Sunday, January 22, 2006

Heck of a Fest

Just got back from the Sun Wine Fest at the Mohegan Sun casino here in Connecticut. While the crowds were a bit daunting, I was amazed at how good natured were those we ran into -- sharp elbows and all. We came across people from France, India, California and the Midwest. While some were overwhelmed by all the choices and the people, it was good vibes all around -- especially while nibbling scallops and lobster risotto, or lamb and garlic-mashed potatoes.

The ones who often don't seem to know what to make of it all are the media. The local paper's coverage was not bad overall, but it does indulge in stereotypes. Apparently, if you want to talk about a wine's earthiness or excessive use of oak you're a snob. In reality, I found the pourers and lecturers more than willing to answer questions at any level, recognizing as many of us do that enjoyment of the wine can be enhanced by paying attention to its components, such as earthiness. Oh well.

We spent most of our time in a couple of seminars (more about these later), but while browsing through the convention room we decided to focus on some things we hadn't tried before -- passing up some very reliable but readily available wines. One exception was Gruet, a New Mexico sparkling wine maker that I praised on New Year's Eve and have tried a number of times. Disapppointingly, they were not pouring the blanc de blanc, but the brut was as terrific as ever. I also found out that the lovely Nathalie Gruet, whom we met in '98, is in training for a triathlon and is in killer shape.

A couple of nice wines we tried came from Heck Estates in Sonoma. The Lake Sonoma Dry Creek Valley Fume Blanc '03 had wonderfully zesty aromas of grapefruit and lemon meringue with the bright acidity born of stainless fermentation. I chuckled as our affable pourer evoked the name of New Zealand (style), an understandable nod toward the success that are upstart New Zealand sauvignon blancs. At $14.99, a delicious find. Their Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc '04 was darn good too, with wonderful pear and mellon aromas. Another good buy at $14.99.

Another wine that worked for me was Villabella Valpolicella Ripasso 2000. I've never found Valpolicella an especially noteworthy wine, so I was caught a little off-guard by the rich black fruit and raisin-like aromas that wafted up from the glass. The ripasso method, giving the Valpolicella some time on the lees of full-bodied Amarone, apparently results in a hybrid wine of sorts, richer than typical Valpolicella but cheaper than Amarone.

Speaking of Italians, I was really surprised and delighted by a barbera/nebbiolo blend, Fontanafredda Eremo '03. For $14.99, this wine has loads of lip-smacking fruit but with a smoky complexity that has got to come from the 30 percent nebbiolo. I've got to find this one soon.

And, I was also delighted by a New Zealand pinot noir that truly helps answer the question of whether New Zealand can really make respectable pinot noir. The Brancott Terraces Estate '03 pinot noir was outstanding, full of rich plum, black cherry, cassis, and spicy oak aromas. This wine compared very well to the California pinots we tasted, and they were no slouches. I promise to blog more about the pinot tasting, but I had to single out the Brancott right away for the great value that it is.


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