2008’s Top 10

I started my annual Top 10 list two years ago, and at least in my mind, this has become a tradition. So I present my 10 most memorable wine and beer moments of the past year.

Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition
At the conclusion of the judging, I had the great joy of calling Tim Puchta of Adam Puchta Winery in Hermann to tell him that his was the only Missouri winery to be awarded a Jefferson Cup. His Vignoles was one of only 13 Jefferson Cup winners in the tasting of over 800 entries held at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City.

Tasting the first Iowa Norton out of the barrel
At the conclusion of the Mid-American Wine Competition in Des Moines, I took a short drive to the Jasper Winery. I quickly realized that these were serious wines and asked if anyone in Iowa makes a Norton. The lady behind the counter said, “Would you like to taste it?” It felt like Christmas Eve and Santa was coming down the chimney. After a couple of glasses were removed from a barrel labeled “Norton 2007,” I realized I was tasting what was probably the first commercial Norton made in Iowa. Great? No, but well-made and good enough to show the potential of both Jasper Winery and Norton made to the north.

Sharing Paula Kornell’s first taste of Missouri wine
Tasting a Montelle Seyval Blanc with Paula Kornell, general manager of Oakville Ranch Vineyards in Napa Valley, would not normally be a major memory. In this case it was, because her father, the legendary sparkling-wine icon Hanns Kornell, spent part of his career in St. Louis. Hanns Kornell made wines for Cook’s Champagne on Cass Avenue in downtown St. Louis during and following World War II, until he moved to Napa Valley to start his own winery in the 1950s.

Strussione (Cave) Chardonel 2005 at Missouri Senate Wine Dinner
One of my favorite food and wine pairings this year was at the annual Missouri Senate Wine Dinner in Jefferson City. The course was smoked Troutdale Farm rainbow trout, Irish potato salad and St. Isidore Farm arugula. The Cave Chardonel was a slam dunk, a perfect match of wine and food flavors. It was truly a showcase of locavore-ness, showing how well our local wines can match our local foods.

Picking grapes at Bethlehem Valley
When Dan Burkhardt at Bethlehem Valley Vineyards pointed to a stack of empty lugs (large plastic bins used for grapes) next to his Norton vines, I took the hint and accepted the challenge. When someone loves wine as much as I do, it is a bonding event when you grab your knife and search for ripe fruit among the leaves of a grapevine. Sticky and dirty with bees and wasps buzzing all around, it really gives you great appreciation for what it takes to put 25 ounces of wine into a bottle.

Schlafly Barrel-Aged Barleywine 2007
Oh my gosh! I love great beer, and this local beauty is off the charts. When I tasted this with Dan Kopman, vice-president at Schlafly, I asked, “Why the vintage?” (Or is it brewage? Whatever.) “Because these will age five to 10 years,” he said. How much fun is that? Sweet with malt and balanced by bitter hops, this makes me think of the massive beers that kept monks alive during their Lenten fast. Serve cool – not cold – with your best steak.

St. James Brut during the Cotton Bowl: Missouri Tigers beat Arkansas Razorbacks 38-7
It was my last bottle of St. James Brut, probably slightly overaged, but it seemed like the right time to finish it – New Year’s Day, watching Mizzou whop the Razorbacks. This was always a favorite bubbly of mine, but it was discontinued several years ago, which was why I still had the bottle. I am planning to be drinking another great MO sparkler while watching the Tigers on New Year’s Day 2009.
Participating in the MO wine video
It’s been my privilege to serve the Missouri Wine & Grape Board for many years now. This year, the board’s marketing committee produced a pair of 10-minute educational videos. One of the videos is a compilation of opinions from numerous St. Louis wine professionals, including this writer. I was honored to have been asked to participate in the production and was even more excited to see the final product. The quick-moving, fact-filled and passion-driven presentation is available on our state wine program’s Web site, www.missouriwine.org.

Patty Held-Uthlaut leaving Stone Hill
It was certainly a dark day when, in July, Patty Held-Uthlaut told me that she was leaving her family’s Stone Hill Winery. For many of us, Patty was the face of Stone Hill, and she will be missed tremendously by her many friends in the Missouri wine family.

Pouring MO wines at Slow Food Nation in San Francisco
When I was invited to attend the first Slow Food Nation Sustainable wine bar (which served wines from more than 30 states), my mind did not fully comprehend what 60,000 thirsty wine drinkers would look like from the other side of the bar. I conducted Norton seminars for small groups on day one, but on day two, I was opening red wines from more than 10 states, including Stone Hill’s Norton. Great wines were being poured on either side of me, but I told everyone in my line that they could taste great California wines every day but not great reds from the Midwest and East Coast. I also made them taste the Norton before they could taste anything else. It worked.

Certified sommelier Glenn Bardgett has overseen the award-winning wine list at Annie Gunn’s for the last seven years.