The annual LA Wine Fest is basically the “summer blockbuster” of beverage events. It always arrives on a warm weekend in June or July; it knocks your socks off with its massive selection of wines, spirits, beers, and even cigars; and it leaves you feeling thoroughly satisfied and eager to experience next year’s sequel. Will it win the coveted Oscar for Best Wine Selection? No, probably not… that award typically goes to one of the smaller “art-house” festivals, the kind where the attendees cast mean-spirited glances your way if you get a little too vocal in your enjoyment of the grape juice. But the Wine Fest paces the field with regard to the overall festival experience — and, consequently, has become a perennial Winos favorite.
Brought to you by the same team that’s behind the upcoming LA Oktoberfest, the 2009 LA Wine Fest once again offered a dynamic and varied beverage experience to its emphatic attendees. The Winos took advantage of a generous ticket discount extended our way by the organizers (they always come through where it counts) and made their presence felt at the dozens of booths the wrapped around the labyrinthine interior of Hollywood’s Raleigh Studios. It’s hard to take judicious notes when you’re having so much fun, but what follows is my earnest effort to document the day’s drinking.
We started things off with the 2007 Summerland Sauvignon Blanc (Santa Barbara County), which complimented the familiar Sauv-Blanc nose of herbs and grass with a smattering of citrus. Max picked up some grapefruit character on the palate, and I jotted down that it was “acidic, but not too acidic,” with nice grassiness on the finish. Next, we tried the 2007 Summerland “Paradise Road Vineyard” Viognier (Santa Ynez Valley). The nose featured notes of ripe stone fruit, along with some mineral character; Max likened it to “peaches in a stainless-steel can.” The palate proved supple and delicate, and hinted at sweetness, despite the lack of residual sugar. Finally, we dove into the 2007 Summerland “Rancho Santa Rosa” Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands), which Max thought smelled like butter, brown sugar, and toasted sourdough. Andrew weighed in on the palate as follows: “it’s pretty complex for being an oaky, buttery Chard.” He complemented the firm acid backbone and thought the wine was well-integrated.
The good folks from San Antonio Winery were pouring a couple of bottles that can be found in their LA tasting room. The 2007 Maddalena Sauvignon Blanc (Paso Robles) teased us on the nose with soft notes of citrus pith; Noah also pointed out some fresh-cut hay (the country boy always reveals himself after a glass or two). The palate was fresh and bright, with acidic green apple notes, and the slightly bitter finish was just begging for food. The 2007 Maddalena Pinot Grigio (Monterey) inspired a vehement bouquet-brawl: Max insisted that he got apricot, and that my observation of “lemon tart” was all wrong. We reconciled on the palate, however, which boasted big notes of melon, lychee, and even kumquat. Très ripe, très Californian.
A few other whites that caught our attention: the 2008 Jada “XCV” (Paso Robles) — a blend of Viognier, Rousanne, and Grenache — kicked up a nose that was floral and orangey at the same time. The pal was dry and a little spicy, with great nectarine notes leading into a white pepper finish. Representing the local scene, the 2008 Rosenthal Chardonnay (Malibu Newton Canyon) offered a big Chard nose of oak and brown sugar. The palate served up a very rich, dressed-up version of the grape, featuring brown sugar a-plenty; I got some nice baked apple, while Noah got cinnamon and cloves. Finally, the 2006 Gutzler Riesling Auslese (Mosel) displayed an apricot nose with some of those tasty gasoline notes, followed by a rich, deep palate. Sweet without being syruppy, it boasted an abundance of intense peach flavors. There’s something truly gratifying about drinking a big glass of Riesling on a hot summer’s day.
Sasha and Noah gear up for the big event; Max and Allison, all ready to drink; Andrea and Andrew are two of my top three favorite people whose names start with A-N-D-R-E (the third being former Cubs outfielder Dawson, of course)
The idea of drinking tequila after all that wine seemed at the time to be particularly ill-advised, but we reminded ourselves that tequila would spell trouble no matter when we tasted it, so we boldly downed a few samples of the Herencia Mexicana Reposado. Tara picked up some vanilla and crème brûlée on the nose, along with a beguiling note of “raw parsnip.” The palate was soft and smooth, with none of the astringency that causes so many Cinco de Mayo revelers to reach for limes. Max observed a savory “green pepper” character, and he praised the toasty sage-and-clove finish.
Two bottles of saké beckoned to our tasters and seemed a sensible pit stop before the next wine dispensary. The Honda Shouten “Shinriki” Junmai Daiginjo (Hyogo Prefecture) was Max’s favorite; he observed milky, nutty notes, which he reconciled in his head into an overall note of “coconut.” Andrea preferred the Fujii Shuzou “Kumo Sakura” Junmai Daiginjo (Hiroshima), the palate of which made her think green apple. Max observed a Sherry character, along with a little vanilla. (The Young Winos really need to do a saké tasting in the near future, as almost all of us feel ill-equipped to describe it very effectively.)
The Anglim Winery table would usher us from the relatively benign world of whites into the roaring torrent of Bacchanal depravity that is the domain of the reds. We kicked things off with the 2006 Anglim Roussanne (Paso Robles), which featured one of the cheesiest bouquets I’ve ever encountered on a non-European bottle. “I could make a sandwich out of this nose,” I noted, and Max called it “straight lactose.” Sasha picked up some sun-dried tomato notes, an observation that Max celebrated on the palate. “It tastes like sun-dried tomato,” he gushed. “And cheese! I love this.” We also observed some distinctive unripe orange character, which further contributed to the uniqueness of this delicious bottle. Following a tough act, the 2008 Anglim Rosé (Paso Robles) served up a plush nose of rose petals and raspberries. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Viognier, its palate balanced a distinct strawberry jam character with some nice acidity. Finally, we sampled the 2006 Anglim Grenache (Paso Robles), which I noted smelled like “red berries and lamb kebabs!” Noah agreed with my peculiar evaluation — he picked up a definite charcoal smokiness. The palate followed suit, featuring a lot of the same strawberry jam notes that the rosé had, but fuller and more present, and with a distinct gaminess on the finish. A really interesting lineup, and quite tasty across the board.
Speaking of interesting: it’s not every day that you encounter a beverage that’s completely inspired by another class of beverage. Sure, there’s coffee-flavored liqueur, and malt beverages that allegedly taste like lemonade, but how about soda that tastes like wine? Vignette is a new lineup of sodas that are sweetened entirely with varietal wine grapes from California vineyards. We tried all three flavors in the entirely caffeine-free lineup: the Chardonnay was light and crisp, slightly sweet without being overbearing. The Rosé had a interesting floral characteristic, and proved my personal favorite. Finally, the Pinot Noir weighed in with a rich raspberry flavor, and was also distinctively grapey, but refreshingly un-artificial. I find most soda way too sweet (even the small-production, all-natural kind), but Vignette proved that even a soda skeptic like myself can be seriously refreshed when the ingredients are right.
One of our favorite watering holes at the Wine Fest was the Vina Robles table. Things started on a high note with the 2007 Vina Robles “Red4” (Paso Robles), a blend of Petite Sirah, Syrah, Tannat, and Touriga Nacional. A bouquet oozing raspberry brownie goodness ushered us into a badass palate that would prove lighter-bodied than we’d expected. Medium tannins, blackberry notes, and a charcoal finish played well together. The 2006 Vina Robles Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles) featured a dollop of Petit Verdot for good luck, and it paid off on the woodsy nose, upon which Noah observed some “smoky-grilled green pepper action.” The palate offered rich earthiness and well-integrated tannins. Noah called it a classic Paso Cab: fairly light, fairly fruity, and a little more spicy than expected. We wrapped things up with the 2005 Vina Robles “Signature” (Paso Robles), a blend of Petit Verdot, Cabernet, and Syrah. Noah pointed out the True Blood pigmentation in the glass, then he picked up some cedar on the nose; I got some eucalyptus and tree bark. On the palate, the blend proved woodsy and plummy, with a whole lot of dried dark berries, and a refreshing dose of acid.
It was getting late, and the booths were closing up left and right, but we wouldn’t have done the Wino brand justice if we hadn’t made a beeline for the closest available table that was still pouring. This proved to be the Karl Strauss tent, and I gratefully accepted a pour of the Karl Strauss Amber Lager. The nose featured what smelled to me like some brussels sprouts action (that’s a good thing, mind you… brussels sprouts are awesome), and the palate offered up some serious toasty character with a touch of orange peel on the finish. Next I took a sample of the Karl Strauss Red Trolley, which was really unique: the nose was completely doughy, like the smell of raw, fresh pasta. The palate was soft and creamy, and maybe even a little sweet, with a nice round pumpkin kind of fullness. Extremely tasty.
As I noted in my write-up of last year’s incarnation, the LA Wine Fest succeeds in engendering the strongest sense of festival-ness of any of the major beverage events on the annual LA circuit. The outdoor setting, the young clientele, and the diverse and unpredictable offering of beverages all contribute to a sort of “county fair” environment that’s difficult to replicate in the stuffy confines of a steakhouse or a convention center. There are plenty of events on the year-long calendar for the drinker who wants to go and pay a big, expensive fee to taste the big, expensive names. For those of us who are out to enjoy our day of drinking, however, there’s the LA Wine Fest.
The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005.