The Wine Experience is always great, but a lot of the action also occurs after the event during the dinner hour, when the thousands of participants invade some of the best restaurants in New York City.
I had interesting experience at BLT Steak last Friday night. I went to dinner there with Giacomo Neri of Casanova di Neri (the 2006 Wine of the Year winner), Bruna Giacosa of Bruno Giacosa and Enrica Scavino of Paolo Scavino. Everyone was in the mood for a great steak following a successful evening at the Spectator's Grand Tour tasting. And we found it at BLT.
The Italians were also interested in trying a California Pinot Noir -- something a little different from Brunello and Barolo. So I asked the sommelier to make a choice for us, since most of the names on the list I had not heard of. In fact, most of the names in the Pinot Noir section were a mystery. From what I can see, at least on the East and West Coasts, there is a growing trend for leading restaurants to try to put tiny-production wines on their lists that few people can find or even know about. And they like it even better if they have never been reviewed by critics.
This can be interesting. And you sometimes can discover some gems. But I think you can also encounter some pretty average wines at very high prices. Some wines are more like home-made brews.
Take, for example, the wine we were recommended, 2005 George III Pinot Noir Nuptial Vineyard Russian River Valley. I didn't get the story, but the sommelier said something like the wine was a "hand-made" Pinot, that a restaurant guy in Napa only had a few barrels and blah, blah, blah. The funky label of the wine says 3,846 bottles were made; so it wasn't as small a production as that.
Anyway, what a disappointment. The George Pinot was cloudy when it was poured and tasted of stale strawberry jam with vanilla flavoring. It was alcoholic and watery on the finish. And at about a buck fifty on the list -- ouch!
The Italians were shocked. They couldn¹t believe how bad it was. Giacosa said, "I wouldn¹t even sell this in bulk."
Anyway, we quickly ordered a bottle of 2002 Michel Lafarge Volnay before our steaks got cold. And the wine was a dream: fresh, floral and perfumed, it showed medium body, with fine tannins and a long caressing finish. It was a little tight, but with 20 minutes in the glass, it opened beautifully. 91 points, non-blind. Same price on the list as our George.
The sommelier didn't understand why we ordered the Volnay; he thought it was too hard and it wouldn't come around.
The experience still makes me wonder. Are some people misinterpreting novelty for quality? And what's wrong with the classic character of wines like the Lafarge Volnay?