Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt
To open their Top-100 festivities this year, Wine & Spirits hosted their inaugural Sommelier Scavenger Hunt on Monday of this week. The event was designed to seek out, and celebrate the new classics of domestic wine.
As Wine & Spirits editor, Joshua Greene, explained, the last six months have been spent preparing for the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt event. Towards that end, five teams of three sommeliers each from around the country were selected. Each team was then assigned to visit a different domestic wine region tracking a particular varietal expression for that region. In traveling the region, they were meant to study the region’s specific viticultural conditions, and then select six wines to represent a coherent picture of the breadth and typicity of their region’s unique terroir. Along with each region’s flight, the sommeliers offered a ten minute informational presentation.
Joshua Greene introduced the event. Following are notes from his introduction, followed by a brief look at each of the flights.
Introducing the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014
“Sommeliers like competition. They often test themselves, whether in sommelier exams, going to Tex-Somm, or otherwise. We wanted them to do something collaborative. Rather than battle on their own, we decided we would have them work together, and then compete in groups. To win, they would have to work together.
“[In this context,] what does winning even mean? Rather than finding a wine that would be hardest to guess in a blind tasting, [for the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt] it is about finding a wine that would be the easiest to guess [as from its region] in a blind tasting. We asked them to go out and find the future classics, that really describe the place the wine is from.
“[The Sommelier Scavenger Hunt] is also about travel, and getting to know the place. I got into [wine] because I like to travel. A lot of wine travel you see is more about lifestyle, and expensive. We decided we wanted them to do something more like The Amazing Race.
“While there they would select six wines meant together to be broad, and precise, [expressive of its region]. We’re asking them to show you a really specific connection between the place and the wine. We want them to show you that connection so that when you taste the wine you really feel that connection. We asked them to really think, what is terroir? and what is a great wine?
“Our staff got together and chose five sommeliers we really enjoy working with, and asked them to choose a team of two more, and then choose a specific region and varietal focus.
“We’d like you to think about these wines as you taste, as to where it is from, not do I like this wine?, but where is it from? how it communicates to you as a drinker, as a taster.”
Joshua Greene then introduced the first group from the Finger Lakes. Following are brief notes on the five group presentations.
Tasting the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014
The quality of wines throughout was impressive. It was a pleasure to be able to taste these, to see the selections chosen to represent each region, and to be included in seeing the work each group had done together.
TEAM FINGER LAKES: RIESLING
Matthew Kaner of Covell in Los Angeles, Pascaline Lepeltier MS of Rouge Tomate in NYC, Steven Morgan of Squire Wine Co in Chicago
While viticulture in the Finger Lakes has historically focused on hybrid varieties made into quaffing sweet wines, more recently winegrowing through the area has turned towards crafting serious quality wines in a range of styles. With the oldest bonded winery in the United States, newer producers have the benefit of a wealth of already established geological and viticultural knowledge to draw on in exploring quality wine production. Riesling has risen to prominence as the signature grape for serious wine with a range of possibilities for the region.
The Finger Lakes flight showed good consistency of quality over the broadest range of styles of any of the flights. Due to the vast range of winemaking goals or style choices occurring in the region, this group had the greatest challenge in striking the balance between expressing regional typicity and coherence with breadth. Producers of the Finger Lakes are still exploring the region’s unique signature. That said, the wines all offered distinctive personality, and very good quality at mind blowing value.
* Tierce 2012 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling
all stainless steel, no malolactic fermentation. a wine with nice clarity, lots of length and “extraordinary personality.” very small production.
* Bellwether 2013 Finger Lakes A&D Vineyard Dry Riesling
ultra small production. captures a nice balance of weight to acid without residual sugar. great mouth watering length.
* Kemmeter 2012 Finger Lakes Sheldrake Point Vineyard Riesling
nice precision, juiciness, and length. clarity, focus, and balancing breadth.
Ravines 2011 Finger Lakes Argetsinger Vineyard Dry Riesling
one of the stand out wineries of the region — available, affordable, bring out its personality with food
Hermann J Wiemer 2012 Finger Lakes HJW Vineyard Dry Riesling
one of the founders of quality in the region. nice overall balance, with a changeable finish. place along side food for additional balance.
Bloomer Creek 2012 Finger Lakes Auten Tanzen Dame Second Harvest
the wild card of the tasting, a very slow fermentation for additional richness and complexity, with an oxidative style, and a bit of residual sugar. pair with clam chowder to match the fleshiness of the wine, and give the acid something to cut into.
TEAM SANTA BARBARA COUNTY: CHARDONNAY
Ian Becker of Absinthe and Arlequin, Haley Guild Moore of Stock & Bones Group, and Gianpaolo Paterlini of 1760 and Acquerello all in San Francisco
Chardonnay proves to be one of the greatest quality varieties in the incredibly diverse growing region of Santa Barbara County. Though Pinot Noir from the region receives more consistent attention, the potential for quality on its white cousin is very high. The wines selected offered a very linear focus with lots of flavorful fruit expression and mouthwatering acidity.
The team for this flight chose to focus on a very specific style of chardonnay for the region. Within the competition, the Santa Barbara County flight was most expressive of the team’s preferred style, when considering the breadth of styles in the region as a whole. That said, the region’s signature clearly showed through the wines selected, and the quality was very good. This was also the most pleasing, tasty flight of the tasting.
Qupé 2011 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Block Eleven Chardonnay
the outlier of the tasting, the Qupé was the only Santa Maria Valley chardonnay selected, and was chosen out of regard for the heritage it expresses of the region. giving nice citrus curd mixed with olive, this wine offers a oceanic creamy waxy quality familiar of the Santa Maria Valley with tons of mouthwatering length.
Au Bon Climat 2012 Sta Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay
flinty mixed citrus, with a creamy palate. this wine strikes the balance of restraint, focus, and rich flavor, with tons of juicy length.
Chanin 2012 Sta Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay
clean, crisp mixed citrus fruit, with a moderately creamy palate and a focus on length
* Tyler 2012 Sta Rita Hills Zotovich Family Vineyard Chardonnay
pleasing reductive tension brings a taut focus to the mouthwatering mixed citrus flavors. nice mineral length
Sandhi 2012 Sta Rita Hills Rita’s Crown Chardonnay
the most linear, and taut of the chardonnay’s shown. all about structure. mouth watering and lightly drying both.
Pence 2013 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay
delicate citrus blossom coupled with expressive citrus fruit layered with clay accents on a nervy taut mouthwatering line
TEAM ANDERSON VALLEY: PINOT NOIR
Vanessa Trevino Boyd of 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, Steven McDonald of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Christian Varas of River Oaks Country Club all in Houston
Ranging from a genuinely zone 1 cool climate close to the ocean just into a zone 2 climate a bit inland, Anderson Valley carries the most definitive signature of the region’s tasted. Pinot Noir has risen to prominence as the area’s trademark variety.
The Anderson Valley flight had the tightest, most recognizable expression of regional typicity giving a wash of red fruit, and buckets of mouthwatering acidity throughout. It was the flight in which the region offered the most apparent expression before cellar technique. It was also clear that this is largely due to the area, rather than simply from the group selection, for example.
Drew 2011 Anderson Valley Morning Dew Vineyard Pinot Noir
light carbonic elements on nose, a wash of red fruit through the palate, long mouthwatering finish. wants air to open
LIOCO 2011 Anderson Valley Klindt Pinot Noir
high tone, lifted aromatics, spiced palate. red fruit throughout. lots of length.
Copain 2011 Anderson Valley Kiser ‘En Haut’ Pinot Noir
lots of clarity, tight focus with lots of precise structure but soft red berry and open midpalate
Lichen Estate Anderson Valley Solera Volume 2 Pinot Noir
unique of the flight yet still expressive of the region. red berry fruit with layers and folds of concentration, vintages 2011, 12, 13 blended in solera-type method
Elke 2011 Anderson Valley Donnelly Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir
bright, crisp red fruit both nose and palate, accents of forest and herb, lots of mouthwatering length
Phillips Hill 2011 Anderson Valley Two Terroirs C&R Pinot Noir
nice cut of red fruit with structural strength, and spiced oak accents throughout
TEAM WASHINGTON: BORDEAUX-VARIETY REDS
Lindsey Whipple of Charlie Palmer Group in New York City, Will Costello of the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas, Mark Hefter of Crush Wine Bar MGM in Las Vegas
The Washington wines selected carried dusty mineral and saline crunch throughout. Five of the six wines grew from Red Mountain, and one originated from Walla Walla. We were also able to taste an older vintage on the final wine. Unfortunately, one of the wines was unavailable for tasting due to unexpected distribution issues.
This was the most challenging flight for me as several of the wines were intensely concentrated, inky dark on the palate. Still, the quality was good throughout.
Avennia 2011 Columbia Valley Sestina Red Wine
funky unusual nose, dusty mineral crunch through palate, bell pepper throughout
* Delille Cellars 2011 Chaleur Estate
nice acidity, opens and lengthens significantly with air, elegant finished, balanced concentration
àMaurice 2011 Walla Walla Estate Red Night Owl
intense concentrated palate, good tension, lots of length, inky dark
Upchurch 2011 Upchurch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
highly concentrated, inky dark, challenging intensity
Fidélitas 2011 Red Mountain Optu Red Wine
unfortunately, do to a mix-up with distribution we were unable to taste this wine.
* Cadence 2001 Red Mountain Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
nicely balanced, aged wine with the dancy feet to balance the fruit concentration and dusty tannin. pleasant, beautiful.
TEAM NAPA VALLEY: CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Michael Madrigale of Boulud Sud in New York City, Josiah Baldivino of Bay Grape in Oakland, Michelle Biscieglia of Blue Hill in New York City
Team Napa Valley balanced their presentation of Napa Valley Cabernet with both valley floor, and differing mountain expressions of the fruit. The wines selected also paid tribute to a range of historic houses well respected for their quality contributions to the development, and sophistication of the region’s wine.
This flight was most successful in hitting the balance of the three elements requested of the sommelier team in choosing their wines — coherence, breadth, and typicity of the region.
Robert Sinskey 2009 Stag’s Leap District Napa Valley SLD Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
concentration, intensity, dark polish
Robert Mondavi 2011 Oakville Napa Valley To Kalon Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
considered the 1st growth of Napa Valley, Mondavi owns the largest portion of the historic To Kalon Vineyard. this is a wine of concentration, polish
* Corison 2010 Napa Valley Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
offering characteristic floral aromatics, and nicely balanced, mouthwatering palate
* Mayacamas Vineyards 2008 Mt Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
still ultra nervy youthful wine, pleasing mouth watering length and nice palate tension
* Smith Madrone 2011 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
the most distinctive of the cabernets selected, the Smith-Madrone shows refreshing bell pepper aromatics, and ultra mouthwatering length
* Diamond Creek 2008 Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
pleasing mountain tannin and dustiness, nice acidity, want to revisit
The winning team of the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt will be announced at the Wine & Spirits Tuesday evening Top-100 tasting.
Post Edit: It was announced tonight that Team Napa Valley won the Wine & Spirits 2014 Sommelier Scavenger Hunt. Congratulations Team Napa Valley!
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