Are You a Wine Geek?

Could a blind tasting of French red Burgundy and California Pinot Noirs draw any parallels, differences and conclusions about the endless comparisons between these two regions? 

A weekend of (mostly) blind tastings empowers most wine drinkers to trust their palates. 

I have to admit that despite the number of amazing opportunities my wild ride of a career affords me, I am extremely honored to have been asked to co-host “Wine Geek Weekend” at the legendary farm, estate, and resort, Blackberry Farm, with Andy Chabot, Sommelier and Food & Beverage Director. The annual event aims to bring together wine-lovers — serious aficionados and amateurs alike — for a fun weekend of tasting, learning. and a good deal of eating, too! Our goal this year, as always, was to equip guests with the tools to better choose, pair, taste, and serve wines. 

When Andy and I were in the early planning stages, we talked about the kinds of questions we get from everyday consumers. For Andy, that means his interractions with guests who come to spend a few days at the Farm, or those who just come for a meal in their iconic dining space, “The Barn,” where executive chef Cassidee Dabney holds the keys to the kitchen, and Andy holds the keys to the Farm’s 170,000-bottle cellar collections showcasing more than 9,000 selections. For me, it means the conversations with the countless people I meet practically every day while hosting classes, wine dinners, wine tours, team building exercises — and, of course, those who write to me here at The Food & Wine Club.

Here are the topics we landed on, and how we executed them:


All that Sparkles is Champagne?

Idea There are wines made in Champagne, those made like Champagne from elsewhere, and then all the rest. What makes Champagne and Champagne Method stand out from the rest?

Wine list
  • Moet Brut Imperial Balance of the three grapes. 
  • Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label A house with a focus on pinot noir. 
  • Ruinart Blanc de Blanc A house with a focus on chardonnay. 
  • Krug Grande Cuvee 164th Edition Our anchor at BBF. Beyond the notion of vintage. 
  • Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec A style emanating from the origins of Champagne
  • Villa Crespia Franciacorta 2007
  • Huet Vouvray Petillant 2013
  • Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Calistoga 2016


White’s the matter?

Idea It’s somewhat ironic for sommeliers of a certain age (me more than Andy!) to see Americans shunning white wine in favor of red, when the reality was nearly the opposite 25 years ago when I was getting started. We chose five vastly different styles of white to buck stereotypes.

Wine list
  • Alzinger Loinbenberg Smaragd Wachau Grüner Veltliner 2004
  • Domaine Francois Raveneau Petit Chablis Magnum 2015
  • Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage Blanc 2004
  • Cayuse Cailloux Walla Walla Viognier 2015
  • Vina Tondonia Riojo Blanco 1991


Temperature Tantrum

Idea Many consumers are confused about the “proper” temperature to serve wine, with some thinking: cold for whites, and room temp for reds. We tasted three flights of the same five wines, all served at dramatically different temperatures to discuss which tasted best at which temperature. It was a revelation for many.

Wine list
  • Melville INOX Chardonnay Stainless steel white, Sta. Rita Hills, 2013
  • Failla Keefer Ranch Chardonnay Oaky white, Sonoma, 2015
  • Kutch Pinot Noir Light red, Sonoma Coast, 2015
  • Domaine du Durieu Chateauneuf-du-Pape Med spicy red, 2015
  • Araujo Altagarcia Cabernet Sauvignon Heavier red, Napa Valley, 2012


The Possibly Definitive Discussion about Cheese and Wine Pairing

Idea Everyone thinks wine and cheese are perfect together, but that’s often where the conversation ends. We wanted to show how the character of five classic cheeses pairs, or doesn’t, with five classic styles of wine.

Wine list
  • Domaine Laporte Sancerre 2016 + Fresh Cheese Chevre
  • Paillard Champagne Grand Cru 2004 + Bloomy Rind
  • Domaine de Trevallon Les Alpilles Red 2004 + Hard Cheese
  • Chrisian Serafin Gevrey Chambertin Vielles Vignes 2003 + Washed Rind
  • Benoit Ente Chassagne Montrachet 2014 + Blue Cheese


Isn’t that too old?

Idea Popular thinking is that older wines are always better and always more valuable. We set out to prove that age is in the eye of the imbiber, and took advantage of some seriously rare wines to make our point.

Wine list
  • E. Guigal Condrieu La Doriane 1995/2001/2015
  • Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape 1995/2001/2013

Ultimately, I think we were successful convincing guests who never thought they had serious points of view about wine that subjective opinions count, and they don’t necessarily have to agree with our tastes. In fact, we’d be dubious if everyone liked everything we poured. I think we also considered many collectors to think about alternative places to find, looking at places they might never have looked at, grapes they tended to ignore because of popular sentiment or misunderstanding, and to take advantage of experts and sommeliers whenever they’re available. 

It was simply amazing and I hope to be asked back in a couple of years. In the meantime, if you’d like to host an event of any shape or size, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at