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Griffin to Go: Making Do With Raisins

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NWWFF-RedsDuring a discussion of red wines at the New World Wine & Food Festival, Twomey winemaker Ben Cane spoke of “the protocol of determining the ripeness of grapes.”

It can cover the taste of the grape, its reflection of its surroundings, the tannin level it displays, or the brix or sweetness level.

“One thing we never want is raisins,” he said.

Yet raisins is what Cane and the rest of the panel had to deal with Saturday morning when it came to glassware.

The right wine glass can make all the difference in the world, as has been demonstrated in countless presentations featuring Riedel stemware. A superior glass can enhance a wine.

The same is true in reverse. Pour a fine wine into an inferior glass, or one that has been improperly cleaned, and all kinds of flaws could emerge.

The first wine of the morning was the first and perhaps the most egregious example of this: the Twomey Sauvignon Blanc 2008. It’s a flinty little gem with plenty of bright citrus fruit when served cold and in a glass that allows its aromatics to be released naturally.

In a stumpy glass with a tiny opening and served at room temperature, this crisp, lively wine turned into something sour with a mouth-puckering SweeTart finish and far too much alcohol on the nose. Not something I’d want to spend $28 on.

Yet I would recommend this wine because of a prior tasting. It’s complex, with plenty of aromatics ranging from jasmine to a touch of vanilla, and a flavor profile that mingles mineral with fruit beautifully. But I’d also recommend you treat it in the way you’d treat something from its sister winery, Silver Oak.

The glass distinction could happen anywhere, even with excellent stems. Some glasses pick up the aroma of the box in which they are stored. Others retain some soap suds from a dishwasher. Some glasses are just not right for wine. I’ve had a finely aged Chateau Pétrus  in a bad glass that masked any greatness the wine may have had. It’s not always easy to determine what went wrong.

An uncomplicated, pleasant wine like the Vallformosa Sauvignon Blanc, perfect for quaffing on a hot day, showed well in its glass.

But the red seminar featured seven wines fighting valiantly to rise above the glasses in which they were showcased.

Dr. Richard Becker of Becker Vineyards was dismayed at the nose of his Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2007 from the Canada Vineyard in Plains, located near the New Mexico border. Rightly so, as an odd green bark scent tended to dominate the aromatics. Yet the flavor was much richer than the nose led you to think. In the right glass, who knows what the full expression of this wine would be. (It showed much better later that day at the Grand Tasting at the Grotto.)

I also wonder if the Chalk Hill Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 would so heavily suggest freshly brewed coffee in another glass. At 11 a.m., that aroma was most welcoming, however.

In terms of flavor, a pair of wines from 2004, the Brown Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Silver Oak Alexander Valley, managed to rise above the glassware limitations.

Becker went so far as to declare the elegant Silver Oak a reminder of what made California Cabernet Sauvignon of the 1970s so memorable. What happened between then and now that caused the wines to change, he asked Cane.

“Mr. Laube and Mr. Parker,” Cane replied, referring to two influential critics, James Laube of Wine Spectator and Robert Parker, both of whom have praised heavily extracted wines with increasingly higher alcohol content.

The resulting “trophy wines,” as Cane called them, are not food friendly – some can overpower even the heartiest steak – and are “not so much made for drinking all the time.”

Yet the critics have power for the good, because they can bring wine drinkers’ attentions to labels they might not otherwise know.

Ed Curry of Hall Wines certainly had nothing bad to say about Wine Spectator. The magazine recently featured the Hall “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 on its cover. It awarded the wine a 96 rating and called it a bargain at $75 a bottle.

The winery also achieved another level of status by being included among Neiman Marcus’ fantasy gift list for this holiday season. For $20,000, a couple will be able to enjoy three days at the winery during which they will create their own proprietary blend. They can design a flavor profile for inside the bottle as well as a label for the outside. Six cases will be created and shipped. You can bet the glasses at that event will be spectacular.

For more on the fantasy package, click here.

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One Response to “Griffin to Go: Making Do With Raisins”

  1. Hampers says:

    Oops..I misses new World Wine & Food Festival but thanks for sharing the info on the festival. Wish If I was able to attend it. Keep up the good work.

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