WS Grand Tasting San Francisco

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WS Grand Tasting San Francisco

Postby Hoke » Sat Oct 21, 2006 4:39 pm

I went to the WS tasting Thursday evening. Say what you will about the WS and its worth, it was amazing to have that many wineries, and that many winemakers and principals, in attendance.

For me, it was an occasion to see hundreds of folks I rarely get to see---almost an old high school reunion of ITB types. :)

But primarily it was getting to see and chat with the folks who create the wines....Carole Meredith of Lagier-Meredith and vinous DNA fame, Dan Kosta, who remains impressively real despite all his fame and acclaim, Harry Peterson-Nedry from Chehalem, Lynn Penner-Ash and her marvellous PN, Tony Soter, Doug Shafer, Ed Sbragia (who looks like he lost 60 pounds or more, and looks marvellous btw), Marcia Kunde, Paul Draper (with the 1996 Montebello showinf just fine, thank you very much),
and so many, many more.

Standout wines, for me, were the

--2003 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon: lovely to drink now, dark and deep and complex, yet promising splendid things in years to come.

--an amazing assortment of Pinot Noirs from California and Oregon, in a dazzling array of different terroir and stylistic variations (and at this point, who can tell the difference?) that presages some wonderful things for this grape variety, and at the same time chronicles the excesses of passionate styling.

--likewise the stunning diversity of style the New World is capable of in Syrah, that amazingly flexible variety. Syrah may be the Chardonnay of the red wine world: it can be whatever you wish it to be.

--Montebello. For what it achieves consistently.

--Qupe Roussanne. An oddity in this crowd of Chards and Cabs and Merlots and Syrahs. But what a remarkably pleasing wine this is. And it proves you can be utterly hedonistic without being over-the-top

One amusing moment: about the middle of the evening, suddenly and without warning, the ballroom lights went out. Completely. Total darkness. No more than a brief murmur or slight chuckle in the crowd though---and it was a crowd, all elbow to elbow. After a bit, people began to take out their cellphones and flip them open and the room was lit by ghostly glow. When people talked, they would turn their cellphones to the faces of their companions, as lamps to illuminate them. Which may be a more profound use for a cellphone than the one it was intended for....

Then the lights came back on again, and the evening played on.
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Re: WS Grand Tasting San Francisco

Postby Rahsaan » Sat Oct 21, 2006 7:28 pm

likewise the stunning diversity of style the New World is capable of in Syrah, that amazingly flexible variety. Syrah may be the Chardonnay of the red wine world: it can be whatever you wish it to be.


Hmm. You know the grape also has some different sides in the Rhone and parts south. But yet they all taste like syrah.

So you're telling me that the new world has created its own new paradigm for Syrah? I haven't tasted enough ones that I actually wanted to drink to believe in this, but, I certainly think syrah is more promising for expressing CA than pinot noir, but apparently I'm also a closed-minded fellow :)
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Re: WS Grand Tasting San Francisco

Postby Hoke » Sat Oct 21, 2006 7:34 pm

Rahsaan, I wouldn't exactly call it a paradigm. That would make it seem completed, or the result of a logical progression, or intentional, and the state of Syrah in Murrica is none of those.

I would say that the New World has added to the already broad and complex spectrum of Syrah.

And I agree that Syrah would be a better variety to express variation in California than Pinot, sure. Simply because it's a much more versatile, flexible and forgiving grape. Syrah can exist, and thrive, and show pleasing yet different characteristics from the warmest to the coldest growing areas. Pinot Noir can't even come close to doing that, delicate little vine that it is.
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Re: WS Grand Tasting San Francisco

Postby Bob Ross » Sun Oct 22, 2006 1:33 pm

Thanks for posting that report, Hoke. You made me feel as if I were there meeting folks and tasting wines.

Mob scene? Or was it pleasant -- sounds like it was elbow to elbow all night.

I'm impressed with the WS events -- they seem to get really good winemakers who show very nice wines.

I'm also impressed with the volunteers who work so hard to put an event like this on, year after year. I met one lady three years ago at the Grand Tasting who had volunteered 19 years in a row. She said there was a group of 40 or 50 "regulars" who put in hundreds of hours a year.

Thanks again for the report.
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Re: WS Grand Tasting San Francisco

Postby Hoke » Sun Oct 22, 2006 2:07 pm

I'd split the difference and say it was pleasant, but crowded, Bob.

Of course, I got to go in the first hour, which is more trade-oriented, and could leave before the mass onslaught of people started crowding in. So it was manageable at first, then crowded.

I really can't abide jam-packed rooms---not so much because of the number of people, but because people seem to be extraordinarily selfish and inconsiderate of others, and become even more so the more crowded it gets. Simple common courtesy goes away and rudeness becomes the order of the day. People standing in clusters right smack dab in the middle of a narrow aisle, forcing others to edge around them. Couples hogging the small area of a booth and preventing others from stepping up and sampling the wines and meeting the winemakers. That sort of rude and inconsiderate behavior is what I mean.

I agree, the event was quite well organized, with little disruption (well, except for the gaffe with the ballroom lights, of course :) ). I would have liked a larger space, with wider aisles---but then I would always appreciate those.

The major appeal of the event, for me, oddly enough, was not so much the wines, but the ability to see so many people I know, as well as getting to meet the people whose wines I know, but have not yet met them. Like Lynn Penner-Ash, for instance. And getting to talk to Tony Soter about a Pinot Blanc he made more than ten years ago---and engaging in an animated conversation wherein he recalled the tiniest details of that wine, and was elated to talk about it.

I've mentioned numerous times that the three things I look for in any good wine is the triple-legged stool of variety/place/person. This kind of event brings that home by focusing more on the person. And wine is people, that human element, as much as it is the grape and the place. Wine is people: it is defined by the person who made it, as well as the person who consumes it and appreciates it. And the ability to interact with that person, after already having formed a relationship with the wine, is a remarkable thing. Same thing with art, in any form (which of course includes wine, another form of art, of human expression). Knowing the people behind the wine makes the wine more complex, intriguing, interesting.

As an analogy, when I was teaching high school I had the opportunity to take some of my brightest students to a National Booksellers Convention, and met John Gardner, whose book "Grendel" I had been teaching. My students buttonholed him for quite a while, much to my delight (and his) and engaged in scintillating conversation about him and his book, finding new insights and challenging his ideas and how he expressed them---as only the ferocious and innocent precocity of youth can. It deepened their appreciation of what Gardner had accomplished, and helped illuminate their lives a bit by engaging with the creator of the book. To a much less exalted degree, that's what attending events like this can be, at their best anyway.

Then I can't stand the crowds anymore, start muttering about and to the oafs that surround me, and have to leave. :evil:
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Re: WS Grand Tasting San Francisco

Postby Rahsaan » Sun Oct 22, 2006 3:18 pm

Wine is people: it is defined by the person who made it, as well as the person who consumes it and appreciates it. And the ability to interact with that person, after already having formed a relationship with the wine, is a remarkable thing


Ain't that the truth. It's a shame that us civilians cannot do so more often, although I guess for any artform only the truly dedicated/obsessed will take the time and energy to seek out the artists in person.

Thanks again for last night, I look forward to "discovering" Australia..
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Re: WS Grand Tasting San Francisco

Postby Bob Ross » Sun Oct 22, 2006 5:59 pm

"Of course, I got to go in the first hour, which is more trade-oriented, and could leave before the mass onslaught of people started crowding in. So it was manageable at first, then crowded."

That's one of my gripes with WS and its system, Hoke. Attendees to the whole event in NYC get an hour head start, and it's two days, but over 800 different wines. And then they sell special entry tickets, so those two hours have about 1600 people.

The last two hours are not crowded -- they are literally wall to wall people, except maybe on the lower floor where there is a bit of room to move.

You've cataloged every kind of rudeness I've seen at these tasting events. The one that bothers me most is people who stand two or three abreast right in front of the pourer and analyze the wine -- two, three, four minutes at a time. Just stepping back would let others get a pour and retreat.

My technique is to stand at the far end and try to get my arm over to the pourer. I'm thinking of bringing a small extension for my arm, say one on a retractable slide.

But, frankly, I've stopped trying the really poplular wines, and spend my time talking to folks when I go to the big tastings. Rarely as I've gotten older and crankier, I must say.

Your "triple-legged stool of variety/place/person" is lovely, Hoke -- I haven't seen you express it so well before. And, that John Gardner experience -- your students had a wonderful learning experience and so did Garnder. Well done.

Regards, Bob
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Re: WS Grand Tasting San Francisco

Postby Clinton Macsherry » Mon Oct 23, 2006 12:42 pm

Hoke wrote:. . . wine is people . . .


Nicely put and nicely explained. Of course, that's what they said about Soylent Green, too. :wink:
FEAR THE TURTLE ! ! !
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Re: WS Grand Tasting San Francisco

Postby Mark Lipton » Mon Oct 23, 2006 1:02 pm

Hoke wrote:I really can't abide jam-packed rooms---not so much because of the number of people, but because people seem to be extraordinarily selfish and inconsiderate of others, and become even more so the more crowded it gets.


I couldn't agree more, Hoke, which is why more and more I shy away from the cattle-call tasting events for smaller, more intimate events like winemaker dinners. The other alternative is to become ITB and thereby avoid those crowds, but that sounds like too much work for me :wink:

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Re: WS Grand Tasting San Francisco

Postby Lou Kessler » Mon Oct 23, 2006 9:27 pm

Being in the business doesn't always help at some of the mega tastings. The Zap tasting at Fort Mason even for the time alloted for the press & ITB has become so crowded I don't bother going anymore. The afternoon for the public is beyond description it's become such a zoo.
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