My Favorite Wine Tasting Event

Recently, Peter and I traveled to southern California to visit family and to attend our favorite annual wine tasting event.

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event brochure

Sponsored by The Family Winemakers of California, this fabulous event showcases small, family owned wineries from throughout California.

Often, the people pouring the wine are the owners and their family members.

Peter and I have spoken so highly of this event from our past visits that we were able to rally a group of about a dozen family members and friends (mostly California folks) to join us at the tasting.

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event

Let me share three tips for those attending the Family Winemakers of California event.

Buy your tickets as soon as they go on sale and spend the extra dollars to snag one of the limited number of “For the Trade” passes that are offered to consumers.

For the extra money, you get two additional hours of tasting for a much more leisurely pace. You are allowed in at the very start of the event when it is less crowded and you have greater opportunity to chat with the winemakers. And, the pass gives you access to the “iSip Lounge” where wineries pour their very best selections (minimum $75 per bottle) giving attendees the chance to try wines they might not otherwise have access to.

The full access pass is well worth every extra penny.

While the point of this event is tasting wine and not consuming all you can in 4 hours, no one who was drinking should drive home from this event.

There are several solutions to this.

Bring along a designated driver. The event allows designated drivers in for free. They will be given a special wristband and, understandably, kicked out if they are seen drinking any wine.

Hire a car, taxi or Uber to take you to and from the event.

Or, you can stay at a hotel within walking distance of the event. We stayed at the Hilton Del Mar directly across the street from the Del Mar Fairgrounds at which the tasting took place. It was perfect.

Do not drink and drive!

Plan your strategy wisely.

Over 90 wineries were offering tastes of their wines. There is no way, in 4 hours, to responsibly make even a dent in that wide of a selection.

The entire list of participating wineries is available on the website of the Family Winemakers of California. Do a little homework. Find some wineries that look interesting to you, perhaps some you have heard of or some from a region you love.

We came armed with a list of “must try” wineries leaving room to discover some new favorites.

 

These wineries poured my favorite wines of the day:

The Farm Winery

Mocadeaux - The Farm Winery at Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event

Peter and I discovered this fabulous gem the first time we attended the Family Winemakers of California event.

The Farm Winery is located in Paso Robles where they make red wines from Bordeaux and Rhône varietals. Big, beautiful, bold and monumentally awesome red wines.

Fun fact: The Farm is owned by Jim and Azmina Madsen and Mercedes and Santiago Achaval who became friends while attending MBA school at Stanford. Santiago Achaval is a world renowned winemaker and producer of Malbec in the Mendoza region of Argentina.

The Farm’s 2012 Cardinal Cabernet Sauvignon was our group’s unanimous choice for Best Wine Of The Day.

Showing the attention to detail that goes into every aspect of The Farm’s wine, Jim was up at 3am to decant The Cardinal so it would have time to open up before being served.

Yeah…that’s how they roll at The Farm.

Oakville Cross

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event Oakville Cross

This tiny Napa Valley winery makes just one wine – Cabernet Sauvignon. And a delicious Cabernet it is!

Oakville Cross holds their wine back for longer aging which is why they were pouring a 2010 vintage while most everyone else was serving their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Another fun fact about Oakville Cross wines is that, because they find the 3% failure rate of corks unacceptable, their bottles are sealed with glass stoppers. Interesting, eh?

Vineyard 511

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event Vineyard 511

I was drawn to this wine because I LOVE Cabernet Sauvignon from the Diamond Mountain District of Napa Valley.

Owned by Ed and Irene Ojdana, Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is all that Vineyard 511 produces.

Fun fact (at least for me): Ed Ojdana is a graduate of Notre Dame. Go Irish!

Vineyard 511 poured their older vintages in the iSip Lounge, but it was the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon shared with all attendees that I liked best.

Mira

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event 2016 - Mira

Also located in Napa Valley, Mira is on the opposite end of the spectrum making a wide variety of wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and both a Rosé of Syrah and a Rosé of Pinot Noir.

Fun fact: Mira operates the Napa Valley Education and Tasting Center in Charleston, South Carolina, where they offer wine tasting, seminars, speakers and other activities. The Center was built as an homage to the colonists who brought grape vines to the Charleston area around 1669. The climate made their winemaking attempts fail but kudos to those intrepid colonists for trying.

Peter put Mira on our list because they source grapes for some of their wines from the legendary Hyde Vineyard.

Other fabulous winemakers who create great wines from Hyde Vineyard grapes: Paul Hobbs, Kistler, Ramey, Miner and, of course…

Hyde Wines

Mocadeaux - Family Winemakers of California 2016 wine tasting event - Hyde Wines

Larry Hyde has been farming his vineyards in the cool Carneros region of Napa Valley since 1979.

For decades, he and his family focused on the farming, selling grapes to a couple dozen premier winemakers. Many of these relationships continue to this day, secured by a handshake.

Eventually, Larry and his sons decided to make some of their own wine, a tiny, tiny bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Delicious!

Fun fact: Well, not so much a fun fact as a piece of advice. If you ever see a wine noting that the grapes came from the Hyde Vineyard in Napa, give it a try. I’m quite sure that you won’t be disappointed.

Cheers!

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Wine In A Can And Other Randomness

Mocadeaux wine news

 

Happy Friday, everyone. Please enjoy a roundup of random wine related ditties.

Wine in a can: I tried it so you don’t have to.

On a recent flight, I sat next to a couple of adorable twenty-somethings who were traveling to Salt Lake City  for a ski adventure.

When the drink cart arrived at our row, Young Couple (who had quite thoroughly studied the drink menu) asked for 2 bottles of hard cider. Sadly, that taste treat had not been loaded onto our plane.

“What about the wine in a can?”, Young Couple asked.

WHAAAATTTTT?!?!?!

Wine in a can

Wine in a can?!?! I had to try it.

Garçon, please bring us 3 cans of wine.

The first clue regarding the quality of this gem came from the flight attendant who promised to bring us a different beverage if we did not care for what the label described as “ridiculously good wine in a can”.

I took one obligatory sip, for research purposes and all, then handed the rest of my can to Young Couple who proclaimed that the wine was “not terrible”.

Young Couple was mistaken. The wine in a can was EXTREMELY TERRIBLE.

Still, Young Couple gulped it down and were happy campers until we experienced a long stretch of serious turbulence.

Young Guy turned several shades of green. He spent the rest of the flight with his head down, probably praying for a quick landing. I spent the rest of the flight praying that I was not going to be punished for pawning off my terrible wine on him.

Fortunately, we landed without incident – lesson learned.

If ever you are offered wine in a can, in the words of the late Nancy Reagan, “Just Say No.”

Words to live by.

From my friend, Woody:

Have more wine

Next up…

Making your grocery shopping more enjoyable…

Heinen's Sip and Swirl

Our local grocery store, Heinen’s, has a lovely wine section including this “Sip, Swirl, Savor” wine dispensing marvel.

Customers purchase a gift card, insert the card in the machine and select a wine. Customers can opt for a taste or a full glass and are charged according to the size of the pour they choose.

The Sip, Swirl and Savor dispenser offers wine in a wide range of types and prices. The selections change quite regularly. What a great way to take a taste of a new wine before committing to purchase a bottle!

Heinen’s also has a fabulous prepared food section and tables for dining. Add a glass of wine from the dispenser and you have Date Night.

And of course, customers can grab a glass of wine to enjoy as they are doing their shopping.

How very civilized.

Two things that my pictures of wine bottles prove.

Messy wine bottles

Thanks to my Shotbox, my pictures of wine bottles are looking a bit more professional.

However, the messy looking bottles shown above prove two things:

  • I am terrible at pouring wine – can not seem to do it without dripping.
  • I really, truly do drink the wines that I review. You can count on that.

(Speaking of Shotbox, the company is offering a March discount of $20 off your purchase. See the ad in my sidebar or at the end of this page or click on my affiliate link and use code SOCIAL20 to get the discount.)

And finally,

You are going to need A LOT of corks.

Looking for a use for all the wine corks you’ve collected?

This HAS to be one of the coolest cellars we’ve seen, if we do say so ourselves!

Posted by Wine Enthusiast on Wednesday, March 2, 2016

 

Cheers!

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7 Keys To The Perfect Wine Tasting Party

Peter and I hosted our first wine tasting party a number of years ago as a ruse to pull off a surprise birthday party for a dear friend. The party was such a hit that we made it an annual tradition.

Over the years we have tweeked the event and now have it running like a well tuned party machine. Let me share a few tips.

7 keys to perfect wine tasting party

1. Choose Great Wine

 

wine tasting party selection

Obviously.

The number one key to a successful wine tasting party is to serve great wine. I’m not saying it has to be fancy or expensive wine, just that it should be something worth showcasing to your guests. Something unusual, a wine/winery with a unique story, a great value for the dollar.

Use the expertise of your local wine store staff or dive into little online research.

Or ask me!

We follow two criteria when making selections for a wine tasting party:

  • wines that we would enjoy drinking
  • wines that would be interesting for our guests to try

Variety is also good. Try to have options that appeal to different tastes: a few reds, a few whites, maybe some champagne for a little “je ne sais quoi” and “ooh-la-la”.

2. Have A Theme

A theme makes any party more fun!

A wine tasting party theme could be something like:

Location, Location, Location – Pick a place like Napa or France and explore different wines from that region.

A Variety Of Varietals – Serve a bunch of different red wine varietals ranging from Pinot Noir to Zinfandel. Ask your guests to step out of their comfort zone.

Vintage Matters – Try to get a couple of different vintages of the same wine and see if one year was better for wine making than the other. Or pick a particularly notable vintage (like Napa 2012) and celebrate the excellence.

A+ or B-, You Decide – For our most recent wine tasting party, Peter selected wines with very disparate expert reviews. For instance, Wine Advocate gave the 2011 Hall “Eighteen Seventy-Three” a score of 95 while Wine Spectator gave it an 89. What’s up with that?!?! We asked our guests to weigh in.

wine tasting party score sheet

Joe’s Wines – How about exploring the wines available at your local Trader Joe’s? Or Piggly Wiggly? Or Wegmans? (Although I can’t, in good conscience, endorse serving your party guests Two Buck Chuck. Please see #1.)

The theme possibilities are endless.

3. Supply Plenty of Glasses

Please, please, please, I beg you. Do not serve wine at a wine tasting party in plastic cups. Even the pseudo-fancy plastic wine glasses.

Wine should only be served in plastic glasses in an extreme emergency. Or maybe at a pool party. Certainly NOT at a wine tasting party.

wine glasses

You can purchase glass wine glasses pretty reasonably at a place like Target or buy in bulk at restaurant supply store.

One glass per guest is fine. Your guests can rinse their glasses between tastes at The Rinsing Station (aka The Kitchen Sink).

Speaking of glasses, if any of your guests are over 40, please kindly supply some of these.

reading glasses

4. Use Markers or Charms

Be sure to have some way that people can identify their wine glass after they have put it down. Otherwise, you might run out of glasses and chaos will ensue.

We like these fabulous wine markers. Guests write their names on the glasses and the marker washes off easily at the end of the night.

wine tasting party tips markers

Wine glass charms are also effective as long as everyone remembers which charm they selected.

At our last party, one guest brought personalized wine charms for everyone made from a little wooden tile and two very powerful magnets.

wine tasting party tips wine charm

How cute are they?!

5. Research Tasting Notes

It may be the wine nerd in me but I love reading tasting notes. They give valuable information about the wine and help appreciate the flavor and unique qualities of each bottle.

wine tasting party tips tasting notes

Tasting notes are pretty easy to find online at the website of the wine producer. Or check out Cellar Tracker which offers reviews and notes from the professionals and over 400,000 Cellar Tracker members.

We print out notes, put them in (inexpensive) frames and place them next to the bottles. Our guests can learn a little while having fun.

6. Choose The Right Food

There truly is an art and a science to creating perfect food and wine pairings. If you’ve ever experienced a perfect pairing you will know that it is magical and makes both the food and wine taste even better. But the perfect pairing takes a lot of work and is best left to the professionals.

Your goal in choosing food for a wine tasting party should simply be to do no harm.

Think sweet, mild and savory dishes rather than bold, hot and spicy dishes.

There are certain foods for which beer (or milk) are a better match than wine. I’m lookin’ at you Mr. Jalapeño Popper.

Whether you are serving just appetizers or a full meal, we have found that finger foods work best. With a wine glass in one hand, silverware just gets in the way.

Simple ingredients and simple flavors are the key. Chicken, shrimp, fruit, veggies with a creamy dip, mini-quiches, spanakopita, mini deli sandwiches all work well.

And of course, cheese is wine’s best friend.

wine tasting party cheese plate

You can’t go wrong serving a lovely cheese plate with a little chocolate dessert chaser.

7. Invite Fun Guests

Perhaps as important as the wine selection, having enthusiastic guests is crucial to the success of a wine tasting party – or really any party for that matter.

wine tasting party guests

The best guests are those who are excited to join in, willing to try new things and drink responsibly.

Remember to facilitate the responsible drinking by having plenty of non-alcoholic drinks for the designated drivers and encourage everyone to have the Uber app on their phone.

As an intimate gathering with a few pals or a big, blow-out celebration for your entire crowd, a wine tasting party is the perfect way to share your love of wine.

Now I want to hear about your experiences with wine tasting parties. Do you have any theme ideas to add to the list? Favorite wine tasting stories?

Do not drink and drive!

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Massachusetts Wine Tasting – Party Of One

Mo Wine Please

In my quest to visit a winery in all 50 states, and upon the recommendation of my darling daughter, Annie, I recently visited the Truro Vineyards on Cape Cod.

Massachusetts wine tasting – check!

I had fully intended to take Peter along but silly work stuff, a board meeting and all, kept his nose to the grindstone and mine pointed in the direction of North Truro, MA.

Solo wine tasting – a great way to spend a morning!

Truro Vineyards

The grounds of the Truro Vineyards are beautiful. In addition to the wine tasting and tours, the property boasts a food truck and South Hollow Spirits Distillery which offers tours and rum tasting. Something for everyone!

grounds of Truro VIneyards

But I, myself, am a wine gal so I focused on that. The wine tastings take place every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour on this lovely patio.

Truro VIneyards tasting patio

As you can see, it was not terribly crowded the day I went. To her credit, the gal in the gift shop didn’t blink an eye when I stepped up to the register to pay for a single ticket.

Wine tasting, party of one please!

It is important that I now share with you the #1 rule of solo wine tasting:

Thou shalt ONLY sip and spit.

No fudging this rule. If you are the taster AND the driver, no drinking!

As I strolled out to the terrace I considered inviting myself to join one of the two or three groups taking part in the 11:30am tasting but thought better of it.

My table mates might not have appreciated my (quite discrete) spitting, obsessive note taking, nerdy questions and repeated photos. All of the other guests were there for fun – I was there for research. Serious research.

With ten wines on the tasting menu, the charming hostess circulated five times offering us two wine to choose from each round. And she patiently answered my many, many questions.

wine tasting at Truro

One might assume, if you are tasting wines at a Massachusetts winery, that all the grapes were grown on the property or at least in the state.

But no.

I’ve learned that you have to ask the question.

“Where are your grapes grown?”

It turns out that of the 10 wines served at Truro, only 3 – Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Franc – are grown in Massachusetts. The rest of the grapes are imported from places like New York and California.

That’s not a bad thing. New York and California are pretty great places for grape growing. But if your goal is to taste wines from all 50 states, this little detail is important.

I admit that I’m not much of a Chardonnay girl so I can’t be relied upon to give an unbiased review of that particular varietal. The Truro Merlot and Cabernet Franc were fine.

Not for nothing, though, my favorites were the Vignoles (a cousin of Viognier) grown in the Finger Lakes area of New York and the Triumph Red Blend made principally from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from California. The grapes are shipped at a chilly 35 degrees and all blending is done at Truro.

All too quickly our 30 minute tasting session was over and it was time to visit the gift shop. A+ score for the gift shop. Actually one of the best I’ve ever seen at a winery.

Although next time I think I’d go with a few pals, my solo wine tasting was, indeed, the perfect way to spend a morning.

Truro Vineyards is well worth the trip, even if it is, as their sign says, a long way from Napa.

3000 miles to Napa

Would you ever go solo wine tasting? Ever been to Truro Vineyards? Who has other recommendations for me?

FYI, all opinions stated here are my own and I received no compensation from Truro Vineyards. Yep, I sprung for the $10 ticket all by myself.

And remember, I’m serious about that “no drinking and driving thing”. Promise?

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