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Tag Archives: Wente

Kent & Robyn’s First (but not last) Wine Tasting Party

It was the hot ticket in town! Well, at least in our part of town. OK, maybe just on our block. Regardless, it was a hot ticket! We’ve been wanting to host a wine tasting party for several months now, and at long last we were able to put it on the calendar.

Once the event was scheduled, the preparations began. First of all, what was the format? Simple get together over some wine? Educational experience featuring a particular varietal or region? A taste of the obscure and exotic? We decided that for our first tasting party, we’d keep it basic: a blind tasting of common varietals.

To spice it up and add some fun, we would also have a “Guess the Grape” competition after each wine. Anyone who could guess the varietal got a cork. A bonus cork was awarded if anyone could guess the region. At the end of the tasting, the guest with the most corks was deemed the winner, and got to go home with a bottle of Champagne!

Planning was underway, and as the date approached, the intensity increased. Our format would require five glasses per guest. We had nine guests coming. We don’t have 55 wine glasses! Party store to the rescue with the glass rentals. Placemats? We found these fun, customized placemats on Etsy and ordered them forthwith. Then, the best part…picking out the wine!

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We decided to showcase Northern California, single varietal wines, all well known grapes (well, maybe one outlier), and all in the sub-$20 range. We wanted to challenge our guests, some of whom are “red wine only”, or “Chardonnay only” wine drinkers. While we totally respect that, we also feel it is important to step outside the comfort zone once in a while, because, who knows, maybe you’re missing something you really love and don’t know it!

Within the parameters or Northern California, we made the conscious decision to exclude Napa Valley. Aside from the fact that it is hard to find quality Napa wines under $20, we also wanted to highlight the fact that there are spectacular wines from surrounding regions, at a fraction of the prices of the big Napa producers. So it was off to our local Total Wine & More store to stock up. We figured on one bottle for the tasting (11 two-ounce pours is just shy of one bottle) and then two more bottles to enjoy during the after-party. 11 pours? Yes…nine guests plus us. You didn’t think we wouldn’t be enjoying the wines, too, did you?

We went with two whites and three reds. In keeping with tradition, we went lighter to heavier. Here are the wines we selected:

Wine No. 1 – The Outlier:

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Husch Vineyards Chenin Blanc La Ribera Mendocino County 2017. Total Wine & More (TWM) Retail: $10.99.

Only one guest was able to identify this varietal…and that was on his third guess!

Wine No. 2 – The Surprise White:

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River Road Chardonnay Russian River Valley Reserve 2016. TWM Retail: $17.99.

Not the butter bomb many of our guests have come to expect from a California Chardonnay.

Wine No. 3 – The Value Pinot:

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Angeline Pinot Noir Reserve 2017, Mendocino County. TMW Retail: $17.49.

Though some called out how young it is, everyone enjoyed it.

Wine No. 4 – The Controversial One:

Inconspicuous (by Truett-Hurst) Zinfandel, Lodi, 2016. TWM Retail: $19.99.

One guest called out Russian River Valley for the region. While Truett-Hurst is a Sonoma County producer, this wine is made with Lodi fruit. Would you have awarded a cork?

Wine No. 5 – The Bargain Cabernet:

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Wente Cabernet Sauvignon Southern Hills, Livermore Valley, 2016. TWM Retail: $13.29.

Did you know that Livermore Valley was instrumental in keeping California winemaking alive during prohibition? What’s more, many of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines found in Napa Valley came from Livermore Valley rootstock. Our guest know these things, now!

The Major Award:

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Montaudon Brut, NV, Champagne, France.

This is one delicious Champagne! Available from Total Wine & More.

The Lovely Parting Gifts:

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MauiWine Mele Red Blend, NV. Available only from MauiWine.

There are wineries in all 50 states. After our amazing trip to MauiWine, how could we not share the Aloha with our friends?

The tables were set. The glasses were poured. The bottles concealed in paper sleeves (thanks to Total Wine & More for rescuing us from out faux pas of not remembering to buy proper blind-tasting bags.) The guests arrived, and after a few minutes of mingling over appetizers, the festivities were underway!  

The Christmas Jazz in the background lent a holiday feel to the party. Everybody enjoyed themselves. All our guests expressed surprise at how difficult is was to identify what were some of their favorite varietals. The evening’s big winner was Glen, who went home with the Champagne.

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Hey, wine tasting is serious business! 

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Remember, there’s a bottle of Champagne on the line!

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But who are we kidding? Everyone was a big winner that evening. We had a lot of fun. We got to taste some great wine. We learned a thing or two. Here are a few of the major take-aways from the evening:

  1. It’s really, really hard to identify a grape variety when tasting blind. We didn’t even use the black-out glasses, so we at least knew whether we were evaluating a white or a red!
  2. There are some very good wines out there from lesser known regions, at amazing values!
  3. Sometimes to top scoring wine at an event turns out not to be the most popular.

Allow us to elaborate on #3. The evening’s overall winner, in terms of rating points, was the Angeline Pinot Noir. Despite its youth, it is fresh, juicy, and delicious. Nevertheless, during the after party, when the extra bottles were opened, it was the two bottles of Inconspicuous Zinfandel that were drained first. Inconspicuous, indeed.

We had a blast hosting our First (but not last) Wine Tasting Party. We’ll definitely do it again. In fact, we’ve already had an offer from one of our guests to take our party on the road! The next Kent & Robyn’s Wine Tasting Party will be at a guest venue! We’ll also experiment with different formats, like a BYOW, or a food pairing party. The sky’s the limit!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credits: Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael
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Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting Weekend, Day 2 – Sunday

Though Saturday was overcast, cool, and even a little drizzly, Sunday was a new day. We awoke to glorious sunshine, crystal clear skies, and warmer temperatures. This was going to be a great day for some Livermore Valley Barrel Tasting!

In case you missed it, this is the second of two installments on our first-ever visit to Livermore Valley wine country, to attend the annual Barrel Tasting weekend. We were guests of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association. You can read about our Saturday experience here. Suffice it to say, we were very impressed with the Valley, the wines, and the people.

The question of the morning on Sunday was, would it continue? Would the people on Day 2 be as hospitable? Would we spend hours on end at each winery? Would we get to visit more than three? Read on, to find out.

On Sunday, we were on a mission. We were determined to visit as many wineries as possible. With 35 of them participating, we had to be selective, and took some recommendations from the ever hospitable hotel clerk. We plotted our route on the map, and started the car. But wait. The Barrel Tasting event opened up each day at noon. Our first destination was a mere 10-15 minute drive away. We checked out of our hotel at around 10 a.m. What to do? BRUNCH!

We headed down to central Livermore to check it out in the daylight. Wandering around, we spotted some people on what appeared to be a rooftop bar or restaurant. Now on a quest, we entered what turned out to be an office building. Discouraged, we spotted a sandwich-board sign outside the elevator that confirmed we were on the right track, the Aviation Rooftop Bar & Kitchen was just upstairs. The elevator opened into the bar and small dining room, and just beyond was the spectacular rooftop. Brunch was delicious, the server…well, amazingly friendly and hospitable…and just check out this view!

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Sufficiently nourished, we got back in the car and drove to our first stop, the renowned estate, Concannon Vineyards. This was one of what would be eight wineries we visited that day! Like I said, we were on a mission!

I’d like to pause here to assure you that there was much swishing, spitting, and dumping this weekend. Please drink responsibly, and do not drive while impaired!

We were some of the first guests at Concannon on Sunday, so it was not as crowded as we had feared it might. Here, the friendly hosts poured us several tastes of Concannon’s signature wine, Petite Sirah. From the barrel, and from finished and aged bottles, the wines were delicious. Show of hands here: How many of you had your first taste of Petite Sirah from a Concannon bottle? Concannon has a long history of winemaking in California, and even continued during Prohibition by making Sacramental wine for the church.

Our next stop was Murietta’s Well. I’ve read a lot about Murietta’s Well from many of my fellow bloggers, so I wanted to be sure an stop in. Here we enjoyed samples of several wines, including barrel samples of their 2016 Spur; a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. As good as this was out of the barrel, it will be spectacular in a few years when it is released!

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Next up was Steven Kent Winery. Here we tasted some spectacular Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and met winemaker Craig Ploof. Though the tasting room was busy, Craig took the time to talk with us one-on-one, and share a bit of his story and passion. Craig told us how the unique east-west alignment of the Livermore Valley and the varied micro-climates help create wines of character and distinction. He isn’t wrong.

Next, we went to Wente. (See what I did there?) Wente Vineyards is perhaps more well-known than Concannon; their claim to fame being the development of many Chardonnay clones that are now planted around the world. In their barrel room, we sampled Graciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, and their red blend, Artisan Red. Once again, the hosts amazed us with their easy-going, friendly demeanor, and genuine hospitality.

Moving on, we ended up at something of a strip mall for wine. A beautiful stucco building housing at least five winery tasting rooms! First we stopped in at Nottingham Cellars. I’d had a glass of their Cabernet Sauvignon with dinner the night before, and wanted to sample their other wines. Their simplistic but artistic tasting room is charming, and their wines are just as impressive. (By this point , several hours into the day, my note-taking was becoming, well, sketchy, so I don’t recall the barrel samples we had.)

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Walking next door, we entered Longevity Wines. We were immediately taken with the gitchy, eclectic décor; there’s a barn façade inside the tasting room! As we started our barrel tasting; Grenache and a Rhone-style blend called “Deb-Ru-Vee”, the live musical duet was setting up nearby. In addition, winemaker and founder Phil Long was there, and engaged with us and other attendees. Phil is a big guy, but he’s just as friendly, warm, and hospitable as anybody we met that weekend. Upon hearing we were bloggers, he told his staff to treat us well, and he set us up with a full library tasting. (If you read about Saturday’s adventures, you may be noticing a pattern.) The name of the wine, Deb-Ru-Vee, is homage to Phil’s wife, Debra. The quality of the wine is a reflection of Phil’s love and commitment. It’s truly spectacular! As you can imagine, we spent quite a lot of time here. It’s hard to walk away from that welcoming feeling of family and new friends. Yet, eventually, we had to move on. If for nothing else, to make room for other guests!

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Around the corner in an unassuming warehouse building…it looked like an auto body shop…was Wood Family Wines. Winemaker Rhonda Wood was on hand to host the tasting, which included pairing with locally handmade English Toffee. Oh, yum! Once again, we connected with Rhonda and were treated to a complimentary flight in the tasting room, after finishing the barrel tasting. A friendly and engaging staff made us feel welcome, and made sure we were well cared for.

With palate fatigue setting in, we made our way to our final stop: McGrail Vineyards and Winery. The good folks at McGrail had started following me on Instagram just that morning, so it only seemed right to pay them a visit in person to say thank you. In addition, on their Instagram post, they touted an Aroma Bar.

They doctored eight glasses of wine with aromas common in red wine. The challenge was to identify each of the elements in each glass. While I only got six right, it was enough to win a complementary tasting next time we’re in town!

And so it was time to go. We’d had an amazing weekend, meeting fantastic people, making new friends, and finding new favorite wines. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Livermore Valley, thank you. We’ll definitely be back!

  • By Kent Reynolds,
  • With creative content and inspiration by Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael