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The Thirteenth Annual Southern California Trade Tasting or the biggest wine tasting in LA you could ever go to

Once a year a mass of people descend on the Pasadena convention center to get their plonk on in the afternoon. I admit there have been a few years that I've attended where I've felt downright guilty; drinking like a true child of Dionysus on a random Tuesday afternoon while Joe Public toils away in their cubicle, but sometimes you gotta just let it go and live like you're a hip hop mogul even if you hadn't saved hundreds on some third party cell carrier.

And just before you ask and say "hey, how can I go" - bubby, you can't. You have to be invited as a vendor who sells wine in some form or fashion - I know peeps at 7-11 and the looks you get when sampling $80 culty Napa Valley Cabs while rocking a 7-11 store number on your id badge are indeed, priceless.

Now onto the wine.

Bex of Napa Valley was everything I like to zero in at this convention; limited case production, actual wine maker present and blondes. The highlight was their Chardonnay; light like a Sauvignon Blanc but balanced because of the oak finish. A perfect wine for a warm summer evening dinner or if you are going the distance at a wedding dance floor.

Guarachi Vineyards caught my eye because legendary high end winemaker Paul Hobbs has his hands all over this vineyard. Since Paul spends most of his time in South America and Alex Guarachi was MIA, I was left in the hands of a sales rep who had "I want to be any place but here" tattooed on her face. Despite the poor dog and pony show I left a luckier man after sampling an exemplarily Cabarnet Sauvignon.

The Santa Lucia Highlands provide near perfect conditions for growing Pinot Noir which is one of the most difficult grapes to grow well. I won't bore you the sweet AM fog followed by ample afternoon sun which contributes to such a fine bottle but it does warrant the $50+ price tag these wines can fetch.

For the last time it's not White Zinfandel and you're not at Olive Garden; its rose. And not all the good stuff is just from Provence. Usually I find Pinot Noir Rose to be a bit too fruit forward and tart for my tastes but this rose was as smooth as the very best stuff from Domaine Ott.

Coolest bottle of the day

A cool label goes a long way to helping choose what my 7th glass of wine is going to be; well done Windstream on flagging my attention. This was a deeply satisfying Chardonnay but kept its cool on the oak/butterscotch department. For those who think Cakebread is the only way to do Chardonnay, I challenge them to abandon oak for steel and try Windstream, its a fine white wine that won't make your red only drinkers gag.

Eventually at the Convention you get to a winemakers' booth and you just stay put. You praise them for their wine making powers while shamelessly slurping up more of their magical juice. Pinot Noir: rich, inky, balanced. Chardonnay: beautiful sweet and crisp edge.

Back to the Cabs. Though running on the sweeter end the '06 was still a complex wine with a finish that didn't linger needlessly, a welcomed shift from some of the more tannic wines that usually come out of Napa.

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