Sample Sale 

Bargains aplenty at a tasting celebrating wine and words.

Long ago I had a metrosexual cohabitant who dragged me to the Barneys warehouse sale the way a different sort might drag his mate to the demo derby or an A's game. To a mall-phobe, this was a special kind of torture, until I realized that you simply had to focus — tune out the clawing, grasping hordes, quickly assess the dozens of racks of clothes, and focus.

These skills mercifully returned to me last week, as I entered the 18th Annual Wine Literary Award press tasting, which featured nearly one thousand wines from all over the country. Any domestic winery can enter this tasting, which has no entry fee save the submission of a sample bottle. Hence the embarrassment of riches weighing down tables that lined the perimeter of the grand, high-ceilinged Carême Room at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Focus, I told myself, focus! And so I zipped past the sparkling wines by the entrance and headed straight for the Sauvignon Blancs, knowing that this grape often produces great-value wines.

Surprisingly, only a handful of the Sauv Blanc selections were under $10; I particularly enjoyed the 2006 Mirassou ($7.99), which had a great lightly floral aroma that also evoked lemon and a delicate sunny-ness to the taste. I moved on to the Pinot Grigio table, where two bargains of note hailed from Livermore wineries Tamas Estates and Concannon Vineyard. The 2006 Concannon Pinot Grigio ($11.20) had a delicate, barely there aroma, but the taste packed more of a punch, compensating for an uncharacteristic hardness to the finish. The 2006 Tamas Estates Pinot Grigio ($7.99) had a lemony bouquet and a mouthfeel that was light and pleasant. Tamas also featured its Zinfandel ($8.99) at this tasting; it had a green bean aroma and a dry, inviting taste.

Concannon's value wines in attendance included the 2004 Syrah ($8.99), the 2006 Assemblage White ($11.20), and the 2005 Stampmakers White Viognier ($13.99). I'd recommend the Viognier, which, despite a strong aroma of bubblegum, was very drinkable and light. Conversely, the Assemblage White, a blend of 70 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 30 percent Semillon, had a fantastic aroma but a somewhat papery mouthfeel.

Concannon's Syrah boasted good red fruit and begged for cheese — but more importantly, sipping it positioned me well to overhear an exchange about Kent Rosenblum's absence from this tasting (just an oversight, I'm assured) and his obvious giddiness in the days leading up to the announcement of his winery's sale earlier this year to beverage goliath Diageo.

I was also well-positioned to check out the offerings of Paso Robles-based Midlife Crisis Winery, whose 2005 Zinfandel-Syrah blend won a double gold at last year's California State Fair. With prices hovering around $20 a bottle, Midlife is too rich for this Wineau's blood, but kudos on the brilliantly Google-friendly name.


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