The SOMM Journal

February / March 2016

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Page 7 of 132

{ }  7 Pinot Noir may be the region's calling card but "anything Sonoma" can and is submitted for evaluation. Given the diversity of wine styles found across the county, the selection of lots representing the highest-quality examples involved a considerable amount of discus - sion on behalf of the panelists. Evan Goldstein, MS assembled a jury of six fellow Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine, themselves members of the licensed wine trade as retailers, restaurateurs, importers, distributors or opinion-leading academics. "Having a panel of this caliber is an opportunity for the wineries to put their best foot forward," said Goldstein. "Knowing that the wines have been vetted also inspires confidence in the trade." Goldstein was joined by Sandy Block, MW, of the iconic Legal Sea Foods in Boston, MA; Doug Frost, MS/MW, Full Circle Wine Solutions, Prairie Village, KS; Keith Goldston, MS, Capella, Washington, DC; Bob Paulinski, MW, BevMo!, Concord, CA; John Szabo, MS, WineAlign, Toronto, ON; and Dr. Liz Thach, MW, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA. Held over a period of two days, the tastings were designed to give each lot a chance to show at its best. Working at a large, round table the panel allowed for two rounds of discussion—one qualitative and one quantitative, based on scores. Armed with vintage and varietal composition, they scored the wines using Goldstein's preferred scale of one to ten and commented on each lot. "When we have the opportunity to taste with our peers, it really pushes and informs our palates," said Goldstein. "When someone asks us what the vintage was like, we've had firsthand experience with the wines." Debates about the merits of style versus typicity and the interests of trade buyers revealed that even technical assessments of quality are rarely black and white. "Our goal was consensus," said Keith Goldston, MS. The auction's emphasis on wines that reflect terroir authenticity, varietal correctness and a true representation of Sonoma County by appellation cannot be understated. "We're definitely taking into consideration where the barrel samples are at in this stage of their development, their typicity and average score," said Bob Paulinski MW, Senior Vice President of Wine for Concord-based retailer BEVMO!. When panelists assembled for dinner hosted by the team at Rodney Strong Vineyards at the Crown House, the private residence of vintner Tom Klein, bagged and numbered bottles of some exemplary lots from the first day of tasting found their way to the table. Between courses prepared by Rodney Strong winery chef Tara Wachtel that were flaw - lessly paired with a selection of estate and single vineyard wines crafted by Director of Winemaking Rick Sayre and Winemaker Justin Seidenfeld, glimpses of what buyers can anticipate emerged. "It's funny how much we liked the Chardonnays," said Frost. "I think you could say we're Chardonnay enthusiasts." With a greater number of white wine lots entered this year, not surprisingly the panel pointed to consistency and purity in the region's cool climate Chardonnays. Sayre, whose 2013 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay was poured to accompany a composed salad of Dungeness crab, avocado, béarnaise and pea tendrils, said, "If you're in this business, you'd better be passionate and it's a tough job for passionate people to achieve consensus." Like his mentor André Tchelistcheff, Sayre, who is constantly striving to improve wine quality, attributes quality gains in the vineyard to the adoption of new technologies includ - ing multi-spectral imagining that allows him to precisely time picking decisions and to pick a viney ard by area. The winery's 2009 Alexander's Crown, 2010 Brothers and 2012 Rockaway single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons served as a trio with Wachtel's entrée of steak carpaccio, coffee-rubbed, sous vide strip steak and oxtail empanada were a testa - ment to his pursuit. "We saw a lot of consensus around the Cabernet Sauvignon lots," said Block and the nodding heads of Thach and Frost confirmed they had found some common ground. "Their hard work directly informs the lots that will be offered at auction," said Cox. The SCV will advise wineries of the status of their lots in February after a secondary tasting with local panelists Bob Paulinski, MW and Liz Thach, MW. Head Winemaker Rick Sayre has directed winemaking at Rodney Strong since 1979. Carmen Castaldi, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Rodney Strong Wine Estates, (seated) enjoys winemaker Rick Sayre's recollection of André Tchelistcheff. "It was great to see that some winemakers had clearly taken the mandate of a 'never before, never again' lot seriously, using the opportunity to overrun the edges of the style box. A good handful of the lots submitted are intriguing, experimental and innovative, in addition to delicious, which serves to under- score the diversity of Sonoma County wines, surely the most varied region in the U.S." —panelist John Szabo, MS

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