Saturnalia in the Hills and Valleys

Taos Winter Wine Festival’s 28th Incarnation is of Epic Proportions

pour wine fest

Living in Taos can be challenging for the oenophile.  Sure, there are plenty of options for procuring quality wine in restaurants and the few shops around town, and evermore local production provides Taoseños with a wine they can be proud of and drink with confidence — however, still glaringly absent is the culture of wine.

A major part of enjoying wine is sharing it with other like-minded individuals, comparing notes, and invariably waxing philosophic about the virtues of the wines tasted.

Seasoned wine travelers will tell you nothing compares to meeting the people that grow and produce the wine you’re enjoying.  Learning the challenges and intricacies of Wine production first-hand is an invaluable experience that provides one with information not attainable from solely reading about the subject.

But first and foremost, there is the ritual of tasting wine with true professionals that makes for an incomparable and unrivaled experience.  When the tools of the trade are present, the Wine is allowed to truly shine.  From the proper stemware, to the correct temperature, the right amount of decanting, to the way you hold the glass, nothing rivals a first-hand, professional tasting experience.

This January 29th through February 2nd, discriminating local oenophiles can rejoice that the world of wine will be coming to them, in the form of the 28th Annual Taos Winter Wine Festival.

Festival organizers have managed to outdo themselves with this year’s line-up, which is sure to pique the interest of even the most discerning of tasters.

Things heat up quickly on January 30th, with two informative and conveniently-located seminars at El Monte Sagrado Resort: first, an Old World vs. New World Blind Tasting that could provide one with valuable insight into what’s traditionally been believed to be a dividing line for quality. tasting

Of course, most of us know how that paradigm was turned upside-down with the infamous 1976 Paris Tasting, where Napa Valley topped some of the best of France, etching American wine, and more specifically, the Napa Valley, into the map of the world’s greatest growing regions.

Nowadays, the “new” world can mean California, Oregon, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina . . . Washington . . . . The possibilities are mind-boggling.  The Seminar will help clarify what it is one looks for when determining any potential differences, and explain why those are.

That’s followed by a blending seminar with some of the best of what the “new” world’s got to offer in the form of Justin Vineyards in Paso Robles, who produce one of the top Bordeaux varietal wines in California.

Justin_Isosceles_Red_Blend_Paso_Robles_2010_Bottle-900x900The Seminar will be led by Master Sommelier Joe Spellman, who happens to be house Sommelier at Justin, and is uniquely primed to de-mystify their process through a blending seminar of their award-winning “Isosceles” Bordeaux blend.

The following day’s agenda is equally enticing, offering programming that serves as the building blocks of any oenophile’s education, beginning with a Riedel Vinum XL tasting at El Monte Sagrado that breaks down the relationship between the shape of the glass and our enjoyment of wine.

Close to a decade ago I was fortunate enough to sit through a similar seminar given by Maximilian Riedel, the heir to the glass magnate, and grandson of the Riedel clan at the ultra-exclusive Napa Valley Reserve. I can confidently tell anyone who thinks the shape of the glass has no correlation to the taste of a wine is just dead wrong.  If you’re on the fence about the subject, come get you some religion.

The homage to Napa and its wonders continues with the ultimate insider’s look at the Valley through the lens of its different terroirs.  A little over a decade ago as a fledgling wine lackey under the tutelage of a Master Sommelier at the wine Mecca known as Meadowood Resort in St. Helena, I led guests through a similar program, detailing the differences between valley floor and mountain fruit, north valley and south valley . . . well, we won’t divulge too much. Trust that if you love Napa, this is the seminar to attend.  Four of Napa’s premier producers will be present to pour and answer questions, including Dyer Vineyards on Diamond Mountain, Merryvale in St. Helena, Clos du Val in Stag’s Leap, and Flora Springs in Rutherford.

Saturday, February 1st, things shift back up to the mountain and Winter Wine Fest flexes its sustainable muscle with a vertical tasting of the Rhône’s Biodynamic powerhouse Château Beaucastel and their renowned Châteauneuf-du-Pape. image_resize.php

If you have any doubts about the effects of Biodynamic farming, this seminar will undoubtedly assuage any skepticism.  Led by MS Joe Spellman, this seminar is basically a master class on Châteauneuf, and I would imagine attendees will walk away with all they need to know about one of the world’s greatest grape-growing regions.

The Châteuneuf (new house of the Pope) blend can be composed of a mind-blowing thirteen different grapes, all unique to this storied region, yet it’s mostly composed of the big three of Grenache, Syrah, & Mourvèdre.

This tasting might border on the mystical.

Yes, it’s tough to follow up Beaucastel’s act, but the Rhône Rangers of Cali are up to the task.  Santa Barbara’s Jaffurs sources form the legendary vineyards of the area, including Stolpman and Bien Nacido, coaxing the apex of California Syrah, Grenache and Petite Sirah that rival the Rhône’s in their own fashion.  From the whites of the Rhône, Jaffurs delivers astounding Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc.

Donelan Family Vineyards up in Sonoma County sources Syrah, Viognier and Roussanne from several top vineyards in the area, including Walker Vine Hill in the idyllic Russian River AVA, and the Kobler Vineyard in a cooler sub-appellation of the Russian River Valley known as Green Valley.

bottles etc...

Seminar attendees will be able to taste some of the best from California’s entirety, and when compared to the Beaucastel Seminar, will give one an accomplished sense of the Rhône varietals’ various expressions in two of its prime areas.

Things wind up at the ski valley with the Grand Tasting, a veritable Saturnalia where a dozen of the area’s best restaurants will serve their best tastes with over 155 different wines, all in the powerful majesty of those Mountains we all know and love so well.

Oenophiles of New Mexico (and those aspiring to be), brace yourself for the coming week. Clear your calendar, strike while the iron’s hot, and get thee to the TSV.