Live from the Wine Bloggers Conference!

I’m writing this from Table 8 at the Wine Bloggers Conference. We’re about to get the liveblogging under way…

This conference combines nerdity with drinking. I am so happy to be here with my people! Internet access sucks, though, so this might be intermittent. I’ll do my best. Live tasting starts in 5 minutes! It’s “like speed dating for the wine industry” — each winery get six minutes to introduce its wines, and we get a minute to post our thoughts. I have a feeling the crappy Wi-Fi might mean I make one big update rather than a bunch of shorter ones.

2:35 Aaaaaand we’re postponing while they try to fix the Wi-Fi. Apparently there was a DNS attack on the hotel.

3:33 Back up! Starting with Cline Cellars, one of my favorite Sonoma wineries. Their tasting room is always fun to visit. They’re known for their Rhone wines, and today they’re pouring their 2007 Ancient Vines Mourvedre. Fruit for this wine comes from nine different vineyards dating to as far back as 1920. Rich, chocolaty nose with a lot of dark fruit character. This is a big wine (15% ABV). Dark fruits and tobacco up front, plus a hint of oak; intense with active acidity. Black cherry and cedar on the finish.

3:42 Internets down again. Next up is Tandem’s Manchester Ridge Chardonnay from Mendocino Coast, at an elevation of about 2,000 feet. Tropical nose with melon, pineapple, cream and floral aromas. Nicely balanced acidity, and I’m tasting cream, apple and lemon. Wild primary and secondary fermentation. I’m not a California chardonnay fan, but this one’s not bad at all — they used oak wisely here (only about 18% new oak — French oak, or “freedom oak,” ha ha), allowing the floral aspects to develop.

3:50 Foggy Bridge Chardonnay 2007 — one of Foggy Bridge’s first releases. A lot more oak in this one; pretty dry, with green apple and lemon verbena aromas and a lot of oak on the palate. They use 50% malolactic fermentation; they’re going for a lighter, crisper style, but I’m not sure it’s quite there yet. 100% organic (though not yet certified), and they use one label instead of two to save paper. 190 cases made. This winery had planned to open a tasting room in the Presidio but ran into planning difficulties and is looking for another spot in the city.

3:54 Clif Family Winery 2006 Syrah “Gary’s Improv.” Recognize the name? Same family affiliated with Clif bars. Intense red fruits on the nose and a little chocolate; very lively on the tongue — active tannins with a touch of spice and cedar. Really dry; I want a steak now, please.

4:00 On we go. Benovia Winery Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2007 — this is their second vintage. Ripe juicy cherry aromas leap out of the glass and follow through on the tongue — gorgeous cherry, cinnamon, white pepper and a little earth. The cherry flavors dominate at first, but wait a bit and the spices will really develop. 370 cases made, $55. Native yeast fermentation; minimal intervention.

4:06 El Molino High School (!) 2007 Lions Pride Pinot Noir — why didn’t my school have this?? Awesome. Students at this Forestville public school learn how to grow grapes, harvest them, give them to a celeb winemaker, sell the results to raise money for scholarships. Students created artwork for the label, but they can’t touch the stuff once the grapes leave the vineyard. Pity — but hey, more for us! Baked cherry and blueberries on the nose; oak, blackberries, pepper, a flash of heat. $35, 150 cases this year.

4:12 Rodney Strong Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2005. Whoa. Inky dark purple. Did someone say earthy? Holy shit. Earth and spice dominate the nose, but keep sniffing and you’ll get blackberries and other dark fruits. This is a big boy (15.4%). Reeeeeeeally spicy and … this sounds wrong, but it’s dirty and I like it that way. These tannins stand up and make you their bitch. Not that I’m complaining. $75, 1,800 cases made (200 left, so hurry up).

Crap, my table’s spit bucket is about three-quarters full and we’re only halfway done (if that)!

4:18 Cornerstone Cellars 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet; grapes are grown at 1800 feet (coincidentally, 1800 cases made). 100% Cab. “The goal is not to make a wine that’s ready to drink” — stick this in your cellar. Nose of plum, dark berries; really chewy and young, with chocolate, blackberry, intense tannins that suck the moisture right out of your mouth. Long, slow fermentation. Do what the man says: Hang onto this one for a while — four or five years, according to winemaker Craig Camp. $100, 600 cases.

4:24 Benziger Signaterra Three Blocks Sonoma Valley Red Wine 2006 — 64% Cab, 36% Merlot from three vineyards. Nose of chocolate, pepper, earth and minerals. Really dry with very active tannins, oak, cedar, pepper, cumin; retails for $49, 5,000 cases made (the largest by far in the Signaterra line). This winery, by the way, has a really fun tour — be sure to stop by if you’re in Glen Ellen. They explain the biodynamic concept well.

Oh thank God, they emptied the spit bucket!

4:30 Matthiasson Napa Valley White 2008 (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Ribolla Gialla): Really floral nose, candied lemons, mandarin orange, melon, brown sugar; gentle on the tongue at first, but then the acidity explodes (in a good way), tempered by slightly sweet fruit flavors. 30% new oak. $35.

4:36 OMG WTF Joseph Phelps 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This one is seriously dark. Nose full of rich red fruits and spice, black pepper, cedar. Mmmmm. Dark fruits, pepper, earth and a bit of minerals on the palate. Cellar for up to four years, but it tastes pretty great now — much friendlier at this point than the Cornerstone Howell Mountain Cab from the same year. $54.

4:43: I hate to pour out a Joseph Phelps Cab, but we’re moving on to our final wine of the afternoon (not of the day, much more to come — hence why I have to pour it out): Bonny Doon’s Le Cigar Volant 2005 ($32, 1500 cases). ZOMG, Randall Grahm is here! Pardon me while I geek out. This is Grahm’s “homage to Chateauneuf-du-Pape.” Beautiful fruits on the nose; lovely velvety mouthfeel, with satiny fruits and smooth spices. I don’t know how to describe this one aside from “smooth.”

That’s it for now. Stay tuned — Sonoma tasting at 5:45; it’s by the pool, so I’m not sure I’ll be posting live (certainly not from my laptop), but I’ll try to update my Twitter feed via BlackBerry.