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Tuesday, October 26

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Event Mon Aug 02 2010

Taste of Napa Valley

I don't have a particularly sophisticated wine palate, and I envy those who can taste the subtle differences between a 2002 and a 2006 cabernet sauvignon ("it was a good year!"). So when I walked into the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's July 27 Twilight on the Rooftop event, I was ready to learn. Held at the James Hotel downtown, the dance company's third annual fundraiser offered tastes from 13 Napa and Sonoma wineries--including some wines that are only available in limited amounts.

Like the 2005 Corison Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, for example: the winemaker, Cathy Corison (one of the first female vintners in Napa), only made about 300 cases. Squeezed from 40-year-old vines, the saleswoman at the table explained, it's hard to make much more than that because old vines don't yield a lot of fruit.

The 2002 and 2006 Corison cab savs were also pretty delicious. "This is a find," one of the women next to me noted, and I nodded. But I couldn't pick out any significant differences in flavor.

Me tasting Donelan wines, looking confused.

I walked around for an hour or so with my glass, trying different wines, like the Blackbird Vineyards 2009 Arriviste Rosé and the Spring Mountain Vineyard 2005 Elivette, a red bordeaux proprietary blend that was cited as the world's best California cab in Decanter magazine. They were all expensive, and they all tasted good. The reps from the wineries were very helpful, asking what I wanted to try and offering a taste of another wine, if I wanted something different. "But how are they different?" I'd asked. What about the 2008 Donelan Cuvee Christine Syrah tastes different from the 2008 Donelan Walker Vine Hill Vineyard Syrah? The Donelan rep explained that the flavor depends on the kind of soil. OK.

When I got to the Pride Mountain Vineyards table, the winery's hospitality and events coordinator Mike Campbell seemed happy to adopt me as a student. I told him the story of my first experience with an expensive wine--when my father accidentally ordered a $95 bottle at my mom's birthday dinner a couple of years ago. Although I couldn't put my finger on it, I realized that there was a tastable distinction between good wine and $6 Barefoot, which tastes good, but you don't drink it to savor the flavor. Campbell called my epiphany the "aha moment."

Mike Campbell of Pride Mountain.

But the next step for me was trying to figure how the taste differs between two expensive wines. Campbell suggested I get a second glass: try Pride Mountain's 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve side-by-side, he said. So simple! Going back and forth between the two wines, I actually did notice a slight difference between them. The reserve was smoother than the 2007 blend; it went down easier for me. And that was enough of a distinction for me at that point (mainly because I was starting to get a little tipsy).

I'm not ready to start classifying flavors of black raspberry compote or "unsmoked high class cigar tobacco." I was pretty excited that I could taste minor subtleties. Baby steps.

Wine may have been center stage, but Hubbard Street
company member Laura Halm also performed; all photos by Bob Carl.

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Dad / August 2, 2010 8:07 PM

It wasn't an accident--I just told you that so you wouldn't get any expensive ideas. :-) It was for mom's b-day and to celebrate your visit from Chi-town and nothing's too good for mom and you. (It really was an accident.)

Valli Ferrell / August 3, 2010 12:18 PM

Glad you enjoyed the Spring Mountain Vineyard 2005 Elivette! You tasted some really nice wines and wrote about them in a way that encourages others to have confidence in their ability to taste. Bravo!

Rose / October 30, 2010 4:57 PM

Pride Mountain is one of our favorite wineries!

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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