Thursday, June 17, 2010

“Twas a Judgment upon Him”

In Scrooge’s tour with the ghost of Christmas future, he heard those words uttered by his precocious housekeeper and felt the wound deeply. Being judged is often not fun, particularly if you have Scroogian proclivities. The next judgment, long before Christmas, is the judging for the New Mexico State Fair Wine competition, set for Saturday, June 19th at the Sandia Courtyard Conference Center in Albuquerque. It is the winemakers that will be on trial as their submitted wines, 195 at last count, will be judged along with other New Mexico winemakers.

I’ll be on hand along with many other volunteers from the New Mexico Vine & Wine Society to blind taste the various categories of wine. This year there are many new and evolving wineries represented, which may be the reason for so many entries. We judges will just have to suck it up.

Actually, that’s the wrong phrase, spit it out is what we need to do to keep our palates sharp and our butts firmly affixed to the chair. Who knew this was such hard work? Yeah, I didn’t think you’d buy that.

In the back room, flights of wine are prepared in glasses and brought out to the judges. Each flight represents a grape varietal except for blends and specialty wines. Only the type of grape is given to the judges, and each wine is rated against the others in a flight. The top wines are then judged for best of show and best of class if any meet the more stringent requirements of those awards.

The judging is done on several factors, the visual appeal, the aroma and bouquet, the palate elements, and how well the three acts of tasting; attack, mid-palate and finish are carried out. We judge if the grape type was varietally correct and how well it shows against other wines of that type.

If you are a winemaker or grape grower or just a wine enthusiast like me, consider joining us and become a wine judge. Members have to purchase their own gavel, of course. Given all the gold, silver and bronze medals awarded nationally and internationally to New Mexico wines, I’m looking forward to sampling the state’s best. Salud!

Anderson Valley Mendocino: Navarro Vineyards

The first wine I tasted when I drove through Anderson Valley was not at the tasting rooms that dotted Highway 128, but at the Hill House Inn in the coastal town of Mendocino at journey’s end. We arrived late in the day from Oakland airport and after fighting commute and wine country traffic, dinner and a soft bed made more sense.

The Hill House Inn perched on a hill overlooking the town and the ocean was loaded with memorabilia including pictures of the many movie stars that stayed here, many during the filming of Murder She Wrote, which used many Mendocino locales for exterior and interior shots. A Celtic band played as I ordered the lamb and a glass of Navarro Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir.

Since Navarro was already on my must see winery list, this Pinot just cemented it; a great effort for an under $20 Pinot. Nonetheless, that did not prepare me for the range and quality of wines at the tasting room at the mid-point of Anderson Valley. Bill Mitchell, who could have starred in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street, was informative and entertaining and gave me good insight into what Navarro is all about. Out of his goody bag came many unique and well-crafted wines.

Sustainable farming practices came to Navarro before it became an industry buzz word. True to the cooler climate requirements of Anderson Valley, many of the grapes from this area are Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir, although some other red varieties are used. Zinfandel and other late-ripening varieties are generally grown further inland between Cloverdale and Ukiah and further south.

The 2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir is an exceptional dry rosé, such as one would get in Anjou and other French wine regions. This rosé has bright red fruit of cherries and strawberries with an undercurrent of cream and peach, which gives this wine enough heft to stand up to lamb and wild game. The three months aging sur lie (aging on spent yeast cells and sediment from the fermentation) added complexity and richness. At $16.50, this wine will sell out fast.

If your recollection of Chenin Blanc was the jug wines of California, the Navarro Vineyards 2009 Chenin Blanc will surprise you. Sourced from 50 year old vines, this dry Chenin Blanc will remind you of French Vouvray rather than typical California varieties. The Navarro Vineyards 2008 Muscat Blanc comes from soil ideally suited to this ancient grape. Planted near the Gewürztraminer vines, this wine has many wine judges going gaga. Another great under $20 wine.

The Navarro Vineyards 2007 Pinot Noir (méthod à l’Ancienne) is also available unfiltered. I tried both and almost cried over both. Dark cherry, earthy with a long finish, this is one to buy by the case. Hovering around $30 a bottle this is one more great value from Navarro. The last 2007 Pinot Noir is the Deep End Blend, which would make anyone forget about Oregon versions.

Navarro Vineyards offers some great sampler packages of 6 to 12 bottles of many of their wines. I could talk about a number of their other wines, but shouldn’t you be checking out their website and ordering online? Salud!