As a follow-up to the Friday, April 13th post on the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc+Viognier (visit www.thefrugalwinesnob. com/?p=1064 for the review as well as some details about the winery), here’s my report on the online tasting as a whole.
Not having experienced one before, we didn’t know what to expect. However, it was a lot like any other good webinar, and we found it beautifully interactive as well as surprisingly educational and entertaining. It’s a simple concept: you get the wine(s) ahead of time, let them rest and chill if necessary, tune in to the Web link a few minutes ahead of time, login to your Twitter account to enable you to comment or ask questions, and watch the live-streamed video feed that generally features the winemakers and/or a critic. (Or, tune in to the recorded webinar later.)
For now, online tastings are directed largely to bloggers and to critics—it’s less expensive to conduct an online face-to-face via webcams than to fly the critic to the winery. However, as the field develops, this could and should turn into a wonderful way for winemakers to reach out to new and existing customers. I can see, for example, a winery such as Wente offering a “First Friday” tasting club that works like the Book-of-the-Month Club: Each subscriber would receive a shipment of wine around the middle of the month, and on the following First Friday or Third Thursday or whatever at a predetermined time, they would tune in to be educated by the winemakers—or, tune in to the recorded webinar later. Apparently it’s fairly easy to do, especially if one has a teenager in residence. Then it could be uploaded to the winemaker’s Web site archives and to YouTube as well …
But I digress. Back to the online tasting sponsored by the Crimson Wine Group via TasteLive.com, featuring four Pine Ridge wines. Winemakers Michael Beaulac and Jason Ledbetter devoted about 15 minutes to each wine and its background including sources of grapes and anecdotes about the winemaking process. If you’re curious enough to watch the video now, you can: visit www.ustream.tv/channel/pine-ridge-vineyards.
FIRST: Only one of the wines was priced at less than $20 and was therefore eligible for a full review, the Chenin Blanc+Viognier. Priced around $13.99 but available for $8.99, we HIGHLY RECOMMEND it. Visit www.thefrugalwinesnob.com/?p=1064 to read the review. During the tasting, the winemakers said, “No one else in California is making this blend.” They produce around 40,000 cases of the CB+V, and were very happy when Robert Parker gave it a 90. They called it a Vouvray/Loire style, off-sweet, and told us it’s kept “so cold, the yeast die off in the tank.” It has the “right structure of acidity and crispness” without being drying to the palate.
NEXT: the 2009 Carneros/Napa Valley Chardonnay, Dijon Clones. $34, 14.1% ABV. Very good. Here’s the run-down from my notes: Light golden, night harvest, cold, 48 hours, rack, lees stirring, “batonage,” go to barrel, all French/30% new (Francois Frere and Doug “D.J.” LaJackel are their coopers in the Bordeaux), no malolactic fermentation, French style. Lemon-bar, pear, melon, rich and creamy, some oak, lots of body, crisp acidity. Cool growing season, all estate grown. 5,000 cases. Stir barrel to get mouthfeel. 1.7 acres planted in Chardonnay in Stags Leap District.
THIRD IN THE LINE-UP: 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (100%), $54, 14.1% ABV. 100% American oak. Grapes 60% Rutherford, 30% Oakville, 10% Stags Leap. Garnet, almost opaque, ruby edges. Wine pearls in the glass. Pipe tobacco, toasted caramel, balanced; red fruit; fleshiness integrates the wine; juicy; lovely tannins. “French oak adds high notes, American oak adds volume and texture.” (I’ve observed that French oak creates what I can only call a “tightly woven structure.”) “Working in the wine industry 23 years, I can tell you, you only get one opportunity all year.” Night harvest (grapes cool). Grapes sorted, destemmed, “popped,” thrown into the tank. Cold soak, 2-4 days at 50°. Heat with yeast, “off to the races.” Daily tasting, tweaking temps. Early stages all about mouthfeel to determine tannins. 2-3x/day—“They really do change that often.” Drain, sit, 1 week. Rack, lees, to barrels. “Each wine is a unique living thing.” “14-15% ABV gets volume and mouthfeel, but not too hot and not too volatile.” “Napa Valley is only a third the size of Burgundy.”
FINALE: 2008 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon (91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot, 1% Merlot), $80, 14.1% ABV. My surprisingly still-neatly handwritten notes: Smelled the WOW monster @open. Dark, opaque garnet, ruby/violet edges. Dried fruit, cocoa. Slightest hint of cloves and licorice. 100% French barrels, tight structure. Fine, granular texture. Smaller berries, smaller clusters, steep hillsides. Napa softer, plusher. Gustavo, the vineyard manager, walks the vines every week and reports on things by row and block. Night harvest. “Tannins eat up the oxygen that oozes through the cork.” Full and rich, wow. Michael has 23 years in the industry, ran a jazz club in Maine before that. Murphy-Goode, Zin and Pinot Noir, Marcum v. St. Supery, no idea what my notes meant. Jason grew up in Napa Valley, interned at Cakebread (did you know that’s the winemaker’s real last name?), went to UC/Davis.
By the by, you might be wondering if the two of us drank all four bottles in one night (eew) or, worse, poured them down the drain. We didn’t. In fact, we enjoyed them, at times paired and contrasted with other wines, for several days, and they lasted very well without vacuum-sealing. Since a minority of people vacuum-seal their wines at home, I don’t, either. I like to approach wines from a consumer’s point of view (after all, I am one); it’s more practical for our readers that way.
One additional product was experienced that night that worked very well: SanTáSti, a sparkling, nearly calorieless beverage designed to clear the palate between different wines. It comes in two flavors, classic and cucumber. And it WORKS! Sure, the scrubbing action of the carbonation plays a part, but I suspect a pH change to alkaline is part of the package as well. Refrigerate after opening and consume within a week or so. WEB: www.SanTasTi.com.
The TasteLive video webinar itself was pretty good. I had some difficulty logging in, and the hand-holding could be a little better with a “TasteLive for Idiots” page or something. The live video streaming was GREAT—no loading issues or hitches. This is a wonderful technology that will ultimately connect winemakers not only with publicity outlets, but also direct-to-consumers—and I think everyone will benefit. No tipsy drivers, no bored and no-fair designated drivers, the comfort of one’s own home, the expertise of winemakers and fellow wine enthusiasts—what more could one ask?
Samples received for review.