The Thirsty Kitten held its first-ever tasting party last weekend and the line-up was spectacular: Williams Selyem, Yorkville Cellars, Maple Creek/Artevino, Husch, and Schug– all California wineries whose wines we’ve long sipped and loved. The guests were spectacular, as well, with ten of our friends joining us to sip and feast in what turned out to be a lovely kick-off event for The Thirsty Kitten.
We greeted guests with an American sparkler, a privately produced bottle by Crushpad, a Sonoma-based winemaking operation that buys leftover grapes from top vineyards and turns them into wonderful wines or helps you to do the winemaking yourself. It was a festive start to the evening and fun to share something both unique and personal– the cowboy-infused wine label was created by Kip’s sister, artist Kate Hartfiel.
Next, we invited our guests to find their glasses, which was a bit of a treasure hunt. With the help of Facebook, we had created wine stem charms customized with a photo of each guest. The task was to peruse the tags and find the photo of yourself in order to obtain your glass for tasting. These photo stem tags are especially good for the forgetful. No need to remember which charm is yours– was it the cheese or the wine bottle or the corkscrew? If you can remember who you are, you can find your glass! We especially appreciated those whose Facebook pages included photos of themselves in daring deeds. Shari on the flying trapeze, Linda at the rodeo, and Pam on mountain peak were particularly conversation worthy. (wine stem custom photo charms, patent pending, The Thirsty Kitten ©2012)
Kip grilled a beef tenderloin to perfection on his beloved Big Green Egg (it’s not just a grill, it’s an experience) and all our guests brought delicious offerings to create the feast. Tasting commenced right away.
On the white wine side, we offered two Williams Selyem Chardonnays to be tasted side by side– one unoaked and one with oak. This turned out to be the most interesting comparison of the evening and the most discussed. We also opened two other whites from vineyards we especially like: Husch Vineyard’s Sauvignon Blanc (a crowd favorite) and Maple Creek Winery’s Artevino Estate Symphony, a unique slightly sweet white made of a little known hybrid grape.
On the red side, we started with Schug Winery’s Heritage Reserve Pinot Noir which received raves from everyone. We progressed to two vintages of Yorkville Cellar’s Richard the Lion-Heart, a Bordeaux style blend. Paired with the grilled tenderloin, both Yorkville vintages were out-of-this-world good.
As important as good food and good wine are to a successful gathering, good company is the one ingredient you simply cannot do without. Many thanks and gracious appreciation to our worthy companions who joined us and made the evening special. Of course, as always at The Thirsty Kitten, a good time was had by all.
For those who relish details, read on:
Williams Selyem 2007 Heintz Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay compared with 2009 Unoaked Russian River Valley Chardonnay. We realize this was not a perfectly controlled experiment, as there were variables other than the oak that made these wines different. The vintages were two years apart and one was a vineyard specific wine while the other was blended of grapes from several vineyards. But the oak taste of Chardonnay is something people typically love or hate so we were curious to see where preferences fell in our group. Both wines were delicious. The 2007 Heintz had a lovely aroma of toasted vanilla and honey. Ample-bodied for a Chard but not overly heavy. Smooth and creamy, well balanced from start to finish. A toasty oak flavor was certainly evident but not overdone. (Wine Enthusiast rating of 95 points.)
The Williams Selyem 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley was fermented in stainless steel casks, offering the opportunity to taste the unadulterated Chardonnay grape, as finessed by the masterful wine maker at Williams Selyem, Bob Cabral. For those who are not aware, Williams Selyem is somewhat of a cult wine, having started in a garage in Forestville, California, as the weekend wine project of friends Ed Selyem and Burt Williams. Focusing on single vineyard Pinot, the pair quickly rose to acclaim with their bold, intense, fruit forward Pinots. Though Williams and Selyem are no longer affiliated with the winery, their tradition of handcrafted, single vineyard wines continues and carries over to the other varietals the winery now produces. The 2009 Unoaked Chard, much lighter in color that the Heintz, of course, had an aroma of melon, citrus and mineral and offered a crisp, tart acidity that accentuated the foods beautifully. (justly rated 90 points by Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar.)
When the final vote was tallied, the clear majority of the group preferred the Heintz Chardonnay (oaked) over the Unoaked. Interestingly, however, one guest who reported she typically does not like white wines at all said that she loved the Unoaked Chardonnay. We adore such surprises!
Husch La Ribera Vineyards 2010 Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc. A family-owned winery in Northern California’s Anderson Valley, Husch consistently delivers lovely wines at affordable prices. The Sauvignon Blanc was a crowd pleaser. Aroma of grass and grapefruit and flavors of tangy apple and lime. (rated 90 points and a Best Buy by Wine Enthusiast)
Maple Creek Winery’s Artevino label 2009 Estate Symphony. The Symphony is a hybrid grape of Muscat and Grenache Gris. A totally unique and interesting wine, it appealed to some but not all. Slightly sweet with lush pineapple and tropical fruit flavors. We appreciated this wine especially when paired with the salmon appetizer brought by one of our guests.
Schug Winery Heritage Reserve Pinot Noir 2009. Smooth, elegant, balanced. Old world European style meets new world California. We are huge fans of Schug wines– all of them! And their Heritage Reserve wines are consistently phenomenal. The 2009 Pinot was silky elegance at its finest, with cherry and cranberry highlights. A crowd favorite that pleased all palates. Gorgeous sipper.
Yorkville Cellars Richard the Lion-Heart 2004 & 2007. Not quite a true vertical tasting, with only two vintages to try, but a fun comparison nonetheless. Yorkville Cellars has been making certified organic wines since their first release in 1986. Another of our very favorite wineries, Yorkville Cellars is located in the Yorkville Highlands of Mendocino Country. Their Richard the Lion-Heart is a big, bold Cabernet blend, combining the traditional Bordeaux blending grapes into an earthy, lush wine with balance and finesse. Both vintages were excellent but the 2007 was the hands down winner amongst our sippers. Showing more fruit than the 2004, the 2007 also had more intensity and power.