Geeking out yet again: 7th Annual Wine Geek Dinner 2012

Biodynamic, Bubbles, cheese, cooking, Uncategorized, Wine Blog

This has been the second year I have been fortunate to attend the incredible Wine Geek Dinner, put on by my dear friend and part owner of Elysium Fine Wines, Trevor Martin (aka my Lopez de Heredia dealer). Each year he slaves away for literally days before this event, prepping the dishes and scribbling like a madman on his tattered menu that is scotch-taped to his kitchen cabinet. He goes to such lengths to pull this off in a way that might have you thinking you were surely at a 3-star Michelin restaurant rather than a humble garden level apartment in the Highlands. While he is busy ordering a 7 lb wheel of the stinkiest Muenster months out, our job as the lucky few guests is to pair his six course creation. At this point we strive to find bottles that are either quirky, thought-provoking and/or dusty.

What I found most interesting this year was that out of 13 bottles, we only had 2 reds. Bubbles, oxidized wines, old whites and fortifieds were coincidentally what all us geeks wanted to play with this year–it is a trend toward whites that I have been observing this whole last year. I am curious as to what that’s all about. I thought it was just me, but it most certainly is not.

I always love to give a little play-by-play to those who are curious. So here you are, my friends. Le menu avec les vins:


Puff Pastry, Fava, Asparagus, Mushroom-Meunster Cream, Baby Shoots

’93 Nikolaihof Vinothek GV & a ’06 Helfrich Grand Cru Steinklotz Riesling

My eyes feasted on this first course as much as my tongue–the first ever in the history of WGD to be 100% vegetarian. An absolute cinch with the ’93 Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner, this garden fresh starter was met with remarkable acidity and depth. This defined a truly sensational pairing, where both the food and its wine were made even more incredible when fused together. It was though my mouth became a magnifying glass. Such bliss.

The Riesling was outstanding. More than anything, it held its own with a rather tricky dish when one think of the vegetal compounds that can mess with wine. It was not enhanced, perhaps… but more importantly, it was not hurt by the dish. It was exquisite from the first taste to the last.

Butter Poached Lobster, English Pea Puree

1990 Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle Alexandria Rose

It is always such a treat to sip on old bubbles, especially when it is as lovely as the Grand Siecle. A honeyed salmon hue, the bubbles were far from gone. Tiny and fierce, those bubbles raced to the surface with awe-inspiring persistence.


                                         Garlic Pork Sausage, Flageolets, Chicory                                                                                                

                                ‘09 Clos Cibonne Tibouren Cotes de Provence                     ‘                                                 ’98 San Lorenzo Verdicchio 

Holding the hyperbole, this was still one of the best plates of pork and beans I have ever tasted. This homemade sausage brought out a little fruit that was silent on its own in the legendary Tibouren– a grape that inspired Andre Roux to rip up the Mourvedre in the ’30’s for Tibouren’s natural place in Provence. It had geek all over it. Very cool wine. I could stare at that playful label all day long. The ’98 Verdicchio was one of my contributions. Man, that was cool. This wine spends 9 years on its lees in steel and cement, then an additional year in the bottle. One might be shocked it sees no wood. Picked only in the best years from vines that bear a couple bunches of fruit, this wine only amounts to 2700 bottles. We won’t see it again until 2001 is released… in a couple years.

Colorado Rack of Lamb, Grains, Spring Vegetables, Mache, Natural Jus

’04 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino & ’82 Borgogno Barolo Riserva

Need I say much? This lamb was cooked to perfection. The Brunello was a bit young–but honestly, who cares. It was pretty lip-smacking with its sexy strength. The Barolo? I am biased, see… That is my birth vintage. I am quite proud of that fact. I have been lucky to try this one before about a year ago. Both times have been remarkably different, but both so very good. It reminds me that wine is very much a living, evolving thing. Unpredictable and multifaceted.

Les Fromages

A.E. Dor Pineau des Charentes 50 year

Stuffed to the brim and aching, I couldn’t resist the assortment of cheese to mop up a beauty of a fortified he had on the table. We began to open a couple others as cheese turned into strawberry crepes. We try a 2004 Piazzano Vin Santo, a 2006 Tre Monti Casa Lola Passito from Emilia Romagna and finally a ’92 Scheurebe from Lingenfleder in the Pfalz. Scheurebe, by the way, is the illegitamate cross of Riesling with some unknown varietal, according to a fellow geek. Very technical.

We are all a little starry-eyed at this point, but we don’t care. The name of the game is total, ridiculous indulgence for one night a year. And what a way to do it.

another side of napa at the 2012 wine festival.

california wine, cheese, colorado wine, food pairing, Uncategorized

I admit. I went in with my biases at this year’s 21st Annual Wine Festival of Colorado Springs, put on by our sister store Coaltrain with the Fine Arts Center. Every year they knock it right out of the park with incredible speakers, winemakers, demonstrations and pairing seminars. This year’s focus was Napa. I assumed they might cater towards an audience who was seeking to glorify their beloved Cabernet, a varietal that is so inextricably linked to this American viticenter’s image. But I was wrong. And that shouldn’t surprise me. Year after year, whether women winemakers, South African wine, Spanish or whatever the theme might be, never do the organizers for this event shape it around a collective imagination of what a region, grape or style should be. They quite intentionally push the limit of a region’s character and emphasize its diversity, intrigue and potential, exposing evidence of a truly influential and great wine region.

And so, this time it was Napa.

In the two seminars I attended, I was able to taste through an array of grapes and sub-regions within Napa. From the floor to the high points of Spring Mountain, we tasted the difference a stone’s throw makes in the land of milk and honey.

Bright and early, it began with a wine & cheese seminar–without a doubt one of my favorite seminars they put on if you think to go next Spring. Whereas many tasting seminars expose you to tons of components and flavors, making it difficult to discern a direct connect between elements, this tasting is just you, the wine and the cheese. The influence of one on the other compounded by winemakers there discussing their viticultural and vinification techniques on each particular wine while a cheese expert does the same for each selection really allows you to sit and get to know your tastebuds in depth.

We tasted through a Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc with a classic chèvre, a Chardonnay from Keenan with a Triple Creme, a rose from Bouchaine with some salty year old Manchego (an excellent pairing, as the wine really had some Spanish rosado flare), a hearty Bouchaine Syrah, a Keenan Zinfandel and a Cabernet paired with a blue. The most charming red we saw had to be the Flora Springs Sangiovese. Had I been blinded, I may have gone Tuscan, but that ripe forward fruit really is Cali’s thing. The most stunning and surprising red I tasted was Keenan’s Zin. It had the finesse, balance and complexity to force me to throw everything I thought I felt about Zin out the window. I thanked him for that. I come across people daily that get fixated on hating particular wines or grapes (Merlot and Riesling come to mind immediately). There are good versions of just about everything out there! Or, I should say, a version that you are more accustom to liking. That’s what I learned Saturday morning. I was not much different. Even I can get a little judgey. This wine reminded me to just keep an open palate…

The next seminar was a luncheon I had been excited to sit in on for weeks. Chef Soa Davies from New York’s Le Bernardin was there to lead each exquisite course. And so, below is a synopsis of each memorable bite…

#1 ’10 Robert Sinskey Abraxas: sashimi-style salmon, green apple, jalapeño cream sauce, micro green salad

When Sinskey took the floor, he kind of lit up the room. Here he was in a nice flannel shirt, thick black frames, and white hair. He had an air about him. A confident yet humble presence. A calm demeanor. A kind smile. His success has come from hard work, patience and a very calculated intention. I realized this when he spoke.

His Abraxas, named for the Egyptian god whose letters stood for the 365 days in a year.  In the same way, each day that went into this wine was weighted and meaningful. He pulls from four Alsatian varietals: Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Blanc–an ode to his wife in a way, though both are fond lovers of this French region. His fear was that Napa might be too warm to grow these grapes independently, when it occurred to him, he didn’t have to. Though harvested and fermented separately, they share a bottle and meld together beautifully. Faint orange blossom on the nose, lime zest on the palate. Bone dry. Sensational white. It was good with the salmon, but slightly too dry perhaps for the heat. It kicked up a lot of citrus on the palate.

#2 ’09 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay: Caramelized Endive, Caramelized spicy shrimp, bouillabaisse

The winery that helped put Napa on the map in a big way back in 1976 when their Chardonnay took gold at the Judgement of Paris tasting against some of the finest burgundies in the world, Chateau Montelena was an incredible addition to this event. Vineyard manager Dave Vella has been at the winery since the early ‘80s keeping it honest and consistent. Even in the height of buttery oaky blockbusters, they have chosen to remain true to their style. This wine shined with the dish, complimenting its richness and inherent acidity, elevating notes of lemon curd, pineapple and caramel.

#3 ’08 Robert Sinskey 3 Amigos Pinot Noir: Roots Vegetables

This was my favorite course hands down. The flavors Davies teased from these roots had me liking parsnip (and that never happens). Though earthy veggies seem like a logical match for lighter pinot, I didn’t realize just how incredible they could be. The carrot lit up the spices, the parsnip pulled out a creamy texture to the wine, and the beets turned up the volume when it came to that earthy, cherried sandalwood one seeks in a Cali Pinot. It is a grape that mesmerizes but is possibly the hardest to articulate. Sinskey likens it to a marriage… you never quite figure your partner out, but they will always have you happily guessing.

#4 ’09 VGS Chateau Potelle The Illegitimate Red: Chicken deboned and cured, herbs

Jean-Noel is perhaps the most fascinating winemaker I have ever met! He stands today with one kidney and one lung. He recently climbed Annapurna. He is French. Incredibly French. But he absolutely LOVES California wine. Not long after the 1976 Paris Tasting, while he was working as a critic in Bordeaux, sniffing around to be sure quality was up to standards, he was sent on assignment to America as a spy of sorts. He was to report back what they were up to in Napa. As he says, he called them and stated simply, “It’s good. I stay!”

Illegitimate is a throw-back to his French roots, when you couldn’t mix your Bordeaux grapes with your Rhones and slipping in a varietal that wasn’t French might have you arrested! He is exploring the wild west attitude of blending with this red, combining Cab, Merlot, Syrah and Zin. On the nose, Syrah wins with its peppery, floral, wow factor. On the palate the Cab fights to dominate. It is a fun wine, intriguing and bold.

#5 09 VGS Chateau Potelle Zinfandel: Braised short-rib, pickled onions

For too long, Jean-Noel feels Zin has been treated as a second class citizen. I think he said this about five times. Insisting on its relevance, he has dedicated himself to making some incredible, food-worthy wines of the Zinfandel variety. Though Croatian-born, this grape has become, in many ways, the ‘American’ red. Here it gained recognition, much like the French-born Malbec in Mendoza. Just before we were left to enjoy the spot on pairing, his final words were, “If you like it, I was responsible. If you don’t, you have bad taste.” He was such a treat with his thick French accent and smiling eyes.

#6 ’09 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon: Bittersweet chocolate mousse, sea salt, caramel puff, brandied cherries, ice cream

In Soa’s words, to pair a dry acid Cabernet with such a decadent dessert, it was the brandied cherries that for her bridged the two worlds. I was impressed, I admit. No offensive, bitter flavors arose. It was smooth and enticing. More than anything, surprising and bold. Were I to have this heavenly dessert again, I think I would reach for a tawny port, however, to really elevate the caramel undertones, play with the saltiness and magnify the mousse.

Two Cabernets out of twelve wines. That’s it. That’s Napa. With every passing year, innovative folks and adventurous vignerons see the potential beyond Cabernet in this exquisite region. Don’t get me wrong. I just sipped through a vertical of Mondavi Reserve last year form 1991-1996, and they are nothing short of breathtaking right at this very moment. Those age, man. They have guts. But tasting everything from Sangiovese to Alsatian blends, I was convinced there is so much more to wow the world from this corner of the world.

Keep an eye out just after Christmas for next year’s lineup. There are a number of events and seminars that range in price. Whether a wine newbie or a wine nerd, you are certain to learn something new with every sip.

For the record… young Bordeaux does pair well with some cheese.x

Bordeaux, cheese, food pairing, french wine, Kermit Lynch, Wine Blog

Preparing for my in-store tasting last night featuring Bordeaux, I thought to pair them with a few cheeses, when it occurred to me that I had no idea where to start.  Nothing came naturally to my palate’s memory that quite made sense.

I apparently was not alone, as I learned when I decided to ask Google, an exercise I often perform when I am confused (Dear Google, What is nucleosynthesis? What is the meaning of life? And where did I leave my keys, yet again?).  I garnered a few ideas. Though it seemed this was no cinch for anyone, rather an experiment with significant trial and error.

I picked up one cheese that many chimed in was decent: a youthful Gouda. I also grabbed a salty, hard Parrano by Uniekaas, a Ptit Anjou (ironically, a variety that Google actually needs its own Google for—does anyone have information on this stinky little cheese that is reminiscent of Epoisses, just a touch less gooey?), and believe it or not Bucheron—a semi-hard, yet still soft goat cheese that gets quite dry as it gets closer to the hardened rind that surrounds it. I had this with a cru Beaujolais last autumn and thought it would probably have great potential with other lighter, tannic fruity reds.

My theory proved correct with the 2007 Chateau Lagarde St. Emilion ($17)—a musky scented, friendly sipper from the Merlot-dominant right bank.  Without any cheese, this wine was very earthy, almost moldy, with dried plums, cherry and wet forest floral notes. Spice was singing on the palate and the tannins were getting much smoother after slumbering all summer in the bottle. Paired with the Bucheron, it was a young spritely thing, boasting ripe berry fruit, cranberries and juicy cherries.

The Parrano deepened its voice a bit with chewy cherry tobacco and moist soil. It was a suddenly Bordeaux with the change of a cheese. This Dutch gouda-style cow’s milk cheese is much like parmesan in its nutty, salty elocution.

They young Gouda, however, was a disaster. It made the Bordeaux taste thin, almost watery, and weightless (damn Google).

And the imitation Epoisses with no identity? It overwhelmed the wine a bit much, making the flavors more pungent and tangy.

The same drill was applied to two other wines: a white 2007 Chateau Thieuley ($17), a sensational terroir driven blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (50/50) as well as a red with Kermit Lynch’s hand-picked 2005 Chateau Aney Haut-Medoc ($32). I wasn’t surprised that the former did so well with many of the cheeses. Whites often do fare better with cheese pairing as it is.

On its own, the Thieuley smelled of just snipped asparagus, sweet peas, fresh green herbs and a twist of lemon—no grapefruit as you might find in several other Sauvignon Blancs. The Semillon does a lovely job of softening the acidic edges and delivering a sweet tune.

The Parrano dampened the fruit on the nose but sent a surge of zesty citrus racing to the sides of my tongue once on the palate. The reaction actually made me crave the Bucheron which then, as expected, calmed down the acid a little bit and zeroed in on the rich, creamy texture of the dry goat cheese.

The young Gouda once again…failed.  It caused all the citrus as found in the Parrano, but didn’t feature the zesty acid that so stunningly held the backbone securely in place.

And finally, the most complex wine of the night taken from the famed ’05 vintage, the Aney alone was the most severe in temperament. It held a high chin and spoke in austere, hushed tones.  I was able to extract some earthy elements of bark, cedar, tobacco anise, savory herbs, cherries and raspberries, but they were hardly audible and properly buried as good Bordeaux will do when not ready to drink.

With the help of cheese, it began to speak up a bit.

The Parrano stole some of the earthiness from the nose, although it managed to kick up very loud notes of fennel, wet violets and blueberry.

The young Gouda, which was such a miserable fail in the last couple, reclaimed its name with this one, as it managed to restore the dirty terroir that makes a Bordeaux so singular in scent.  It was back to its musky old self.

And the Ptit Anjou?  Surprisingly, this stinky old, rotten piece of cheese gave the Bordeaux a facelift.  It was a toddler, really.  It shouted with ripe berry fruit, vanilla bean, oak and ‘drink me now!’ demands. The old Bordeaux funk was hardly to be found, except on the finish when olives on the dirt-encrusted rocks came through.

I was amazed at how much these wines changed with a little fromage. I actually made thin k of a decanter differently.  Maybe all a youthful Bordeaux needs is the right pairing in order to coerce its character a couple years before its optimum suggested debut?

This tasting also demonstrated to both my customers and me how un-prohibitive some Bordeaux can be. We were all very impressed by these selections, two under $20 and one just around $30 (which, I might add, seems highly capable of ageing a good 15-20 years—not a bad investment for someone looking to start a little cellar on a budget).

Make me a match: South African wine, part four.

cheese, food pairing, organic wine, south african wine

And so, the cheese and wine tasting.

Both last and this year I attended this seminar.  I must admit, it is always my favorite part of the whole weekend.  The winemakers (or, in this case, ambassadors) form a panel at the front of the room.  Whole Foods are given samples of the wines to pair beforehand.  The ‘fromallier’, as I have heard such cheese experts called, did an incredible job.  She supplied each of the six wines with two very different cheeses in order to illustrate just how much it changed the flavor profile.

We were instructed to taste the wine first—without dairy interference (taking bread and water between wines to reset our palates).  Then, we were to observe the effect of cheeses in the nose, palate, and over texture/structure of the wine.  The results were so interesting.

The first was the 2008 Edgebaston Sauvignon Blanc ($14).  On its own, it was akin to Chilean SB—bright, acid, and not without the likely culprits of herbs, grass, and grapefruit, but it wasn’t quite so aggressive as New Zealand.  Nor was it melon-driven like so many in California.  Tropical notes were evident, and it was even a little fuller bodied than many I am used to.  The Dubliner Irish Cheddar was yummy on it’s own—aged and salty.  It brought out the apple notes in the nose of this wine.  However, it stole the stage when it came to the palate.  The wine was left in a watery, thin state.

With the Campo de Montablar (a Spanish cheese, sort of like Manchego), the SB faired quite well.  The cheese itself was quite nutty, really bringing out some nutty characteristics in the wine whilst enhancing some of the citrus tones.

The next was the 2008 Savanha Chenin Blanc ($10), or ‘steen’ as they refer to this grape in South Africa.  The nose was oozing with honey with a hint of white flowers.  Often, I get honeysuckle, but this was much more rich honey with some floral and earthy (almost fungal) components lingering in the background.  It actually smelled a bit like Brie, which happened to be our first pairing—a triple crème (so good).  This really gave the wine a facelift.  It seemed more youthful and vibrant.  Honey spread across the tongue, but a deeper minerality surfaced, giving it an fascinating depth of personality for a $10 wine.

When paired with 3 year aged Tillamook Cheddar, the Chenin was certainly not distasteful, rather it was neutralized to how it showed on its own.  The cheese did not hurt or harm it.

The first of our reds, the 2008 Paul Cluer Pinot Noir ($20), comes from Elgin—the coolest and highest winegrowing region in South Africa (3,000 feet above sea level).  It reminded me of New Zealand Pinot, as it wasn’t quite earthy enough to be Oregon, nor full-bodied and fruity enough to be Cali.  And it certainly lacked the seriousness and minerality of Burgundy.  It was cheerful and straightforward.  Clean and controlled.

The Pinot was paired with a Danish Blue Castello and a French Comte (pronounced ‘Kompt’).  I don’t like blue, so that was already doomed (I know—what’s wrong with me?!), and the Comte amazingly brought out this wine’s flaws.  Namely, a sulfur imbalance, as in, too much.  Sometimes winemakers add a bit more to disguise the flaws in their wines.  It can be quite obvious, displaying loud scents of matchstick.  Or, it can be subtle—almost unnoticed, such as this one was until it married poorly.  Even with cheese and wine, divorce is sometimes the best option.  They are both fine and well on their own.  But together…

The 2008 Savanha Pinotage/Shiraz ($10) was nasty on the nose.  For me, that is.  It smelled like stinky feet having just walked through a field of smoky fruit.  Ick.  Ah, but then, you see… sometimes a lonely hunter really does just need a mate.  For this wine, it was the Perrano Aged Dutch Gouda.  This cheese was much like a Robusto or Parmesan—aged, salty, delicioso.  Suddenly, a rush of fresh fruit was released and the palate was smooth.  Gone were stinky feet.  Hooray!  It was very yummy.

With the Fontina cheese that followed, this Pinotage/Shiraz blend returned to a more earthy, dirty state of being, but it wasn’t off-putting as it was without the cheese altogether.  In fact, in emanated a nice ‘terroir-ish’ personality…if you’re into that sorta thing.

Okay, I’m moving.  Stay with me!

We then tried the 2008 Edgebaston Pepper Pot ($12), and what a hit that was!  This blend of Syrah (58%), Mourvedre (32%), and Tenat (10%) did a wonderful job integrating new world fruit with an old world earthy style.  With a porcini mushroom Brie, this wine was packed with mushroomy flavors, which I loved… Other people, however, had different opinions on this match.  Just like that intense couple in high school who always made out in the hallway between class periods, this wine and cheese pairing were super hot and heavy.  The Killaree Cheddar, on the other hand, expanded the mouthfeel and enhanced the fruit.  Both were fine pairings.

Finally, the 2005 Sadie Family Winery ‘Sequillo’ ($30) concluded the match-maker.  This wine was fantastic—a blend of Syrah (60%), Mourvedre (30%) and Grenache (10%), a classic trio that is often referred to simply as a ‘GSM.’  Oodles of raspberries, spices, pepper and dried violets fell from the nose and translated well on the palate.  It had a generous mouthfeel.  It was a serious wine.  A great synergy of new world and old, as it maintained a brightness of fruit with the grounded wisdom of minerals, dried herbs and tea leaves.  It was dense but somehow not heavy.  Layered and elegantly smooth.

The Truffle Tremor cheese killed it.  Holy truffle.  After I resurrected my palate with some bread, I tried it with a handcrafted Spanish goat cheese with South African red peppers.  That was a nice pairing.  Not remarkable (actually quite noteworthy with the Pepper Pot), but very solid.  To end on a sweet note, we gave it a go with dark chocolate.  As suspected, it muted the nose.  But both were so darn tasty on their own.

If you can, try and participate in a local wine & cheese pairing.  You will be surprised at how much you learn!  Check out  That’s a great source for events such as these.

Next up:  The South African wine that blew me away.