When you buy food, you have lots of leeway in how it will taste on a plate. You can change it with seasonings, cooking methods, sauces, etc. When you buy wine, you get the vintner’s recipe. That explains why we gravitate toward the same labels and grape varieties at the store. To end the “been-there-done-that” cycle, we need to expand our repertoire.
Palm Desert Food & Wine offered an abundance of opportunities not only to entice our palates but also fill our minds with the stories and passions of people behind the vineyard, harvest, crush, blending, aging, and bottling process.
Ascension Cellars, at the end of one row of pouring tables, was a good place to wake up the taste buds. Among the Paso Robles winery’s lineup was a Silver Blanc Cuvée of marsanne, rousanne, viognier, and an outlier (non-Rhone grape) chardonnay. The Enchantress was a more typical Rhone blend of grenache blanc, marsanne, and rousanne.
New Zealand-based Kim Crawford, known primarily for its sauvignon blanc, brought its pair of Illuminate wines — sauvignon blanc and rosé — with a mere 7 percent alcohol by volume and 70 calories in a 5-ounce serving. Kim Crawford, incidentally, is the “official wine of Coachella” and hosts a Camp Kim Wine Lounge at the April music festival.
ZD Wines poured a single-clone pinot noir that marked the Napa Valley winery’s 50th anniversary.
As the history goes, founders Gino Zepponi and Norman deLeuze (thus the ZD name) had little money when they began, so they aged their original/1969 vintage of pinot noir and riesling (some 300 cases in total) in Jim Beam bourbon barrels.
Ondulé Wines also has an interesting back story. It is a “passion project” of a family that owns a Los Angeles-based company manufacturing corrugated cartons. (Ondulé is the French word for corrugated or wavy, though these are not box wines.) Sourcing grapes from Napa Valley, the founders have made a Bordeaux blend with a twist. To cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and malbec, they have added (in the 2014 vintage) 10 percent of a relatively rare, non-Bordeaux grape called alicante bouschet. In addition to being served at Coachella Valley restaurants (Mr. Lyons, Castelli’s, LG Prime Steakhouse, and La Spiga), Esmé is sold at Palm Springs’ Bouschet, whose owners derived their wine shop’s name in reference to the alicante bouschet they once sold under their own The Fab 3 label.
Austin Hope Winery of Paso Robles featured another less-well-known grape — the Italian variety called lagrein — in a 50/50 blend with petite sirah. There are fewer than 1,000 acres of lagrein grapes grown globally, and a 2020 California Grape Acreage Report shows a mere 58 acres grown in the state, with none being planted since 2015. Austin Hope Winery grows four acres of lagrein.
Professional racecar driver Kevin Buckler puts peddle to the metal on bottles in his premium collection known as The Racing Series. Redline — an atypical blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, zinfandel, petite sirah, and malbec — sports a moving tachometer that arcs into the redline when poured. Shift — another odd blend of zinfandel, barbera, grenache, petite sirah, and carignane — features a replica stainless steel gear-shift plate. The 24 — a GSM (grenache, syrah, mouvedre) with the addition of malbec — has a gold metal chronometer in tribute to an endurance race.
Apex — a blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, cabernet franc, petite sirah, and petit verdot — showcases a stainless-steel curve with rumble strips. Among highlighted wines, Adobe Road poured a blue wax-capped Blue Dog, which blends cabernet grapes from Sonoma and Napa vineyards. Car buffs might be interested in the winery’s announcement of a 2022 opening for a 16,000-square-foot complex in Petaluma that will marry a tasting room and event center with a motorsports museum.
Palm Desert Food & Wine showcased a vast range of wineries, wine regions, and wine grapes — as well as spirits, cocktails, and beer. Many of the bottles poured carry premium prices, though festival specials were available. (For example, Ascension Cellars offered $10 off every bottle and $1 shipping for a purchase of six or more bottles.) So the opportunity to explore was an experience that even dedicated oenophiles could find advantageous, educational, and noteworthy in terms of trying something new.