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Matthew Stamp of The French Laundry Wins Top Sommelier Award

After grueling qualifying and regional competitions, the 2010 TOP|SOMM US Sommelier Championship finals were held today in San Francisco. Ten of this country's best sommeliers were put to the test by eight judges, each a Master Sommelier. The challenges included written exams in essay format; characterizing and identifying seven wines in a 25-minute blind tasting and three service challenges: food and wine pairing, champagne service, and decanting. Curveballs were thrown in each challenge — the decanting service involved 38-year old wines with disintegrating corks.

The competitors were all kept in suspense as to the results until tonight's celebratory dinner at the Hotel Monaco in San Francisco. Master Sommerlier Fred Dame of Foster's Wine Estates and president of the Guild of Sommeliers was one of the judges and also acted as emcee for the ceremony.

The first award presented was for Best New Sommelier. This honor goes to the sommelier under 32 years of age who had the best score in the final competition. The winner for 2010 was Jason Heller of REDD in Yountville, CA. Prior to working at REDD, Heller was responsible for the beverage program at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro, also in Yountville. In 2009, he was dubbed Best New Sommelier by Wine and Spirits Magazine. Jason Heller also turned out to have the second best score in the overall competition.

The next award went to the third place finisher in the overall competition, Michael Meagher. Presently working at Vineyard Road, an importer and distributor in Waltham, Massachusetts, Meagher is a Master Sommelier Candidate and won the 2010 Chaine des Rotisseurs Best Young Sommelier competition. In addition to his studies in wine, which include a master's thesis on wines under screwcap that has since been published by the Journal of Culinary Science and Technology, Meagher studied cooking at the Culinary institute of America and was in the Masters Degree program for Gastronomy at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

The final and top award was earned by Matthew Stamp, recently of The French Laundry in Yountville, California. Immediately prior to The French Laundry, Stamp was at the Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant in Forestville, CA. He preceded that with nine years at V. Mertz Restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska. He has a CWS certification from the Society of Wine Educators and received the Rudd Scholarship for best-in-class performance while earning his Advanced Certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

somm-winners-plus-mondavi
Richard Arnold (winemaker, Robert Mondavi Winery), Jason Heller, Matthew Stamp & Michael Meagher

The remaining finalists in the 2010 TOP|SOMM US Sommelier Championship were:
Yannick Benjamin, Le Duc, New York, NY
Ian Cauble, The Ritz Carlton, Half Moon Bay, CA
Chris Dillman, Sage American Bistro, Columbus, OH
Eric Hastings, Eddie V's Prime Seafood, Houston, TX
Brian McClintic, Montagna, Aspen, CO
Inez Ribustello, On the Square, Tarboro, NC
Dustin Wilson, The Little Nell, Aspen, CO

At a dinner for nearly 30 Master Sommeliers, the wine needs to be good. Event sponsors Iron Horse Vineyards and Robert Mondavi Winery did not disappoint. The pre-dinner reception featured passed hors d'oeuvres and two very fine sparkling wines from Iron Horse:
1996 Iron Horse Joy!, Very Highly Recommended, $160/1.5L (13% alc.)
1996 Iron Horse Joy! Rosé, Very Highly Recommended, $NA

As the award given to the US Sommelier Championship winner is called The Robert Mondavi Trophy, it was fitting that Robert Mondavi Winery provided the wines for dinner. The five wines served were:
2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Reserve - Highly Recommended, $40 (14.3% alc.)
2007 Robert Mondavi Winery Sauvignon Blanc I-Block, To Kalon Vineyard, Very Highly Recommended, $75 (14.7% alc.)
1990 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Very Highly Recommended, $NA (13.5% alc.)
2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Very Highly Recommended, $135 (15.5% alc.)
1999 Robert Mondavi Winery Botrytis Sauvignon Blanc, Highly Recommended, $40 (~11.5% alc., ~20% RS)

I recently reviewed the 2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Sauvignon Blanc I-Block, To Kalon Vineyard. While the 2006 has already picked up complexity and hints of nut, the 2007 is a focused study in deliciously fresh peaches, both white- and orange-fleshed. It will age well, but is nearly irresistable now.

The 1990 RMW Reserve Cabernet has held up extremely well. Still a very dark ruby in the glass with just a bit of garnet at the rim, it offers stewed black cherry and prune with accents of dried herb, earth, leather and pencil lead. The wine's texture is almost creamy and still shows plenty of sweet and softly powdery tannins.

The 2006 RMW Reserve Cabernet, which had been decanted, was opaquely ruby with pigmented legs and a bold nose of cherry, plum and cigar box. It's a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, yet not at all over the top. Oak and alcohol, fruit and powdery tannins are all in balance. Flavors include cocoa, black cherry, vanilla and sweet oak. This is a wine that will last for many years to come but can easily be enjoyed right now.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Dr Vino Delivers Keynote at Petite Sirah Symposium

Tyler Colman, better known as Dr. Vino, kicked off the 8th Annual Petite Sirah Symposium today, delivering the keynote address. While the title of the address was "Can Petite Sirah Become the Next Pinot Noir," he quickly dismissed that topic and launched into a discussion of new media marketing, analysis of today's wine consumers and the changing face of wine criticism. With most of the audience being winery management, the unspoken message was that those seeking to advance Petite Sirah should realize that the grape isn't Pinot and won't achieve sudden widespread demand due to some Hollywood movie either. Rather, success of the varietal and the wineries will be based on the ability to leverage new media, creative marketing, and the growing ranks of  wine bloggers to reach the most important demographic in the U.S. wine market: Millennials. 91% of wine in America is consumed by "core" wine drinkers, those who drink wine at least once per month. And the growth in wine consumption is coming almost entirely from the under 30 crowd. In short, if you want to sell wine today, any type of wine, you'd better be able to market successfully to the millennial generation.

When was the last time you tried Petite Sirah? Who are your favorite Petite Sirah producers? What would lead you to drink more of it?

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

It's Riesling Week!

Poor old Riesling. It's a noble grape and the genesis of some of the finest and most complex wines in the world. It is also incredibly versatile. Riesling is used to make everything from sparkling wine to searingly dry still wines to some of the most luscious dessert wines you can imagine — and it goes great with food too. But Riesling only gets a "week."

I think it deserves a month! July is National Baked Beans Month, National Pickle Month, National Tickling Month and National Hat Month, among others. October is National Toilet Tank Repair Month. Riesling gets just a week and even that has to be sponsored by out-of-towners. But, since that week is upon us, let us celebrate the grape that is Riesling!

The European Union and Wines of Germany have designated July 26 - August 1 as "Riesling Week" here in the United States. All week, restaurants, wine bars and bottle shops will be running special promotions for Rieslings from Germany, Austria and Alsace. Whether you're interested in a Riesling-themed dinner, a focused tasting with winemakers or just want to explore the variety though expanded "by the glass" menus at your favorite restaurants, now is your chance.

There is no denying that Germany and its neighbors Austria and Alsace (France) are the most famous and most successful regions for Riesling production. They've been at it for hundreds of years and, in some areas, have approached Riesling with single-minded devotion. If you want to understand the essence of Riesling, it's these European wines that you want to seek out.

However, the New World makes some pretty nice Riesling too. Even Northern California produces praise-worthy versions.
Scott Harvey
makes dry to off-dry Riesling ($22) from very old vines for his "Jana" label. Planted in a vineyard on Rutherford benchland in 1969, it's one of only three old-vine Riesling vineyards left in Napa Valley, according to Harvey. Jana also sells a Michigan Riesling ($28) and a Mendocino County Riesling ($22). Scott Harvey studied winemaking in Germany, so he knows a thing or two about Riesling too. If you want to learn more about the wine from him, check out this 3 minute video:

Another good choice is the White Riesling ($21) from Stony Hill Vineyard. This wine is made from 10 acres of vines, some as much as 60 years old, planted in the hills just west of St. Helena. The Stony Hill style also tends to be off-dry. The wine is very good when young but I've also tasted 20+ year old versions and found them to have aged well. The current (2008) vintage is sold out. The 2009 should be released around September.

There are other Napa Valley Rieslings you may enjoy:
Smith-Madrone Winery dry farms its Riesling vines on Spring Mountain. Their version of the wine is typically dry and the vines are nearly 40 years old. Their website features an interesting FAQ offering their thoughts on Riesling. [Their 2008 is also sold out, 2009 is available for pre-order, $27).

Trefethen Family Vineyards makes a Dry Riesling ($22) from their estate Main Ranch Vineyard in Napa Valley's Oak Knoll District. The 2008 vintage won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.

Hagafen Cellars makes three different Riesling varietal wines. Two are Napa Valley and one is from Lake County. Their Riesling ranges from lightly sweet (2.6% residual sugar for the Lake County wine) to sweet (9% residual sugar for the Prix Vineyards Late Harvest wine). Hagafen Cellars' wines are all kosher and the Rieslings can be a good accompaniment for some of the foods traditionally served during Passover.

In the southeast corner of the Oak Knoll District, Palmaz Vineyards grows Riesling too. As with most Riesling from the area, the sweetness of the Palmaz varies from year to year. The ones I've tasted in the past, and enjoyed, have been just off-dry. They were refreshing on a hot day and went well with the little hors d'oeuvres Palmaz served at the beginning of their winery tours. The current release is dry ($45). I look forward to trying it.

Napa Valley isn't the only place to find good Riesling in California.
Wente Vineyards makes two different versions. Their Wente Riverbank Riesling ($11.95) is a semi-sweet wine (2.45% RS) made from grapes grown in the Arroyo Seco AVA in southern Monterey County. Winemaker Karl Wente blends in some Gewurtztraminer (17% for the 2008 vintage) which adds more complexity to the nose and some weight to the body. That makes it even more different from conventional German Rieslings than most of the wines I've mentioned so far. However, it's very tasty and I've enjoyed it at their restaurant as an appertif, with very lightly fried starters and with a mild cheese course.

More traditional is the Wente Small Lot Late Harvest Riesling ($24.95). Also from Arroyo Seco, this wine is 100% Riesling. It's definitely sweet at 10% RS. It's a good choice for a liquid dessert or with moderately strong cheeses.the

Esterlina Vineyards makes three Rieslings: Dry, off-dry and Late Harvest ($19, $19, & $28). All come from the Cole Ranch AVA in Mendocino County. Cole Ranch is the smallest area with official AVA status in the United States. The AVA is really just a single 189-acre vineyard, Cole Ranch. It is high, cold and rainier than relatively nearby areas. As a result, the grapes take longer to ripening which allows complex flavors to build and acidity to be maintained.

Australian Rieslings are also well worth trying. They range from bone dry to slightly Botrytised and sweet. There are several, very different, growing areas for Riesling there and the flavor profiles vary accordingly. In the dryest versions from Margaret River in Western Australia and both Clare Valley and Eden Valley in South Australia,  lime, lemon and minerality are hallmarks. Many of the wines will age beautifully for more than a decade, taking on rounder more honeyed flavors. Producers of classic Australian Riesling include Leeuwin Estate, Peter Lehmann, Penfolds, Henschke, and Grosset.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. Scott Harvey video by BigJuJuProductions.

Solving a Food and Wine Pairing Puzzle at Tadich Grill

Finding a good wine pairing for cioppino is a challenge. Cioppino is essentially a stew made with tomatoes, wine and all kinds of seafood — but always a lot of shellfish. There’s usually some celery and onion in there and plenty of garlic. Some restaurants add hot red pepper, others avoid that to emphasize the sweetness of the seafood.

Normally when we think of pairing wine with seafood, our mind goes to white wines. But, cioppino is a perfect example of why one needs to focus not on the protein but on the sauce when selecting wine. Scallops, crab and white fish could go with any number of wines. But, when you start throwing in a lot of tomatoes, plus garlic and hot pepper, the list of options shortens substantially. You can forget about Chardonnay and most other medium to full-bodied whites. They won’t have the acidity to hold up to the cooked tomatoes and will have all the charm of a mouthful of mineral oil. There are white wines that do have a lot of acidity, but many of them have neutral flavor profiles. Those wines might work as palate cleansers with cioppino, but so does water. What should you choose?

cioppino-small

Though the dish sounds like it comes from Italy, cioppino was actually “invented” by hungry San Francisco Italian-immigrant fishermen in the late 19th century. Not long thereafter, the dish moved from the fishing boats, where it was a fresh and easy one-pot lunch that warmed body and soul, to The City’s restaurants, where on cold, foggy July days it is a fresh and easy one-pot lunch that warms body and soul. It is served throughout the Bay Area, but Tadich Grill considers it one of their specialities. They serve hundreds of bowls of the tangy fish stew daily. What better place to go for advice on cioppino pairings?

Tadich Grill, which started business in 1849 as wharf-side coffee kiosk, is a busy place. Having moved to its present location in the Financial District in 1969, it’s become a lunchtime hangout for San Francisco’s movers and shakers, a mecca for well-informed tourists and a destination for truckloads of fresh fish. Tadich Grill takes no reservations, but moves people through in a hurry. Hence, conversations with the waiters are brief. “Excuse me kind sir, what wine would you suggest for the cioppino? Perhaps a crisp Sauvignon Blanc?” “No,” says the waiter. “Pinot or Zinfandel. You want more bread?” And away he trots.

Pinot or Zinfandel — that was unexpected. California serves up some rich Pinot Noir that still retains good acidity, so I could see where the waiter was coming from. Somehow though, it didn’t sound quite right. Zinfandel on the other hand seemed a brilliant call. Zesty with bold flavors yet low enough in tannins to play nice with fish, Zinfandel blends are probably also the wines the Italian fishermen would have been drinking in the 1880’s. The key, I decided, would be finding one that isn’t too high in alcohol.

While Zinfandel used to be the daily drink of Italian farmers throughout the Sonoma and Napa regions, and that of their relatives in nearby cities, at some wineries it has become like sipping whiskey. With intense flavors, heavily influenced by oak, and full body from high-alcohol levels created with extra-ripe fruit and superhero yeasts, these Zins make an impact at tastings and can easily chase a cocktail. However, they also steamroll a plate of food. Plus, drinking high-alcohol wine with food that may have hot pepper in it is almost literally throwing fuel on a fire. Reviewing the Tadich wine list, I saw four good Zinfandels, but three of them struck me as better options for a grilled steak. I chose the fourth, the 2007 Storybook Mountain Zinfandel Mayacamas Range Napa Valley ($34 retail, $50 on the wine list).

07_Mayacamas_24

The wine turned out to be perfect for the cioppino. Fresh, dark berry flavors parried the bright tomato and soft oak-derived chocolate married with the red pepper spice. Elegant and supple for a contemporary Zinfandel, the wine did not overwhelm the white fish, scallops, crab or mussels. Smooth on the palate, the Storybook went down easy and was enjoyed by all.

This was my first time at Tadich Grill and I was pleased with the experience. The prices are fair, even low for downtown San Francisco, and the portions quite large. Plenty of good San Francisco sourdough bread is provided for each table automatically too, so take care not to over-order. Dungeness crab leg cocktail and prawn cocktail appetizers were fresh tasting and included six pieces of the named seafood for $15.75 and $11.25 respectively. The Pacific Oysters Rockefeller ($19.00) also came with six pieces, but overflowed with the tasty cheesy-spinach topping and also included a huge tomato stuffed with same. That dish could easily serve as a main course. The “cup” of Boston Clam Chowder ($6.25) is thick, hearty and comes in bowl the size of a large coconut shell. I didn’t see any “bowls” of the chowder ($7.25) but can only assume the portion is large enough to bathe in.

Speaking of main courses, at $26.25, the cioppino is one of the most expensive items on the menu. But it’s loaded with clams, prawns, scallops, bay shrimp, Dungeness crab meat and white fish and comes with two pieces of garlic bread. You don’t need an appetizer and I think it’s a good value. At $17.75, the meat ravioi with meat sauce is a full plate too. Porterhouse steak was a special that evening for $21.75. It was wide enough to cover the whole plate but very thin and somewhat overcooked — ask for it rare.

And then there were the desserts. The Cheesecake ($7.25) was large but didn’t strike us as a specialty or something made on site. However, the Mixed Berries ($7.00) was a heaping bowl of very fresh and flavorful fruit. It comes with a massive quantity of Zabaglione Sauce that was flavored with something that may have been Grand Marnier. It was very good and a single order could satisfy at least three people. The Chocolate Mousse ($8.25) was the prettiest dish I saw come out of the kitchen and, while big enough to share, can be tackled by one person. The rich, not quite fluffy chocolate, is served in a cylindrical mold made from artfully wrinkled leaves of frozen chocolate and topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

As mentioned above, Tadich Grill doesn’t take reservations and that’s a policy from which they don’t waiver. However, they have a lot of tables, especially two- and four-tops, a large bar to make the wait pleasant, and move people in pretty quickly. They were able to seat my party, a group of 11, by putting together three four-tops, within about fifteen minutes and that was at 7:30 on a Saturday night.

Tadich Grill doesn’t have a website to speak of, but they are located at 240 California Street in San Francisco. That’s between Front St. and Battery St. They are open from lunchtime through 9:30pm, six days a week. They are closed on Sundays.

Storybook Mountain Vineyards is a Napa Valley winery whose 100% organic vineyard lies on the eastern slope of the Mayacamas Range. Their vineyards get direct morning sun but the harsh afternoon sun hits the vines at an angle, sparing them from its searing heat. Cool breezes come up from the San Pablo Bay to the south and over the mountains from the Russian River to the west. This keeps the average temperate for the vineyard about 10 degrees lower than for those on the valley floor. Clay soils and relatively high rainfall (due to moist air from the ocean reaching the dew point as it rises over the Mayacamas Range) allows the vineyards to be “dry farmed” for the most part. The site and weather allow Storybook to create concentrated, yet balanced, wine. Their offerings include very well-regarded Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier varietals. NorCal Wine Highly Recommends the 2007 Storybook Mountain Zinfandel Mayacamas Range Napa Valley ($34, 14.6% alc.)

All of the food and wine mentioned in this article were purchased at full price by my friends and I.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. The Storybook Mountain Winery label art is property of that winery.

Deals of the Day Template: 50% Off $50 Wine and Merlot for a Penny

These are deals I’ve come across in the last day or so that I thought may be of interest to you. NorCal Wine isn’t compensated in any way by the vendors involved.CAV_logo

 

CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen will be running a 50/50 Sale from 2pm to 5pm this Saturday, July 24. All wines on their list at $50 or higher will be on sale for 50% off.

 

AET_logo_4cp

Astrale e Terra, a producer of wine from Napa Valley’s Atlas Peak AVA, is has a special promtion going on their Estate Merlot. The wine normally sells for $32 but, if you $150 or more of any Astrale e Terra wines, you can get a bottle of the Merlot for just one cent. To get the special deal, you must order from the Astrale e Terra online store and use the coupon code FOODFRENZY.

 

murphy-vineyards

Murphy Vineyards has a summer sale going on their entire range of wines from the Sierra Foothills. Everything, except their promotional packages, is 30% off. To take advantage of the sale, but from their online store and enter the promotional code: summer2010. (Note that club member pricing is 40% all year. So, if you want even bigger savings, you know what to do...)

 

grgich_logo

Grgich-Hills Estate of the Rutherford AVA says that their mini-bottle tasting kits are back in stock. For $29.99, plus tax and shipping, at their online store, you get one 50ml bottle each of the six varietal wines they make.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Winery logos are the property of their respective wineries. All rights reserved.