Last summer I started a casual wine club with GGD and some other wino friends. I called it San Francisco Bragging & Wining (SFBW), as a nod to my father’s wine club that he created back in his early days in San Diego: La Jolla Bragging & Tasting. We would get about 12-15 people together once a month, and I would assign each person what to bring (table wine, blind wine, or food). After getting our palates wet with some table wines, we would taste 3-4 wines blind, discuss them, then reveal. There were some very successful (and very intoxicating) meetings, but it wasn’t quite moving in the direction that I had originally envisioned.
After some brainstorming with GGD, we decided to restructure the club so that it would be more focused and organized, attracting people who are invested in learning more about wine. Instead of assigning contributions to everyone, we choose the wines that are most representative of the topic being discussed, buy some cheese and other food items to pair, and charge everyone a ticket price ranging from $18-28 (depending on how much we spent on wines) – limiting the amount of attendees to 12 people. So far, it’s been pretty successful and our attendees have learned a lot!
Our meeting last week was focused on Chardonnay, specifically Unoaked vs. Oaked and American vs. French. Here was the line up:
Starter: Sparkling Chardonnay
Set 1: Unoaked California vs. France
Set 2: Oaked California vs. France
Set 3: California vs. France Blind Tasting
- 2011 Domaine Gerard Tremblay Chablis “Vieilles Vignes”
- 2012 Hunnicutt Napa Valley Chardonnay (new release purchased directly from the winery)
With the exception of the Mumm and Hunnicutt, I bought everything at K&L Wine Merchants in San Francisco with a budget of about $100 (the total came out to $108.66). I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to purchase from California, but I definitely needed help with my French selections. The staff at K&L are incredibly friendly and helpful, and one of the guys spent 45 minutes with me selecting wines that would best represent each category.
GGD purchased all the food from Trader Joe’s the day of the tasting: smoked salmon, green apples and pears, soft goat cheese, triple cream brie, Iberico cheese, buttered popcorn, crackers and sweet waffle cookies. We selected food that would pair well with certain flavors in the wine, whether it highlighted the creamy component of oaked Chardonnay, or brought out the citrus fruit in a brighter Chardonnay.
Another friend of mine, who shall be known as Sabrina from this point forth, created an epic Powerpoint presentation with information on Chardonnay origins, taste profiles, types of oak that are used, and regions where it is grown. I supplemented this with printed handouts on descriptions of the wines being tasted, an aroma wheel, and a deductive tasting grid (primarily used for the blind tasting). We wanted to provide enough information to people to taste with reasoning, but not too much so that people were overwhelmed. I think we struck a good balance!
As for the tasting component, each person received a small glass and a large glass so that they could taste side by side and notice the differences between the wines in each set. For example, the La Crema had that thick, buttery taste that some Chardonnays are known for, while the Saint Romain was slightly more crisp because of the cool climate and rocky soils in Burgundy. The idea was to give people enough tasting experience with California and French wines, oaked and unoaked, so that they could make an educated assessment when the blind tasting was given at the end of the evening.
Sure enough, nearly everyone was able to ascertain that the wines were made in French oak, with most people agreeing that it was less new oak than aged. Two girls were able to distinguish between the Chablis and the Hunnicutt, and the other eight attendees mixed up the two (I didn’t participate in the blind portion because I was the one that concealed them). This may have been because Hunnicutt makes their wine in a Chablis-style, and both wines exhibited flavors of citrus and wet stone. It was a tough call, indeed!
We finished off the night with some Cabernet, socializing and planning the topic for our next meeting: Pinot Noir. I’ve already started to make selections of which wines we will taste from Sonoma Coast, Russian River, Santa Barbara, Willamette Valley, and Burgundy. I can’t wait to taste the wines with everyone else!
If you live in the Bay Area and you’re interested in attending a wine class, please contact me to get more information or to be added to our email list. Cheers!