For the first time in half a decade, I attended the Family Winemakers Tasting as a paying guest, rather than volunteering. The plus to paying the $35 in advance tasting fee, rather than tasting and then working a shift, was being able to leisurely taste, with my significant other in tow. The downside, other than the cost, is my notes were less comprehensive than they tend to be when I taste on my own. But I think it was the right decision all around.
The most interesting find of the event was the Heidrun sparkling mead. The avocado sparkling mead actually had a hint of avocados, while the Starthistle sparkling mead tasted as sweet and thick as the everyday Starthistle honey from Marshall's at the Farmers' Market. The one that really won me over, however, was the Ventura County Wildflower sparkling mead which had plenty of effervescence but was a little drier than the others we sampled. I am tempted to buy a case of it to give as holiday gifts this year.
To make navigating the several hundred winery tables more manageable, we decided to focus on Pinot Noir. Exceptions were made only for wineries I love. Interestingly, these exceptions pretty much proved to be less enticing than the newcomer/new-to-me wineries.
On the disappointment side, I wasn't a fan of the 2001 release of the Astrale y Terra "Arcturus" Bordeaux blend which has historically been one of my favorite wines. I was bummed when they discontinued their merlot a few years back, but this blend had made up for it. Another disappointment was Turley's Dusie Ranch zinfandel, which my notes recount as both weird and unpleasant. I'd fallen in love with Turley over a dinner at Delfina a few years back, but haven't tasted anything from them in the past 2 years that can keep that flame alive.
- Davis Bynum Winery pinot noir. Made from organic grapes from 7 Russian River vineyards. Nice spicy cherry and plum.
- Derbès Wines was probably my favorite producer at this event, and a winery I knew nothing about prior to tasting them. Their Les Pinots, a pinot noir and pinot meunier blend, was an outstanding, yummy juicy wine that would be a welcome addition to any dinner. And their pinot noir., which is due to release in November, was lovely, full-bodied and dense. I think I may buy one of each to take with me for Thanksgiving dinner, as these are special wines.
- Flora Springs had two blends that we tasted. Their always lovely, though pricey, Trilogy was luscious and dark with lots of berry, while the Poggio del Papa, a Sangiovese-based blend, was a lighter, more spicy blend with a delightful floral nose.
- Fritz's pinot noir was lighter than most of the others we tasted, but still had some dark fruit, but was not at all spicy.
- Navarro has become a default choice when I want a pinot noir and nam not familiar with anything else on the list, and with good reason. They're consistently good, and under $30 retail.
- Opolo Vineyards was another new-to-me winery. Like Fritz, they had a lighter pinot noir, but it had a spicy kick to it.
- Paul Hobbs Winery had a 2003 pinot noir that had some effervescence backed up with dark cherry.
- Pisoni Vineyards and Winery had a medium bodied Gary's Vineyard pinot noir that I liked quite a bit.
- Roar Wines was another new favorite, with a spicy Gary's Vineyard pinot noir that, unfortunately, is sold out at the winery.
- Robert Sinskey's 2002 pinot noir was pretty light with an interesting candy nose and a a dry finish.
- Toad Hall Cellars was new to the tasting, and had an awesome light, spicy 2003 Carneros pinot noir that had hints of Oak.
- Truchard is an old favorite that hadn't impressed me my last few times tasting at their winery. This time around, however, their La Storia meritage caught my attention, with its smooth, dark berries.
This tasting was not as crowded as the ZAP! annual tasting, which I attend regardless due to my love of zinfandel. There still wasn't a lot of elbow room, but for the most part you did not have to wait very long to receive pours, and the lines at the cheese and cracker stations were also manageable.
Save the Date: next year's Family Winemakers tasting will be August 20, again at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.