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Upper-end Wine Tasting at Wine Boutique
© by April Eichmeier
When people attend wine tastings, it's generally a nice spread of wines in the $10-$20 range. But on Monday, June 26, the Wine Boutique in Middleton, Wis., held its first-ever upper-end wine tasting. The atmosphere was light and informal as those in attendance swirled, sniffed, and sipped their way to an oenophile's delight as the moderator elaborated on each wine's uniqueness.

The focus was exclusively California's best wines from smaller wineries. Steve Helpap of Prestige Wines presided over the entire event--from giving background about the wineries and the people who run them to answering questions and offering insight into what creates a wine's style.

One goal of this tasting was to showcase wines of limited release. According to Helpap, these wines fall in the category of "Ultra-Premium," which is one of the highest wine class designations. Most "Premium" wines begin at $20. Wines from Staglin, Swanson, Lewis, Schweiger, and more are discussed in the tasting notes below.

Of particular interest in this tasting was the developing appellation system in California. An appellation system gives a legal name to a plot of land that provides guidelines for labeling purposes. In other words, a certain amount of the grapes must be grown in that area to use the specific name on the label. Wines with a more area-specific label are often more prestigious. Currently, France has the most stringent appellation system.

Steve Helpap from Prestige Wines based in Heartland, Wis., has been a distributor of fine California wine for many years. Prestige Wines specializes in fine, limited edition wines. Helpap and Kelly Gilboy, proprietor of the Wine Boutique, planned the event to increase awareness of some of the finer wines available in Wisconsin.

Helpap was introduced to wine while working for a Fortune 500 company. When he decided to venture off on his own wine business, he wanted to deal strictly with fine, limited release wines. Prestige wines sells restaurants and small retailers so the staff has more time to become knowledgeable about the uniqueness of the wines. In fact, the wines featured in this tasting are so limited that Helpap needed permission from many of the wineries.

TASTING NOTES

Blockheadia 1999 Sauvignon Blanc
Crisp, acidic, lemon and citrus notes. Great for summer.

Lewis Cellars 1998 Sonoma County Chardonnay-Limited
Pear, apple, and citrus on the nose, detectable oak. Opens up over time.

Lewis Cellars 1998 Russian River Chardonnay-Reserve
Same pear, apple and citrus as above, but smoother mouthfeel and subtle oak.

Ancien 1998 Carneros Pinot Noir
Soft notes of cherry and light oak, light bodied, refreshing.

Truchard 1998 Syrah
Strong peppery quality, medium-bodied, spicy.

Staglin 1997 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon
Raisins, licorice, strong tannin and oak-stunningly long finish.

Staglin 1998 Rutherford Chardonnay
Soft pear and peach notes, subtle oak and crisp acidity.

Swanson 1997 Merlot
Subtle aroma and light notes of oak and black cherry on the palate.

Frazier 1996 Lupine Hill Merlot-Limited
Soft yet detectable black cherry aroma, aggressive fruit, moderate tannin.

Frazier 1997 Alexis Meritage Blend-Cabernet and Syrah
Peppery, assertive fruit, moderate tannins-long finish.

Schwieger 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon
Big blackberry fruit, rich oak, between moderate and strong tannin.

June 26, 2000

To contact April Eichmeier, write her at aeichmeier@hotmail.com.

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