Thursday, November 4, 2010

2010 Austin Cellar Classic "Raves and Reviews"

Not too long after my experience with Chip Tate at Balcones Distillery I got the chance to return to my favorite wine event of the year in Austin. The Austin Cellar Classic held at Max's Wine Dive in downtown Austin, is a rare opportunity for those to experience many great wines under the same roof all at once. This year's event was held on October 16th at 12:00 noon, which by my opinion is odd, but for wine tasting is quite optimum. In the morning time is when people's taste buds are at peak tasting potential. Unlike last year, this year's event seemed much more streamlined and well thought out. The wines tables were separated as to not pair up too many of the same type of wine at one area causing turmoil when everyone is rushing to the "Champagne Table." The entire two stories of Max's usable space was utilized to bring the citizens of Austin the grandest wine tasting of the entire year. There are no other wine tastings in the city that compare in my opinion, and hopefully they continue to perform this for many years to come. The wines ran the gamut from everyday drinkers in the lower price ranges to super exclusive, hard to find/hard to acquire, legendary wines. When I was initially handed the wine list, I was quite excited I had paid my $55 dollars to get the VIP experience. The VIP wines consisted of 28 wines spread throughout the main floor of Max's accompanied by hors'doeuvres that were excellent and complex, complementing the food remarkably. The lowest priced wine in the VIP was the 2008 Alexana Pinot Gris by Revana ($28), and stretching one's pocket book all the way to the 2003 Gaja Conteisa ($190). If you have never had the opportunity to drink super high dollar wines, the Austin Cellar Classic is the unique opportunity to do so, and gives many, like me, the perspective of what good wine should taste like compared to others. But like anything in this world, taste is subjective, and many wines that may be considered excellent to one may be considered trash to another. This year I found myself falling in love with some wines that in the past I may have totally considered vile, non traditional and inappropriate to add to my collection, but sometimes you just can't help yourself in giving into the "delicious" factor of some wines no matter the process of production or pedigree.

I will go over my favorite wines, table by table, and explain why these wines were so excellent with small commentary. I will then give my personal awards to "Best in Show," "Best Bargain," and "Surprise Wine of the Event." At first glance of the wine sheet I knew immediately which tables I wanted to visit first and completely went out of order. But for the readers sake, I will start with table one.

Table One:
2008 Alexana Pinot Gris by Revana- Wine from Willamette Valley, Oregon. Usually love Oregon wine. Had flavors that I found too different from traditional Pinot Gris, lacked the acidity I like in this varietal. Oregon produces many wines that taste close to Burgundian wines, with good terroir, but this wine did not have that factor. Haven't found many good Pinot Gris' outside of Alsace and Veneto that I like. Score: 84-85. $28

2006 Schramsberg Brut Rose- My favorite champagne from last year, and continued it's excellence this year. The bubbles are thick and frothy in the mouth and flavors are BIG. One of the most explosive, flavorful champagnes for the price tag made in America. Continues to be my "go to" champagne for celebrations. Score: 90-91. $40

2006 Willakenzie Pierre Leon Pinot Noir- Great Oregon producer. Good earthy flavors are the norm on Willakenzie's wines, this was no different. A little thin for my liking, and lacked good mid palate flavor. Would probably get a better score if the price was different. Would never pay the price tag of this wine. Middle of road wine, and have tasted many $15-20 pinot's that were better. Score: 87-88. $35

2006 Flora Springs Trilogy- Have tasted Flora Springs single vineyard wines before and own many of them. They produce excellent wine that is not overly extracted, but medium to full bodied, and contain classic flavor profiles, balanced earth and fruit. This wine is one of their cheaper introductory wines but really shows off how good of a producer they are. This wine had good fruit, herbal notes without filling to "big" and goopy. Classic California Bordeaux blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc, and Petit Verdot. This wine could age well; well structured. Score: 90. $55

2006 Flora Springs Legacy- Exclusive tasting if you told the staff you liked the 'Trilogy'. This wine is exclusive to winery visiters only and can't be found hardly anywhere. I don't even have a price quote on it. I've heard it is cheaper than the 'Trilogy' but this was more to my liking. HUGE cabernet fruit, less oak, huge tannin structure, the finish lasted >50 seconds. I want to cry because I can't get my hands on any of it. Any person getting this is lucky. Huge scores on Score: 92-93. $?

2003 Dolium Reserva Malbec Single Vineyard- My "Best of Show" last year. Got diminished due to tasting it after the Flora Springs wines. Still a great Malbec, which is rare to come by, has excellent structure with good tannins, and deep dark fruit and graphite flavors. Could age really well but drinks good now. The price tag has always scared me. Score: 91. $69

2008 Far Niente Chardonnay- I wanted to really hate this wine, because for the most part I HATE California chardonnay. I hate the style of chard that California clings to. But I can't deny that this wine is good for what it is. Buttery, oaky, will malolactic fruit, but well structured with some complexity. Legendary producer, continues to make top notch Cali chard, but I will never buy it. My wife hated it like poison. Score: 89-90. $43

Table Two:
2006 Orogeny Pinot Noir- A favorite of many at the event, I just don't see what people like in this wine. It has unique flavors, like tar, that I don't care for. Disjointed and doesn't transition well in the mouth. Awkward finish. Thin, thin, thin. Can't imagine ever paying the price tag. Score: 87. $40

2005 Clos Martinet Priorat- So very close to being my favorite of the night. This was a superb wine and recitfies the reasons why I love Spanish wine so much when it's done right. It's not classically styled, but contains good terroir with an abundance of fruit. Viscous and highly tannic, this wine could age for >15 years. Tastes almost bombastic, but the alcohol is so well controlled. Would pay the price tag in a heartbeat. Priorat continues to be the nuts of the Spanish wine industry. Score: 93. $76

2007 Domaine Jean Grivot Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru 'Les Boudots'- When I think of pinot noir, this is what I think of. Elegant, but not too thin, medium fruit that is complex with high amounts of earth and tons of acidity. Burgundian wine is a food lovers dream because its acidity makes it a perfect pairing to some of the world's most decadent foods. Eventhough this isn't the greatest Burgundian wine I have tasted, it makes me happy to have one of this caliber. Excellent wine. Score: 91. $99

NV Ruinart Blanc de Blanc- My first time having this champagne. The bottle looks retarded, and the label makes it look cheap despite the hefty price tag for 500ml format. But the taste isn't lying. This champagne is delicious and brings the thunder. Creamy and acidic at the same time, this champagne makes me wonder why people pay so much for Dom, or Cristal. Could easily pour this at the club and give a finger to all the douchebags drinking the other stuff. Score: 91-92. $42

2007 Thomas Labaille Sancerre- Sancerre is one of the only sauvignon blancs I will drink period. I just think that no one else compares except for New Zealand which is far behind still. This wine was classic in it's style, but flavors fell a little dull. Not enough brazing acidity for me to give a high score, but it was still a tasty wine. Score: 89-90. $28

2007 Treana White Blend- Just eh. Nothing special about this wine other than it's price tage. Would never pay the money. Not complex, but just eh. Nothing else to say. Treana contines to give me boredom. Score 87. $30

2006 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon- WOW!!! Is all I can say. When wine is done right, it tastes like this. This is impeccably created. The wine is medium to full bodied, silky mouthfeel, with a long finish that lasts 45-60 seconds. The fruit is spot on with blue berries, cherries, and touch of licorice. Not too much oak, but just perfect. And it didn't feel as though I was eating a meal in my glass. Tannins were round and sweet. Pleasantly surprised by a producer I had almost no interest in before, but now has my full attention. Smooth as silk! Score: 93. $55

2006 Hall Cabernet Sauvignon- Hall makes excellent cabernet year in and year out. No different with this one, this was very good. Not as silky on the mouthfeel as the Chimney Rock, but deeper in flavor of fruit. More oak on the finish, which is why Robert Parker loved it so much, and I agree with him. Excellent structure, tannins weren't as round as the previous wine, but a few years in the cellar and this will come around excellantly. I have 2 bottles sitting there in my cellar now as I write. Score: 92. $30

Table Three:
2007 Treana Red Blend- Again, nothing special. Highly oaked, non complex cabernet blend. Smooth is all I can say. A lot of people liked this wine at the event. To each his own. Score: 87. $50

NV Bollinger Cuvee- Nasty. Super dry, with sour taste. Nothing appealing, I spit this out immediately. Wife did the same. Vile. Score: 79-80. $55

2000 Bollinger Grande Annee Brut Champagne- This smelled like cat piss and I believe it didn't taste far from it. I heard some people say at the event that this was awesome. I think if I had pissed in their glass and charged them $100 dollars they would say the same thing. I believe Kings and Queens in the past were poisoned with this crap years ago. Score: 78. $110

2007 Philippe Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon- This was a style of wine I don't usually care for, but yet again it was delicious. Very oaky, creamy, dark fruit. The wine was thick and chewy, very heavy and full bodied. Philippe Melka is famous for this style of wine. The Prisoner is his most famous production, I have a bottle in the cellar. Really liked this wine though, one of the favorites of all the people tasting. I wanted a huge steak after drinking this fruit bomb. Score: 91. $50

2006 Montes Alpha 'M'- Supposed to Montes Alpha's premium wine. This was just terrible. Tasted as though someone had poured tar or axel grease into my wine. I have had this flavor profile come up in other South American wines especially pinot noir. Score: 82. $80

Table Four:
2006 Michael David Rapture Cabernet Sauvignon- A lot of people at the event kept telling me to try this wine. I was reluctant because I have never tasted any of Michael David's wine, eventhough I have a bottle of the Earthquake Petite Sirah in my cellar. This wine is exactly what I hate about a lot of wines and again I am falling in love with it. This wine was over the top in fruit and oak, delicous though I might add. Huge bombastic fruit, sweet tannins, but not much of them, silky mouthfeel, and high alcohol content contained well. My wife loved this wine very much, and I can see why. Hell, I even liked it very much. I think I have crossed over to the dark side. Score: 92. $55

2008 Nickel and Nickel Searby Chardonnay- Made by the same people who do Far Niente, this was very similar but with less oak and butteriness of the Far Niente. Much more my liking, with excellent structure and good acid. Still not anything I like about Cali chardonnay, but this was much closer to what I prefer. Score: 90. $40

2006 Rubicon Cask Cabernet Sauvignon- Iconic wine from an icon of the wine and movie industry, Francis Ford Coppola. The 2006 was excellent, compared to other Rubicon's I have had. This year was true to it's style with the big upfront, gritty blueberry fruit for days. Huge tannins, and needs several years of sleep to polish this wine off. Still very much young and immature, this will become a good wine 10 years down the road. Score: 91-92. $63

2005 Vega Sicilia Valbuena- Many people whom have drank Tempranillo hardly know what a true classic tempranillo should taste like. Vega Sicilia is the iconic and probably most revered wine in all of Spain. This wine is like an early 1990's Cuban cigar in liquid form. Earthy, leathery, creamy, with dried cranberries, and a hint of oxidation make this wine very complex. Light bodied with medium acid. Tannins are present but hidden. Would love to carry this bottle around Spain's tapas bars and sip with friends while on a tapas crawl. So, so elegant and subtle, this is what classic wine tastes like. Score: 93. $190

1998 Pommery 'Cuvee Louise'- Cat Piss again, but with some oxidation. Complete shit. Spit it out immediately. See notes for Bollinger Grand Annee. Score: 81. $160

2003 Gaja Conteisa- Most wine drinkers will never get the opportunity to drink a Gaja. Easily one of the most sought after wines in the world from probably one of the most famous wine makers in history Angelo Gaja. He makes this wine with a number of others in the Piedmont of Italy using Italy's most heralded grape, Nebbiolo. Much like the Vega Sicilia in it's true to classic form, this wine is a young Sophia Loren in a silk dress. Fans of the huge, oaky, big fruit should not apply and would probably not like this wine. This wine is subtle, silky, medium bodied, but has the strength of a bull and the longevity of Methuselah. Mild cranberries mixed with flowers is the initial flavors, with a mid palate of cream, and a tarry leather component. Then you are hit with a mouth smacking, super dry, crap load of tannins that have you reaching for a glass of water. This wine is still in its infancy and needs a good 15-20 years in the cellar to truly enjoy. Makes one wonder why Bordeaux and Burgundy get all the hype and press. For the money I much rather be drinking this, than any other wines from France. Score: 93-94. $190

Table Five:
2004 Arduini Amarone- This is actually only the second time tasting a Amarone wine. Both times have been very pleasant. I don't care much for a lot of Valpolicella, but when it's transformed into Amarone, it can be quite intersting and enjoyable. Leather, and chocolate are the main flavors, very earthy wine, rustic. Good fruit with excellent structure. Should age well but drinks superbly now. Score: 90. $65

2006 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape- If you love wine and never had a Beaucastel CDP, and you don't have any premium wines in your collection, this is the one to pick up. 2006 is not a famous year for Southern Rhone, compared to the legendary 2007's. If you like more classically structured wines, without the bombastic fruit and high alcohol levels, then 2006 is a much better choice. I prefer the 2006's, eventhough I own a lot of 2007 Southern Rhones. This wine is smooth, with huge amounts of dark fruit, leather, and herbal notes. The terroir of Southern France really comes through in this wine. Easily one of the most recommended wines on the list. Score: 92-93. $95

2006 Mischief & Mayhem Meursalt- I looovvveee this wine. This is what chardonnay should taste like. This is a pure taste of the chardonnay grape without all that oak and butteriness. Burgundy through and through. This is like pure chardonnay fruit flavors with a hand full of limestone thrown into it giving it a great minerality. Smooth as silk on the mouthfeel, it's ethereal. Only thing its lacking is higher acidity. Score: 91-92. $100

These were my notes for the wines from the VIP tasting. Downstairs in Max's basement my wife and I tasted through about half of more than 60 more wines in the $10-$40 range. Comparitively I can't say with all truth I like anything from those other wines though. After tasting through some legends of the wine industry, it's hard to go down a notch. I'm not trying to be snooty, it's just what happened. There were 4-5 wines of note that did make a good impression on me from the basement wine like the 2009 Stellina di Notte Pinot Grigio, 2008 Markus Molitor Mosel Estate Riesling, 2007 Jade Mountain Cabernet, 2006 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir, 2007 Lemelson Thea's Selection Pinot Noir, and the 2003 Rutherford Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wine experience that Max's Wine Dive puts together is without a doubt fun and inviting. No snooty wine people here, just regular people trying to get a taste of some unique wines that they may never have the oppportunity to taste again. For those with a little money to burn, all the wines are for sale with discounts for attendees. The food is excellent and always good. I recommend coming to this place anytime of the week and try their food. This is one of the truly great wine bar/gastro pubs in all of Austin. Saturdays, the store has tastings during the day with usually 5-6 wines. Also highly recommend trying the Saturday brunch of fried chicken and waffles. It sounds stupid to put those items together, but trust me it is fantastic. Their fried chicken is some of the best I have ever eaten, and it comes with a side of jalapeno honey and syrup to drizzle over it which makes for the best savory, sweet, and spicy combo. A look at what they served the day of the wine tasting event can be seen below. All thanks go to the staff at Max's Wine Dive, because it is them whom make this an awesome experience. They are truly some of the best bar staff in the city, very friendly and welcoming.

"Best in Show Award"- 2003 Gaja Conteisa
"Best Bargain"- 2006 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon $55
"Surprise Wine of the Event"- Tie NV Ruinart Blanc de Blanc & 2006 Flora Springs Legacy

VIP Food Menu
*Baked St. Andre Cheese Artisanal bread, pear chutney
*Crab Cakes Chive remoulade
*Smoked Prime Rib Creole whipped horseradish, Walton’s sourdough roll
*Country Style Rabbit Pate Pepper jelly, cornichon, toasted baguette
*Stuffed Mushrooms Wilted Spinach, andouille sausage, herb beurre blanc

General Admission Food Menu
*Artisanal Cheese Platter Crostini, assorted crackers, seasonal garnish
*Crudités Platter Buttermilk blue cheese dressing
*7 Layer Dip Pulled pork, refried beans, green chile corn, cheese sauce, guacamole, shredded lettuce, habanero salsa, house made tortilla chips
*Local Deviled Eggs Paprika emulsion, chives
*Slow roasted Brisket and Smoked Mozzarella Canapé
*Nacho Mama Salmon Salmon tartare, Asian vinaigrette, wonton crisp

Look what I went home with. My wife and I liked the Michael David wines so much we purchased a 2 bottle sampler of each of their wines that Max's Wine Dive cellars.

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