Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Day 3: The Winerati, and a Great Pinot Noir

By Jessica Yadegaran
Thursday, February 22nd, 2007 at 4:37 pm in Uncategorized.

Steven Spurrier
Steven Spurrier

When a post starts with, ‘so I was pruning with Steven Spurrier,’ you know it’s going to be a whopper. I’m finding anything less hard to avoid this week.

This is my third day at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, tucked into Meadowood Napa Vallley, the breath-taking St. Helena retreat where moss covers trees like Persian carpets. East Coast attendees have sworn to me that they believe these green rocks are fake and that they’ve got speakers behind them à la Disneyland. Really makes you appreciate your proximity to this pristine and idyllic valley.

The world’s top wine professionals — writers, editors, authors, bloggers and entrepreneurs — have descended on this resort for a week of growth and inspiration. And, of course, schmoozing. Here comes the name dropping.

Alder Yarrow
Alder Yarrow

I took a seminar from Alder Yarrow, perhaps the most established and widely read wine blogger. His San Francisco-based gets some 12,000 hits a day. Yowzers. Alder, meanwhile, is an unassuming, ethical and gentlemanly fellow who is willing to share any and every secret he has on wine and wine blogging. Cheers to him.

Anthony Blue and Steven Spurrier
Anthony Blue and Steven Spurrier

After that, and an exquisite 5-course lunch at the Culinary Institute of America, I participated in a blind tasting of four wines — two whites and two reds — with Anthony Blue, formerly of Bon Appetit and now host of CBS’ radio show “Mr. Blue’s Lifestyle Minute,” and Decanter’s” Steven Spurrier, a wine legend and the brains behind the Judgment of Paris.

The seminar was perhaps the best lesson in tasting notes. Namely, how to evaluate wine and more importantly how to express those evaluations without sounding like a flowery buffoon. It was a great marker for me, in terms of how accurate my impressions are, and, when two supertasters disagreed, how subjective this whole business of tasting can be. Ironic.

Naturally, they had very different views on judging and rating wines. Spurrier, like Hugh Johnson and the other European Five, grades on a 20-point scale and keeps his tasting notes simple, clear and to the point. You won’t find any cat piss in his notes. Blue, on the other hand, subscribes to the American academic system. So Spurrier’s 16 was Blue’s 88. Get it?

After tasting each wine and writing down our notes, we were encouraged to share our impressions with the group. I found some of my colleagues’ notes over the top, and was encouraged when Spurrier complimented the more simple and to-the-point offerings as “good notes.”

I was pretty much thrilled when my impressions, at least a few on the reds and almost dead on with the whites, matched some of Spurrier’s. Just an acknowledgment not that my palate is advancing, but that I’m looking for the right things.

You probably want to know what the best wine we had was, right? Highest rated for me, and several others in our group, including chef Tony Lawrence, was a 2005 Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier, which tasted more like an ’04 or ’03, with its dark, smoky cherries and Tahitian vanilla. I absolutely loved this wine and I’m dying to get my hands on it before I leave the Valley, especially at $35.

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