As December comes to a close we're all reflecting back on the year that has been 2011. Although we're still going through challenging economic times, spirits of the vintners throughout wine country seem to be rising, as sales are slowly picking up. There's a feeling of hope and optimism that I haven't seen in a long time. So keeping that positive state of mind, here are my top 10 wine moments of 2011.
Turning my girlfriends on to Riesling. Girls trips are great, especially when you are in New York City. I was determined to get to the wine bar Terroir in Tribeca. There was arm twisting involved as my friends resisted because they didn't like Riesling. August at Terroir is the Summer of Riesling. We almost left because Riesling dominates the wine list. Determined to change their taste buds, I enlisted our server for my mission to turn the girls on to Riesling. I asked for samples that were bone dry (as my friends' main complaint about this wine is that it is too sweet). The other requirement -- no aromas of petrol. He brought us three samples. Of course I can't remember which wines, but the plan worked. We ordered a bottle for the table. My friends left Terroir liking Riesling. In the words of Tim Gunn, thank you Terroir!
Discovering Virginia wines. This summer the Wine Bloggers Conference was held in Charlottesville, Va. I had never tried any of the local wines, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to do so. I left with many favorites including a sparkling Viognier from Barboursville Vineyards and a Petit Manseng (a white wine) from Horton Vineyards. My favorite moment was tasting Virginia wines on the lawn of Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson. I highly recommend a journey through this beautiful wine country.
There are some Chardonnays out there that I actually like. I've long been a Chard no way drinker and not a fan of the sweet and oaky bottlings. I still have a hard time believing Chardonnay is the top white wine seller in this country. But two Chards really stood out for me this year, from Oakville Ranch and Lioco. When I tasted Oakville Ranch's wine I had an ephiany that California Chardonnay can be fruit forward and have good acidity. I shared a bottle of Lioco, from Sonoma County, with my girlfriends on, yes that same trip to NYC, and it was a big hit.
The Brunello Cucinelli Trunk show at Ma(i)sonry. A fashion event at a winery? Oh yeah. Ma(i)sonry, an art and wine gallery, is one of my favorite places in Napa Valley, and I'm a big fan of Blackbird Vineyard wines. The Italian label Brunello Cucinelli has sumptous and luxurious clothing for both women and men. And with Brunello in the label, well that gets me thinking about Brunello di Montalcino wines. Alas, all I could do was dream about this line as it's totally out of my budget. But what I could afford were the elegant wines being poured, from Ma(i)sonry's Recuerdo label, a Torrontes and Malbec, both from Argentina. There couldn't be a more perfect pairing, fashion and wine. OK, jewelry and wine or perfume and wine or shoes and wine are up there too.
Learning about aromas in wine that mean the wine is flawed. Believe it or not, there are wines out there with aromas that tell you there's something wrong with that bottle of wine. I took a class at Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley where I learned to recognize the different smells that mean a wine is just not right, and wrote a blog post about it.
Spending time at Contiuum in Napa Valley with Tim Mondavi. We visited Continuum where Tim Mondavi lead the tour. Tim (one of Robert Mondavi's sons) spent more time with us than we expected, which was great since Tim is a wealth of information about the Napa Valley and its wines. We had the pleasure of watching the sun set from this amazing hilltop vineyard overlooking much of Napa Valley. Contiuum makes only one wine, and it is pretty amazing as well.
Turning my relatives on to Cava Rosé from Spain. My family came to stay with me for Christmas, and we were getting ready to open our gifts. I like to make the event festive, so we got the holiday music playing and I pulled out a bottle of Freixenet Cordon Rosado Brut and popped the cork. My relatives had never heard of Cava and I explained that it's made the traditional way as in Champagne, but can't be called Champagne since it wasn't grown and made there. Everyone loved the wine, and I plan to stock up on it because this sparkling wine is very affordable. This is the wine I'll drink for ringing in the new year of 2012.
The Champagne Grand Tasting in San Francisco. I think I died and went to heaven at this event, put on by Comité Champagne. There were 30 Champagne houses pouring, including Pol Roger, where I tasted the same bubbly that Kate Middleton and Prince William had for their wedding. Of course some of the well known wines were here, like Bollinger and Henroit, but I also liked wines from smaller producers, including Mailly, Gosset, Charles de Cazanove and Lanson. There are some really nice bubblies out there that don't carry the names and cachet, of let's say a Krug, but are worth seeking out (and cost less too).
My favorite wine label art with good wines inside. I've read about Charles Smith wines, but never tried them until I was in NYC with my inlaws at Kin Shop (first Top Chef winner Harold Dieterle's second restaurant), and a Charles Smith Viognier was on the wine list. I fell in love with it, so I always seek out this unconventional winemaker's bottles not just for the wines, but his label artwork is fabulous. For Syrah, it is called Boom Boom, with a bomb on the label. Chardonnay is named Eve, and has an apple with a bite taken, invoking Eve in the garden of Eden. Merlot is The Velvet Devil. For me, the label's cachet is not at all compromised as many of these wines are sold at Trader Joe's and have a very friendly price point. Gotta love it.
My favorite post of 2011 is about crowd-sourced winemaking. Tom and Matt Johnson are owners and winemakers of Silversmith Vineyards in California's Mendocino wine country. The came up with the crazy idea of turning the winemaking of one of their varietals to their cadre of Facebook fans, and inspired my blog post about it. They had more folks participating than they could have imagined. Every decision was posted on Facebook, from which varietal to make, when to pick, and how to press and the level of dryness in their #crowdmadewine project. It's not too late for you to get involved, as there will be decisions to make about what barrel to use and how long to age the wine. I still think this is one of the best examples of social media in the wine world.
To all my readers, thank you for your support and for reading my blog here on Huffington Post. I raise a glass of bubbly to you and toast with best wishes to ring in 2012.
I do not have any business or financial relationship with any entities named in this post.