Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cincinnati International Wine Festival 2011

The Cincinnati International Wine Festival is a huge event here in Porkopolis. As their promos state, the festival “turns 21” this year. Most people end up at the zoolike atmosphere of the “grand tastings.”

I’ve mentioned that I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend the “trade tasting” last Friday afternoon – which is reserved for folks…well…in the trade: restaurateurs, wine store owners, and the occasional writer or media member. Each year, I’ve walked away with a different sense of the event.

The event is always much less crowded than the “grand tastings.” This is the opportunity for the various wineries and wine distributors to show their wares to the folks who hopefully would snap up their offerings over the long term. It’s an impressive site – there are several hundred wines available for sampling.

I went for the first time two years ago. I was all bouncy and full of enthusiasm. I felt like I did my best to get through the entire set of offerings. I didn’t make it, of course – my stamina and palate aren’t that powerful. Last year, I left the place feeling pretty pissed off. I thought (and rightly so, I think), that I was given pretty poor treatment by some of the exhibitors as soon as they realized that I wasn’t a buyer – and since my last name wasn’t “Parker,” my little corner of the Internet wouldn’t give them enough exposure to be worthwhile. So, I wallowed in righteous indignation.

This year, my approach was a little different. I didn’t feel the need to slam my way around, not wasting a second – and when a pourer got snooty, I just walked away. I figured that there was better wine to be had out there.

I also have been around this stuff enough to know that I don’t need to repeat too many wines. I’ve written up or tried so many of these wines that I don’t need to burn my palate on them in a speed-dating-type setting like this one. I tried to focus on finding new or interesting wines. And I did. In no particular order, here were some of my favorite finds:

Gruet Blanc de Blanc Sauvage ($10) – Gruet, produced in New Mexico, is one of my go-to sparkling wines. This year, they’re rolling out a new wine – the Sauvage. “Sauvage” is the term for a sparkling wine without “dosage” – the sweet syrup added just before bottling to boost the residual sugar. The result is a bone-dry wine, drier even than brut sparkling wine. These are fairly rare, or have been. I thought this wine was outstanding. Super crisp, light fruit, a little yeast. An elegant, value-priced rockstar.

Revelry 2008 “The Reveler” Red Wine ($20)a blend of Bordeaux varietals from Walla Walla, Washington. However, instead of being mostly cabernet or merlot, this blend is over half petit verdot. Rich, dark, layered, and sexy.

Lioco 2009 Sonoma Chardonnay ($18) – One of my favorite things about the festival is knowing that I’d run into some old friends. Brian Scott, who’s taught me as much about wine as anyone, introduced me to one of his Vintner Select clients, Kevin O’Connor, the founder of Lioco Wines. Kevin was droll as hell, and he cranks out some great wines. This was a fascinating chardonnay. I thought for certain that this was done in oak, but it was one of the richer wines done in all-stainless that I’ve tasted in quite some time. Layered, rich, and elegant, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better value in a quality California chardonnay.

Airlie Winery 2008 Müller Thürgau ($10) – The best smile at the wine festival, far and away, was that of Elizabeth Clark, the Airlie winemaker. She was unbelievably pleasant and friendly to chat with and, during our conversation, she opened my eyes to this interesting little varietal. The Müller (pronounced “Mueller”) was a varietal she felt simply brought joy. Her creation would be an absolutely fantastic brunch wine. Slightly sweet, packed with peaches and pairs and a vinho verde-esque little fizz, the wine just sings for the patio. The Arlie “7” white blend also scored with me as a flavorful, dry springtime sipper at $12.

Longboard Vineyards 2007 Russian River Syrah ($25) – Looking for a great grilling wine? Look no further. This wine was tailor-made for grilled meat. Rich, earthy, coffee tinged goodness. A nice one to stash away, as well. There’s enough structure here that you could hang onto a bottle or two for several years. I have a feeling this will evolve into something really special.

Babich 2009 “Black Label” Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($12) – Not to be confused with the horrid beer of the same name. The “Black Label” is Babich’s lower priced New Zealand SB, but I thought it was a superior wine. I also tried the “standard” Babich, and it was so grapefruity that you wanted to eat it for breakfast. (Hey, Mike B…are you listening?) The Black Label, I guess, was less “New Zealandish,” but I thought there was more balance, more tropical fruit, and an overall superior drinking experience.

Peter Franus 2009 Carneros Sauvignon Blanc ($22) & 2007 Brandlin Vineyard Zinfandel ($30) – I spent a nice long while chatting with Mr. Franus. He’s a quiet, pleasant man who produces quiet, pleasant wines. The Sauvignon Blanc was, bar none, the best white wine that I tried at the entire festival. Superior balance, nice acidity without being puckery, rich citrus fruit flavors, and a crisp, easy finish. The Zinfandel, also up there around the top of my list of reds has a powerful nose, but the flavor is deep, smooth, and richly balanced. Absolutely an excellent bottle of wine. Check his stuff out, for sure.

Marchesi di Barolo – I had four wines of theirs marked as keepers. Their Villa Crespia Franciacorta Brut is Chardonnay-based bubbly that I simply wrote “Killer” next to. Their Moscato d’Asti may have been the best Moscato I’ve tasted – reminded me of my grandmother’s canned peaches, and that’s a really good thing. Their Barbera d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba were outstanding Italian reds. All of them retailed in the ballpark of $20, give or take, and I’d recommend them all.

Domaine Serene 2008 Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir ($30) – Domaine Serene is in Oregon, and their spread of wines were my favorite reds at the festival. Their Yamhill Cuvee was my favorite red at the event. They had two other more expensive pinots, but I thought that both in flavor and in value, this was my choice. I’m a sucker for red Burgundy, and this is one of the most “Burgundian” American pinots that I’ve tried. Plenty of blueberry and cherry and a nice deep earthy character. I would imagine this would be an amazing food wine, but I’d rather pair it with high thread counts, low lighting, and the SPinC.

A few other notable bottles to look out for:

Simonsig 2009 Chenin Blanc ($13) – just a pretty wine from Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Hogue Cellars 2007 Genesis Red Meritage ($14) – very flexible, solid red from the Pacific Northwest.

Gustave Lorentz 2009 Gewurztraminer Reserve ($18) – Alsatian gewurz. Smells like flowers and drinks wonderfully.

Cachette 2009 Cotes du Rhone ($13) – Very tasty Grenache-heavy blend. Super value.

Pivka 2008 Prestige Traminec & Vranec ($6) – Macedonian table wine. The white reminds me a little of retsina while the red is a light-bodied, basic wine. But for six bucks, certainly worth trying something new…

I’m still deciding on how to proceed with the wine festival for next year. I’m considering taking a year off from the trade tasting, but I’d hate to miss out on being exposed to some new things. I’ve got a year to think about it, at least…


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