Putting the “fest” back in Wine Fest: a grand day out at Raleigh Studios

By Jesse on July 30, 2008

A skeptical young oenophobe might fairly ask why anyone would want to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon at a wine tasting. This year’s recent LA Wine Fest offered a most convincing answer.

The Young Winos have visited a number of excellent wine events over the past few months, but none of them have featured quite the “festival” environment that the three-year-old Wine Fest managed to achieve on a sunny weekend in mid-July. Along with a generous number of wine producers pouring their latest vintages, the Winos encountered craft beer, fine spirits, food vendors, and wine-related merchandise a-plenty. An eager Young Wino could spend hours visiting the various booths — and quite a few of us did, thanks in no small part to a ticket discount extended our way by the organizers.

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“I’ve always thought that LA needed to have a consumer-oriented tasting event,” explained Joel Fisher, the President of the LA Wine Fest. “And this year was the biggest turnout we ever had.” The weekend festival offered two days of tasting; Sunday’s event proved the quieter of the two, drawing what Joel called an “older, more laid back” crowd. Saturday, though, was a packed house, boasting more thirsty young people than the Winos have hitherto encountered at any wine event. The hum of the crowd, audible even as we walked up the street towards the gates, bore in its pulsing drone the promise of a memorable afternoon at the studio.

Upon entering, the Winos were overwhelmed by the scope of the smorgasbord before us — so overwhelmed, in fact, that we immediately sought the grounding influence of an old stalwart, and headed over to the Tablas Creek table. The 2006 Tablas Creek “Cotes de Tablas Blanc” (Paso Robles) provided just the jump start we needed. A blend of Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, and Roussanne, its nose prompted Jessica to cite “lemon and Pine Sol” notes, while Max observed some grassiness. The palate was cheesy and tart — “like biting into a slice of Jarlsberg,” mused Max. We moved on to the 2007 Tablas Creek Rosé (Paso Robles), a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Counoise. Jessica smelled some strawberry notes, which I thought erred on the strawberry jam side of things; the mouth was smooth, some red fruit painting a playful mosaic on our palates, and wrapped itself up in a tart, crisp finish.

We slid down a few tables to the Ventana array, where we took a pull of the 2007 Ventana Dry Rosado (Monterey/Arroyo Seco), a pink blend of 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah. The nose was cheesier than we might have expected, and this note replicated itself grandly on the tongue, where it was complimented with a strong acidic component leading to a tight, refreshing finish. We followed this one up with the 2005 Ventana Chardonnay (Monterey/Arroyo Seco), a big marmalade monster with a creamy nose. The palate prompted a cheese argument, with Jessica lamenting its pronounced cheesiness, and Max complaining that it wasn’t cheesy enough. Either way, it was a formidable Chard boasting a solid trifecta of butter, acidity, and some welcome minerality. The third wine in what proved to be a rather unique tasting order was the 2007 Ventana Riesling (Monterey/Arroyo Seco). Max got Jasmine tea, while Jessica felt like she was in the florist section at Ralph’s. The palate offered bright minerality and citrus fruit; for her part, Jessica swore she must’ve been drinking orange juice.

Overzealous guest Shawn Gabbai, 39, slunk his way up to the table and helped himself to a full pour of the Rosado when the barista was otherwise engaged. “That’s good, actually. I’d have that with dinner,” he offered. Max asked him what he’d cook to pair with it. Shawn thought for a second, the squeaky gears in his mind chugging away amidst the permeating boozy haze, and then posited, “I would have chicken.” Spoken like a true inebriated wino… but unfortunately not the young kind. We declined to offer him a business card.

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Saturday’s crowd was a dedicated one; finally making our way inside; this is what we call a fest’s fest

The sun persisted in shining onto us despite our wishes to the contrary, and we found it helpful to take refuge underneath the myriad umbrellas dominating the studio-scape. Beneath one such umbrella, we encountered the 2005 Stafford Chardonnay (Arroyo Seco/Monterey County). I picked up some ash on the nose, and even a hint of Camembert; Jessica lauded the generous oak. Palate-side, however, that same note overwhelmed her (although I thought there was a healthy dose of acid serving as a nice counterweight). We moved on to the 2005 Stafford Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County), a dark-skewing Pinot offering a nose of berries and forest fire. I appreciated the full mouthfeel and the huge cran-and-strawberry action on the palate. We wrapped things up with the 2005 Stafford “Ourone Blend” (Lodi, Santa Barbara County), a mash-up of Syrah, Grenache, and Petite Sirah. The nose offered up a roundhouse punch of smoke, tar, and blackberry, while the palate followed suit with raisins, dried plums, dark chocolate, and chalky tannins.

The LA Wine Fest of ’08 offered many unexpected obscurities, but this reporter found himself thoroughly surprised to encounter a table serving up the latest wines from Xinjiang, China. The affable Steve Clarke, looking a bit like Raoul Duke in his Hawaiian shirt and tinted glasses, poured me a few wines from his China Silk label. (All of the wines, at present, are non-vintage.) The China Silk “Dragon’s Kiss” Riesling (Xinjiang) had a grassy, herbaceous nose and an expressive palate; I picked up some pleasant notes of honeysuckle and lime. The China Silk “Emperor’s Delight” Rosé (Xinjiang) fell a bit short on nuance, but its red-berry nose and soft, sweet mouthfeel was appropriate for the summer setting. Rounding out the tasting, the China Silk “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon (Xinjiang) provided a unique and surprising expression of the grape; a rich, spicy, mahogany nose beckoned me into a smoky and surprisingly light-bodied palate, with red currants and nutmeg vying for top billing. These wines all retail in the reasonable $10 to $14 range, serving as perhaps just one more reminder that China’s increased vitality as an economic power may soon extend into all facets of life — even those, such as wine, where we least expect it.

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Fastidious notes will be taken; Andrew and Jessica mug; that Stafford bottle demands to be taken seriously in its little outfit; a “China Wine Tours” booth had placed itself advantageously near the Chinese wines

We found Max escaping the heat with the help of a pair of French wines at the Beverly Hills Vendome booth. The non-vintage Alliment-Laugner Rosé (Crement d’Alsace) offered up a remarkably light, dainty nose that smelled like sugar cookies (or, according to Jessica, the interior of the kitchen “ten hours after you bake sugar cookies”). The palate dressed itself similarly, crisp and slightly sweet. Max had also discovered the 2006 Domaine de Beauséjour Rosé (Chinon), a Cab Franc pinkie with cranberry and — surprise, surprise — green pepper on the nose. The palate was round, bone dry, and very refreshing.

As the sun sank lower in the sky, however, the Winos found themselves craving some spicy reds. Our friends at Michael David poured us a few slugs of the 2005 Michael David “Lust” Zinfandel (Lodi), which rewarded us with a peppery, jammy nose; Dylan picked up some blackberry and nutmeg. The palate was light to medium-bodied, with some cheeky baking spices dancing the Foxtrot all the way back to the tangy finish. Next up was the 2005 Kaimie Kuvée (Paso Robles), a daring little conglomeration of Cab, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, and Zin. A smoky, uber-floral nose beckoned us into a slightly spicy, fruit-forward palate, replete with powdery tannins. Finally, we returned to Ventana for a taste of the 2005 Ventana Syrah (Monterey/Arroyo Seco), which offered a nose of delightful white pepper, brambles, and raspberry. The pal was a winner — smooth and chocolaty, with brown sugar and cloves sprinkled all over the raspberry notes.

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Jordan and Dylan proudly display their press passes; Max loves a full glass; I thought I had crazy hair, but apparently I’m jealous of Dylan’s spikes; oh Andrew, must you?

As the day wore on, we found ourselves making new friends at every table. Young people explore wine with an insatiable enthusiasm that we haven’t observed as consistently among older drinkers, and we encountered plenty of festival-goers receptive to our message of youth-focused edutoxication. Joel Fisher, for one, was pleased — if not surprised — by the formidable twenty-something turnout on Saturday. “We aim for that demographic,” he told me. “We aim for it, and we get it. We push it at the studios, we push it downtown. People see a wine event for a low price, and we know we’re going to get this crowd.” The challenge, he explained, is to provide plenty of unique tasting opportunities to stimulate the open minds that so often reside in young drinkers. “The whole point is to present diverse options to people, and to build up the educational aspect. Like having the Chinese wine, for example; I thought that was a great coup on our part. And all the spirits, the tequilas, the beers.” In fact, he seemed to have only one regret regarding the festival’s selection: “not enough Port this year. Next year we’ll have more Port.”

The Winos wrapped up their day with a few memorable reds. First up, the 2005 Twisted Oak “*%#&@!” (Calaveras County), a blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, and Grenache, featured a proprietary name that the barista told us “rhymes with truck.” The nose was brightly floral, with none of the spice we’d expected; this was followed by a round, soft palate buoyed by a ribbon of acid. Jammy and refreshing, this little expletive proved one of our favorites. The 2005 Twisted Oak Petite Sirah (Calaveras County) offered up the afternoon’s most distinctive nose, with descriptors ranging from “licorice and coffee” to “big french soft-rind cheese” to “bins of grain in a health food store.” The palate was a bit more grounded: dark and inky, with black cherry flavors and powdery tannins. Finally, the 2005 Cass Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles) provided us a fitting grand finale. The nose exploded with blueberry, cola, and smoke, and the palate was pillowy and soft, supple in its fruit-forwardness, balancing a heavy load on some gentle tannins and acids. A tough act to follow, for sure — unfortunately, no wine would get the chance, as all good fests must come to an end.

The Winos eagerly await next year’s incarnation. It’s heartening to know that there exists an annual wine event that so enthusiastically embraces a belief central to our ideals: that everyone should be enabled to learn about wine at his or her own pace, and that he or she should be encouraged to have fun doing it. Our time at the LA Wine Fest reminded us how strongly we Young Winos love passing away a beautiful Saturday afternoon at a wine tasting, drinking with our old friends, and making new ones.

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Wondering where to begin; taking refuge in the shade; Jesse quizzes the beer drinkers

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Getting in a festive mood; Max is enjoying himself; look at the camera, Jordan!

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Go ahead, describe that wine; some Winos like to pose; dinnertime!

The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005

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