Wine Bloggers Conference Part 1

It’s Wednesday November 8, and we’re off to Santa Rosa for the Wine Bloggers Conference, 4 days of swirling, sniffing and swilling. We pulled out of Lodi just past the crack of dawn (well, it was around 9 am actually), grabbed coffee and headed out across the delta on Highway 12. Past the levees, bridges, and windmills, onto Interstate 80, through Vallejo on 37, and then up 101 to beautiful Santa Rosa. Coming in from the north, we did not see any signs of the recent devastating fires, and everything seemed to be business as usual (more on that later). Being hungry after our travels, we happened upon the perfect lunch spot for two swines…..

Fully Clothed Swines at the Naked Pig
The Awesome Ginerva Brought Us Wine on the Bus

After gaining sustenance at the Naked Pig, we proceeded to the Bottle Barn to pick up emergency wine supplies. If you go to Santa Rosa, you MUST go to the Bottle Barn. Great selection of local wines, and excellent prices. We selected a few wines that had won double gold medals at the local wine competition, made a brief pit stop to check into our hotel, and then headed to our first tour of the conference – Sterling and Beringer, hosted by Treasury Wine Estates. We boarded the bus at the Hyatt in Santa Rosa, and were immediately served some wine. Not your usual bus experience!


The ride over the mountain was our first glimpse of the devastation from the fires. While the activity in the City seemed normal and bustling, the homes in subdivisions in the northern part of the City were burned beyond recognition. We were stunned by the extent of the destruction. Judging by the burnt shells of cars, boats and other possessions that were left behind, it was obvious the fire swept down the hill with incredible speed. People were lucky to escape with their lives. Sadly, some did not. Most of us on the bus had seen pictures of the devastation, but this was our first actual view of the stark and shocking landscape. We left the area with heavy hearts.


On the Tram!

After passing into Napa from Sonoma, the bus arrived at Sterling, a winery built in 1964 at the top of Diamond Mountain. We entered the aerial tram that was built in the 1970’s to whisk visitors to the winery.


The self guided tour of Sterling covers the crush area, their new optical sorter, the post fermentation press and storage areas. Quite educational, with wine to boot!

We then moved upstairs to what Sterling touts as the Platinum Tasting. This is a pairing and tasting of four reserve wines, in a fine dining setting. The pairings were a great example of how food can improve wine, and vice versa. Organoleptically speaking, of course.

Ricotta Cheese with Lemon Zest

We started with the 2014 Reserve Chardonnay. This wine had a toasty baked apple nose. Buttery mouthfeel with caramel, more baked apple and a vanilla finish. A full blown California chard. It was paired with a light but creamy ricotta cheese accented with lemon zest. This pairing could not have been more clever. The salt and fat in the cheese, with the slight citric note, toned down the spicy oak notes in the wine and brought out the fruit and mineral character.


The next wine was the 2011 Platinum Cab Sauv. This wine had a herbal nose, with hints of tobacco and red currant. The palate had fairly light to moderate acid and tannins, dark cherry and currant fruit with bright notes, round mouthfeel, and hints of leather. We felt this wine was beautiful on its own. It was paired with shredded duck meat on sweet potato nuggets. This was interesting. While we are big fans of the mutual benefits of food and wine pairing, in this case the wine was so elegant and tasty that it would have been almost impossible to improve.

The next wine was the 2012 Platinum Cab Sauv. This wine had a smoky nose. Period. The palate had fairly low acid, and moderate tannins. Dark currant fruit on the attack that was quickly overtaken by tannins in the mid palate, with mocha oak on the finish. The pairing was a luscious lamb meat ball in a delicate tomato sauce. This was a great pairing. The wine’s fruit, which had been mostly hidden by tannins and oak, was released by the food. Currants and pomegranites appeared.

The Three Food Pairings with the Cabs

The last wine was the 2013 Platinum Cab Sauv. This wine had a slightly herbal toasty nose with hints of coffee. Ths palate had low to moderate acid and slightly more tannin, with ripe currant fruit and nice balance. Good aging potential. Food pairing was a short rib on a carrot puree. This pairing was great because let’s face it, short ribs and any red wine? Hard to go wrong. It was delicious.

2014 Irridium

After the pairings, we moved on to a special tasting with Sterling winemaker Harry Hansen and the just released 2014 Irridium. This is the first vintage of this super premium cabernet, of which only 7 barrels were made, blended from the best fruit from vineyards that are used in the premium Sterling cabs. It was blended from 4 barrels of Rutherford cab, 2 barrels of Yountville cab, and 1 barrel of Wooden Valley cab. $250 or so a bottle, and a 96 from RP. In a fairly gorgeous bottle.

2014 Irridium

The wine had a currant nose, with herbal hints and sawdust, with an alcohol note. Fairly low acid, with soft tannins. The attack had rich dark currant that were consistent through the mid palate. A lovely balanced wine, with licorice notes on the finish. Although this wine is a 2014, it is ready to drink right now.

From Sterling we moved on to Beringer for more wine tasting and dinner, but that will be the subject of Wine Bloggers Conference – Part 2, The Adventure Continues!