• 2003 Kiona Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington State
• Two Thumbs Way Up
• An engaging bouquet of rose petals, cinnamon and leather. It offered similar earthy flavors plus dry cherry, black licorice, black tea and a subtle coffee/toffee note. An aged wine in its prime.
When I tell people that I judge wines for the San Destin (Fla.) Wine Festival, which just celebrated its 24th anniversary, most folks smile and say something like: “How can I get a job like that?”
Let me tell you, people, there are better paying jobs out there! Pay issues aside, I enjoy tasting with other wine professionals. It keeps me sharp…and frequently humble.
Speaking of which, a recent Tuesday morning found me around at table with a half dozen of the city’s most knowledgeable and acute wine tasters. This group tastes wines blind and often ferrets out a wine’s grape type, age, region and, sometimes, the winery without the help of a label. Why I was sitting with them is another story, but I was grateful they let me play with them this day. When we got to wine no. 5, I confidently (and boldly) declared it to be a xynomavro-merlot blend, only to find out it was a tempranillo from Rioja, Spain. Oops.
Wine no. 6 was easier…or at least I thought so. About half the panel thought it was an older nebbiolo and the rest, including me, was pretty sure it was a super Tuscan with some age on it. Turns out, it was a 2003 cabernet sauvignon from Washington State.
Conspiracy theories were immediately concocted, but in the end we were all a tad red-faced. But that’s the fun of opening new wines. Even if you know a lot, you never know what you’re going to get. This cab didn’t taste like a cab. So what? Its lack of cabernet-ness made me focus on the qualities of the wine—which were quite yummy, by the way—that much more. My mind jumped to unlikely food pairings for a Washington State cabernet (roasted chicken, rich pasta dishes, mushroom risotto, veal Marsala, maybe even a plank-roasted sockeye salmon).
This un-cab also made us carefully revisit it after knowing what it was to see what we missed. At first, we concurred it was a completely new grape variety: Brunello di Cabbiolo. Then we reminded ourselves that 1.) We are, on occasion (gasp!) wrong and 2.) What great jobs we have that afford us the privilege to experience the many faces of wine.