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Dear Taste Buds, I am so, so sorry. You must know that I was just trying to do something nice for you. Going to the 14th annual Hospice du Rhone wine festival in Paso Robles, Calif., sounded like such a good idea. I really believed you would revel in the opportunity to sample a wide variety of wines made with one or more of the 22 grape varieties found in the Rhone Valley. After all, I know how much you like syrahs, grenaches, and viogniers. But maybe I should have suspected that even dedicated, discriminating taste buds like you could only taste so many intensely flavored, interesting, and varied wines during a two-day period before revolting. Right off the bat we saw signs that things could get dicey. Eight Australian shirazes from the Elderton winery on the table and Midnight Oil blasting over the speakers at 9 a.m. told us that this wasn’t a typical wine tasting. But the wines were glorious. The Elderton Command Shiraz is always one of Australia’s top wines, and the 2004 barrel sample (an intense but still-disjointed baby of a wine) showed that the trend continues. But a real surprise was Elderton’s 2004 Friends Shiraz. Made from grapes purchased (not grown) by Elderton, the wine was medium bodied but displayed all of the characteristics (ripe fruit, low acidity, a fair bit of oak) that distinguish shiraz from the Barossa Valley. If it had ended there, we both could have walked away happy. But that was just the beginning. The next seminar, showcasing wines from nine producers from the Priorat region of Spain, provided little respite. After all, their motto (presumably based on the powdery rocks of the region) was “Schist happens,” and, boy, it happened to us. While all of the nine wines were unique and nuanced with a nice balance of fruit and earthiness, across the board they were powerful and full bodied. It’s understandable that you were getting a bit worn out. Luckily, lunch allowed us to recharge. Dozens of refreshing and vibrant “pink wines” from all over the world demonstrated the wide range of ros�s available. Uniformly delicious (no white zinfandel to be found here), they primed us for the Barrel Preview and Library Tasting — the showcase event of the day. The purpose of the tasting was twofold: to allow prospective bidders to taste samples of very young wines to be auctioned the next day and to provide participants with a range of older wines (at least five years old), demonstrating how these wines age. It was successful on both counts. Remember the 2005 “Le Dilegence” from Miner Family winery and Francois Villard? Great fruitiness with a dose of wet earth and a big whiff of oak. A wonderful wine even if it pushed you to your limit. And on the older side of the tasting, the 1998 Roussanne from Alban Vineyards was sensational — incredible focus with loads of tropical fruit and deep honey tones. Even though it was a white wine, it gave you quite a workout. After the day we had, your idea of ducking out an hour before the close of the tasting was a good one. The Grand Tasting on Saturday afternoon, dubbed “So Many Rhones, So Little Time,” was the last straw. With hundreds, if not thousands, of wines available, I subjected you to only a delicious fraction of that. And don’t forget the new finds that we made. The debut shirazes from Tallulah Wines and Redline were fantastic. Both wineries exhibited a range of extracted and distinctive wines from grapes sourced from all over California — and even one from Oregon. We will certainly taste them again. But after a long couple of days, the fraction of available wines that we tasted was enough for you to finally stop speaking to me. And for that I am sorry. As you mull over this apology, don’t forget all the great moments when you weren’t being assaulted by intense, flavorful wines. How often do we get to picnic, eat tostadas, and talk grenache with the experts who make our favorite wines? And just try to name one other wine tasting where we can wear shorts and flip-flops and fit right in. So again, I am sorry. Because of me you were bombarded by hundreds of flavorful and robust Rhone varietal wines. No doubt it will take you weeks to recover from the tasting, but you will recover and be begging me to supply some of the Condrieus, Paso Robles shirazes, and Cote-Roties to which you became accustomed. Remember, whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. And that’s good, because we are doing it again next year.
Phillip Dub� is an attorney and freelance writer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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