My dad has always said that if you have any mode of transportation going to a destination other than where I currently am, I’m all in. I think the travel bug hit me pretty early as both sets of grandparents regularly took us grandkids on trips. In college, I remember being heartbroken at not being able to study abroad as I worked through college and there was no way my mom cold afford it. I’m in my mid-40s and still lament that lost opportunity. Fast forward a few decades and I still like seeking out adventures in new places. And I definitely passed that trait on to Thing 1. Thing 2 is more of a homebody, but we’re starting to wear him down.
One of my favorite things about travel is discovering the unexpected or stumbling upon some gem of a place off the beaten path. I remember years ago trying to find what is now one of my favorite Texas wineries. We drove for what seemed to be hours (yes I’m exaggerating but it seemed to take forever) in the middle of nowhere to the point where I was starting to doubt their existence. And then it just appeared. When I got inside, I had an absolutely fantastic experience. I loved the setting, the service, and just about every wine I tasted. And doesn’t everyone who has really gotten into wine travel have a similar story? A neat place at the end of a dirt road, tasting with the owner in his garage, a cool albeit strange man with purple teeth who happened to be the winemaker, or whatever the story happens to be – all ending with a fantastic bottle of wine.
So when I started seeing the Judge Palmer wines on social media with the prominent scales of justice on the bottles, the lawyer in me was definitely intrigued. Was this a lawyer turned winemaker/winery owner?! Doing some research (because that’s what lawyers do) I not only found out the story behind the winery but also about their philosophy and what they stand for. I mean, anyone whose opening line is “We believe there’s a lot of bullshit in the world of wine these days” when describing themselves is speaking my language. Those who know me well know that my standard line at the office is “I have a low tolerance for bullshit.”
Judge Palmer is a small winery off the beaten path, located in a very secluded area of Dry Creek Valley in Northern Sonoma County.
Just the type of place you’d drive to and wonder where the heck you were. But once you got there, the reward would totally be worth it as you would be treated to scenic views, an intimate and personal tasting, and you would get to leave with an amazing bottle (or two) of wine. So since their website encourages me to “try a bottle with a jury of my peers” I brought over some lawyer friends to taste with me. Not that we have better taste buds or anything, but I knew they’d get a kick out of it. I decided to make an evening of it and made a fabulous dinner. This was actually an opportunity for a bit of pre-gaming too as I’m hosting a wine and food pairing fundraiser in a couple of weeks and needed to try out a couple of things.
We tasted three wines, samples which were sent to me by the folks at Judge Palmer.
2013 Sauvignon Blanc
First up was the Sauvignon Blanc.
The wine was a lovely, clear straw yellow. Initially on the nose I didn’t pick up much and another astute observer got “wine.” Yeah, OK. After opening up a bit more, I got some floral notes of honeysuckle as well as some golden pear.
Tasting this, we all picked up some citrus and two of us picked up some tart green apple. There was some nice acidity on the wine and at times the wine almost seemed to show hints of sweetness.
I’d planned this for my lovely cheese and charcuterie board.
Because you need to see it again.
I’d chosen some goat cheese and Gruyere to pair and definitely liked the Gruyere more. I also really liked a touch of honey on the toast or even an almond dipped in a bit of honey. It just seemed to complement the wine very nicely.
2014 Rosé of Malbec
Next up was the Rosé, which was made with Malbec but also had a small bit of Sauvignon Blanc blended in prior to bottling. The Rosé was a beautiful salmon pink and was very much a surprise as it seemed to just keep evolving. After giving it some time to open up, I got strawberry preserves on the nose. Tasting it revealed a medium bodied wine with medium acidity and the smallest hint of creaminess. More of the strawberries on the palate as well as some red currants. I also picked up some subtle spice that I still can’t put my finger on, maybe cinnamon. For this wine, I’d made some fried green tomatoes.
But I have to say that I actually preferred the tomatoes with Sauvignon Blanc and many of the items on the cheese and charcuterie board with the Rosé.
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon
Last up was the Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the flagship wine as evidenced by their motto of “Truth, Justice & California Cabernet.” For this wine, I decided on beef short ribs braised in red wine. And just know that I don’t subscribe to the “only cook with a bottle of wine that you would drink” mentality. I will find something decent and inexpensive, but I promise you it won’t be a great wine. I mean, really. Why would I pour a very good bottle of Cab into something that’s going to cook for hours and be combined with beef, onions, stock, etc.? I just don’t roll like that! I’m just too practical (cheap). Whatever. Anyway, the ribs were delicious and fall off the bone tender and I served them over cheddar grits with pancetta and green onion.
I decanted the Cab for about an hour and a half prior to drinking. So what did we all think of the wine? This was the group favorite for sure. It was a deep garnet red and the juicy plum and cherry aromas filled the glass. I just really loved the nose on this. Almost like smelling Cherry Coke back in the day. Do they even still make Cherry Coke? A second whiff also revealed a bit of green pepper. On the palate we all agreed that we tasted dark cherry, a bit of chocolate, and a hint of earth. It was the perfect accompaniment to the short ribs.
As much as I liked the wines, I also love the story behind the winery’s name. I always say I’m a sucker for a success story. The winery is named for the grandfather of one of the winery founders, Palmer Emmitt. Emmitt’s grandfather was a small town electrician who had become paralyzed following an accident. When the county judge in his town died, he was offered the job but wasn’t a lawyer. So what did he do? He studied like crazy and ended up being re-elected multiple times. Talk about a heck of a second career! And I thought I had pressure when I took the bar exam!
All of the Judge Palmer wines are located on their website for purchase so do yourself a favor and order yourself a bottle (or three)! You can also gift a bottle to your favorite lawyer. Ahem.