beatles.’05 Pianetta Bilancio 70% Syrah, 30% Cabernet ($36)
Outside of Australia, Syrah and Cabernet aren’t normally blended together. Nevertheless, the panel voted this one “Best in Show” for good reason. It’s robust because the grapes come from a warm climate and the fruit flavors are really ripe, jammy and loud.’06 Ventana Syrah ($18)
Save the most tannic and hedonistic wines for last. This looks like ink in the glass and has a bouquet of ripe blueberries and black pepper.
THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE TASTING EVENT will be held during the Monterey County Fair on Thursday, Aug. 14, in the Oak Pavilion from 6-9pm. $20 in advance, $25 at the door, plus fair admission.