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Monday, April 07, 2008

Pebble Beach and the circus tent: part III

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You know the wine is really good when you can't keep your hands steady enough to focus the camera.  It's not that there wasn't enough light, or that my lens wasn't quick enough, it's just that the wine was too good, and there were also too many of them.  An embarrassment of riches, no, an absurdity of riches.

I don't know about you, but I was quite dazed and confused by the array of wine on offer that day.  Over 200 wineries was the number someone gave me, with each winery offering a selection, at least three or four, for taste.  That makes how many types of wine altogether I am too afraid to compute.  I walked around with the empty wine glass in my hand--each of us was given one upon entering the tents--completely unsure what to do or how to even begin. 

Your instinct is to try everything: who knows what undiscovered gems lurk below the surface of your known universe.  Your hand wants to stretch out to every smiling face--holding a bottle as though it was a coddled baby--and let them pour you a taste.  You heart wants to give them each a chance, to try the proud fruit of their labor.  It is your brain, alas, who must win the day. 

The brain knows it's entirely impossible to try everything, well, mine does.  I don't know how the "pros" do it.  I can't taste more than a few wines and still hope to maintain a sort of intellectual grasp of the whole thing, let alone be coherent enough to rate them.  After about ten or twenty all my brain registers is I am drinking a purple liquid.  Frankly if I closed my eyes I wouldn't even know that.

So, what did I do then?  Lucky for me, I ran into Seigo Takei, the wine connoisseur, epicure, and also the owner and wine director at the exquisite El Paseo in Mill Valley.  (His wife Keiko is the chef.)  I had a lovely dinner there just a month or two ago.  Anyone who saw his wine list would know here's a man with an impeccable taste in wine, so I asked Seigo to tell me where to find the treasures in the sea of wine in the tents.

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He immediately took me to Rajat Parr's wines.  Raj has been a very big name in the wine circle for a long time, but as a sommelier and not a wine maker.  He's only recently crossed over to the other side, and is just releasing his very first vintage this year.  He's pouring three wines from his Parr Selections, a Pinot Noir made in the Burgundian style, a Chardonnay-Burgundian style as well, and a Syrah.  Don't count on me to go words on end on a tasting note here.  I gave up taking notes and putting away my notebook long ago.  It's hard enough balancing a DSLR camera and a plate and a wine glass!

Anyway, all the wines were very good, but the one that struck me the most was his Syrah.  I must admit I am usually a little skeptical about California Syrah.  California wine makers have a tendency to go heavy-handed even on the subtler grapes like Pinot Noir, let alone one that is already pretty big like Syrah.  Thankfully I was completely wrong here.  Raj's Syrah was beautiful, just beautiful.  It was balanced, spicy, aromatic, with tannin that's neatly in check.  It's just gorgeous.  Raj told me later that this wine came from a vineyard that's completely biodynamic and locates very high in altitude in the Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara.  I need to get my little hands on some of this wine.

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Moving on, we saw Ken and Akiko Freeman or Freeman Winery.  I've known Keiko and Ken for quite a few years, actually.  We were all regulars at Kiss Sushi before the foodie crowd "discovered" Naka-san and he became the rock star he is today  Clearly they have a good palate, and their wines show it too.  They make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that are more balanced and less jammy, fruit-forward than the norm around here.

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Mount Eden Vineyards was also there.  I didn't taste anything on offer there since I already knew their wine very well.  They make my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon from California, much more elegant than the usual grape juice and spoonfuls of jam you get more often than not.  If you've never tried it, trust me, you want to.

There were other good wines we tasted but I failed to take pictures of.  There was Chateau Lagrange from Bordeaux, which was not only pouring the current release but also a vintage from the 80's as well.  Classic Bordeaux producer making classic textbook Bordeaux.  There was also Domaine Louis Latour from Burgundy, pouring a number of their current releases, including a Chassagne Montrachet poured from a secret stash under the table.  I had quite a bit of that stuff later that night at the after party.

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There were so many wines I finally gave up.  There were a lot more interesting wines I wanted to try, but there were just too many people, and I really did have quite enough wines.  I walked by my friend Keiko who's (wo)manning the Flowers Winery table.  The line was too long there for me to even attempt to get a glass.  I know Flowers has a great cult-like reputation and all, but whether those waiting in the line were aiming for the wine or the gorgeous Keiko, you decide.

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Getting a bit overloaded on wine, I had to get some more stuff to eat, so I stopped by at the Carmel Cheese Shop's booth, manned by the CEO (Cheese Eating Oenophile) Kent Torrey himself.  Kent was busy handing delicious cheeses to a bunch of yummy looking young things, so I had to wait a bit for my turn, but it was worth it.  Kent's Carmel Cheese Shop carries cheeses from all over the world, and Kent himself is a passionate supporter of artisan cheeses.  That day he's introducing one of my favorite American cheeses, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a delicious hard cheese from Wisconsin. 

And so ended my tent adventures.  Before I left the circus tent I ran into these lovely love birds.  Do you know who they are?

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Were you there too?  What wines (or food) were your favorite?

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