Finding the Best Wine

The finalists placed in paper bags for the blind tasting

The panel voting at historic Palacio del Rio 

This past winter I was asked to donate a dinner to Arts Outreach.  The goal was to raise $10,000 to continue to provide art, music and theatre to 3,000 children in the Santa Ynez Valley.  Arts Outreach also provides an Elder Arts program that serves seniors year round.  We decided to plan a small dinner of only 24 guests and charge $1,000 per couple.  The dinner is generously being underwritten entirely by board member, Susie Jones, so that 100% of the money will go directly to Arts Outreach.

How would we decide on the best local wine when we all have personal favorites as well as friends and family members who own wineries?  Well I thought I would take a little email poll among my food and wine friends to narrow down to the list to determine which wine to choose.  I realized when I was receiving the recommendations that I hadn't actually tried all of them.  How could I choose a wine to go with dinner if I hadn't actually tasted it.  And how could I choose just based on the number of facebook comments or an email poll.

I never imagined that our decision to try the wine for ourselves would end up being three solid months of research, driving, collecting and tasting.  I had no idea it would turn into such an extensive process.  In the end we created a wine tasting panel that ranged from 8 to 12 people to taste through the nominated wines to determine the top three.  In order for a wine to be included in the panel someone had to recommend it us as their most favorite.

We have some incredible wines in the Santa Ynez Valley.  I would buy every single one of the top six chardonnays because I loved them all.  And out of 32 Pinots we tried, the top ten were also all wines I look forward to drinking again.  So you can imagine that was actually very hard to determine the top three.  The final panel was different than the group that has been tasting for the last three months.  And that panel had the hardest job because they were tasting the top three and everyone there commented on how excellent the wines were.  In the end three varietals had ties that had to be broken to chose the winning wine.

Please see the pictures below tell the story.  The dinner will be held on August 22, 2014 and I will post the food and recipes after that dinner.  An enormous thank you again to everyone who participated in this three month process and to those of you who are generously providing art, music and theatre to the children in our valley.

There were 17 Rosés nominated and the top three were:
Autonom, Andrew Murray and Hudson-Bellamy

How lucky we are to have such wonderful Sauvignon Blanc's in our local area.
The top three are exceptional:  Presqu'ile, Storm and Brander.

The Chardonnay panel was by far the hardest with 24 Chardonnays 
being nominated (not all are pictured here since I was unable to fit them all in one picture.)
 We ended up tasting in five rounds that continued to have the top six tie.  Because the top
six were exceptional I will mention them here:  
Deovlet, Dierberg, Foxen, Alta Maria, Sandhi and Crawford Family Tin Shack

In the end the top three Chardonnays were:
Sandhi, Crawford Family and Alta Maria

The Pinot Noir panel was held in Yosemite.  32 Pinots were nominated 
and 15 made it to the second round.  There was some serious debate since
 there is a difference in styles of making pinot.  The top Pinots were:
Sea Smoke, Clos Pepe, Au Bon Climat "Knox Alexander", 
Arcadian Pissoni Vineyard (the wine is made locally even though
 the grapes are from Pissoni), Crawford Family "Zotovich" Vineyard,
Melville, Native 9, Presqu'ile, Alta Maria, and Dragonette.  

  In the end the top three were:  
Foxen Block 8 - Bien Nacido, Native 9 
and Hilliard-Bruce

The top three Cabernet Sauvignon are delicious.  I bought additional bottles of each one for myself.
Barrack Ten-Goal, El Desafio de Jonata, Star Lane Astral

Hard at work

Deciding on the tie breaker

 After the tasting and out of their bags, here are the top 15 together:
(from left to right) Presqu'ile, Autonom, Storm, Hudson-Bellamy,
Alta Maria, Native 9, Foxen, Crawford Family, Hilliard-Bruce, Sandhi, 
Jonata, Barrack Ten Goal, Andrew Murray, Star Lane Astral
(Brander's Sauvignon Blanc is somehow missing from this picture.)

And the wines that will be served for the 2014 dinner are:

Andrew Murray Espérance Rosé
Presqu'ile Sauvignon Blanc 
Crawford Family Tin Shack Chardonnay
Hilliard Bruce Sun Pinot Noir 
Star Lane Astral Cabernet Sauvignon

Menu and Recipes will be shared in August


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