On Saturday morning, after two nights of Grand Tastings, the Wine Warriors breakfast and a full day of seminars, some Wine Experience attendees might wonder when the alarm went off how much more wine they could possibly taste. Yet the room was packed at 9:30 a.m. No one, it seemed, happened to hit the snooze button a few extra times. If they had, they would have missed one of the strongest Wine Experience Saturday lineups ever.
Wine Spectator editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken kicked things off with a session that opened eyes, answered questions and, most of all, demonstrated the importance of why Wine Spectator staff taste wines blind. Seven senior editors each selected a red wine whose identity remained unknown to the others as well as to the Wine Experience audience of 1,200.
|Audience members voted on their favorite wines in the blind tasting.|
"This is the first time we've ever tried this, and we hope it will be a lot of fun," said Shanken in his introduction. The editors explained that when they sit down to taste, they know the principal grape variety, the region and the vintage, but they don't know the producer or the price. In a nutshell, they said, it's the single best method of minimizing bias when assigning scores to wines.
The editors and audience then tasted through the wines, all of which were poured from bottles wrapped in foil so everyone would be equally in the dark. After tasting through the wines, marked "A" through "E," each person voted for their one favorite, selecting their choice on an electronic keypad. Only then were the producers, prices and scores revealed, leaving many people surprised about their preferences and guesses. Most popular among the crowd was James Laube's choice, the Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Beckstoffer ToKalon Vineyard MMV 2005 "Old Sparky" (not yet rated, $250/1.5L). The other editors' picks, in order of the crowd vote, were:
2. Bodegas Alto Moncayo Garnacha Campo de Borja 2004 (92, $44), chosen by Thomas Matthews
3. Shea Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Shea Vineyard Estate 2004 (95, $38), chosen by Harvey Steiman
4. De Trafford Shiraz Stellenbosch 2003 (94, $65), chosen by James Molesworth
5. Château Pontet-Canet Pauillac 2005 (95-100, $125 at present, $80 at release), chosen by James Suckling
6. Quinta do Vale Meão Douro 2005 (NYR, $62), chosen by Kim Marcus
7. Nicolas Rossignol Volnay-Santenots 2005 (NYR, $90), chosen by Bruce Sanderson
Shanken ended the seminar by reminding the crowd that, for all its entertainment value, the tasting was meant primarily to be informative. "I gave a tough assignment [to the editors], but at the same time I think the discussion of how we taste wines blind at Wine Spectator is very important," he said.
The crowd's response indicated that they couldn't have agreed more. Either that, or they were excited about the next session, always a favorite—the Food and Wine Tasting with the Four Chefs: Charlie Trotter, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Mario Batali. It isn't just star power that always makes this particular session stand out—it's that the chefs don't hold anything back, and manage to make creative, superb food-and-wine pairings for a huge crowd.
Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews, who moderates the session each year, set the rules: Each chef had to create a dish that matched with both a white and a red wine of their choice, and the audience would vote on the most successful.
First up was Charlie Trotter with his "'Foie Gras' from the Sea, in Homage to Wolfgang Puck." "I feel so badly that a guy who loves foie gras so much can't eat it anymore," joked Trotter, referring to Puck's recent decision to drop the item from all his menus. Foie gras had been Puck's Wine Experience signature, as he had served it in some form every year.
In keeping with Trotter's reputation, the monkfish terrine was a complex dish with many ingredients, including a topping of crimini mushroom, pickled beef tongue and red wine-marinated ginger. He served the dish with a Spanish white, the crisp, minerally Bodegas Godeval Valdeorras Viña Godeval 2006 (90, $17) and the Allan Scott Pinot Noir Marlborough 2006 (NYR, $23).
Lagasse served up a prosciutto-wrapped yellowfin tuna with dried apricot and currant couscous salad, savory pistachio biscotti and a red wine-and-cherry syrup. His pairings were the Weinbach Pinot Gris Alsace Altenbourg Cuvée Laurence 2005 (92, $71), with its residual sugar balanced by its acidity, and Belle Glos Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Las Alturas Vineyard 2005 (83, $50), with cherry aromas.
|Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck shared a laugh during the "Four Chefs" tasting.|
Puck created an autumn-inspired dish: a ragout of braised duck with winter vegetables, sweet potato flan and Asian spices. It was topped with a peppery cookie that echoed notes in both his choices—the Franz Hirtzberger Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Trocken Wachau Spitzer Rotes Tor 2004 (90, $46) and the Archery Summit Pinot Noir Oregon Premier Cuvée 2005 (NYR, about $40)—but the dish also worked well with other wines on the table.
In keeping with his Italian inspirations, Batali served porchetta "in saor," a Venetian preparation traditionally used for delicate fish. He marinated pork shoulder in the rich Leonildo Pieropan Soave Classico La Rocca 2004 (92, $42) and rolled it around a pork-and-fennel sausage filling. Before cooking, he brushed it with a little red wine. "Wait, so you put red wine and white wine in this dish?" asked Matthews.
"I'm convinced that will help me win," retorted Batali. Nonetheless, the crowd preferred the dish with his red choice: Nino Negri Valtellina Sfursat 5 Stelle 2003 ($45), a Nebbiolo-based wine with soft fruit and high acidity. And in the end, Puck's dish and pairings got the biggest cheers from the crowd.
|Marvin R. Shanken with chef Michael Mina.|
The four chefs themselves, however, noted how excited they were about San Francisco chef Michael Mina's lunch, which immediately followed. Mina skillfully served up a lobster appetizer, followed by braised pork short ribs. It was just what was needed to whet everyone's appetite for the final seminar, the 1997 Italian tasting led by Wine Spectator European bureau chief James Suckling.
1997 is considered one of the best vintages ever for Italian wine, and this tasting of all classic-scoring (95-100 points) bottlings showed why. The wines were all showing beautifully 10 years after the vintage, which, Suckling explained, "was like 1982 for Bordeaux, 1974 for California and 1994 for Vintage Port. These are all benchmark vintages for their respective regions." Also exciting was how many of the panelists representing their wines were women—all but one.
The first two wines came from Piedmont: The Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto 1997 (97) a single-vineyard Barolo presented by Bruna Giacosa, daughter of Barolo master Bruno Giacosa. That was followed by the Gaja Langhe Sorì San Lorenzo 1997 (98), a single-vineyard, Nebbiolo-based wine from Barbaresco, presented by Gaia Gaja, daughter of owner Angelo Gaja.
Next up was a duo of Tuscan wines: the Marchesi de Frescobaldi Brunello di Montalcino Castelgiocondo Ripe al Convento Riserva 1997 (98), presented by the winery's technical manager, Lamberto Frescobaldi, and the Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli 1997 (98), presented by owner Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini.
|Giacomo Neri was recognized for the 2006 Wine of the Year.|
Frescobaldi noted that ageworthy Italian wines such as these are a relatively new phenomenon. "Ten years ago," he said, "a tasting such as this would not have been possible. Italian wine was not up to the challenge." Italian winemaking only gained recognition for high quality in the early 1990s due to the adoption of new techniques and lower cropping.
Moving into the Cabernet-blend super Tuscans, Albiera Antinori presented her family's solid, tight and fresh Antinori Toscana Solaia 1997 (98), which was Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year in 2000. Joining it was the Fattoria Le Pupille Toscana Saffredi 1997 (95), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Alicante, presented by owner Elisabetta Geppetti.
Last but not least were two wines not from Tuscany or Piedmont, but more than deserving of their place alongside the others. The Foradori Teroldego Rotaliano Granato 1997 (95), presented by owner and winemaker Elisabetta Foradori, showed great freshness and finesse. No less exciting was the Allegrini Verona La Poja 1997 (95), a solid, fruity red made from the Corvina grape and presented by owner Marilisa Allegrini.
|Jean-Michel Cazes and Chuck Wagner, the 2007 Distinguished Service Award honorees.|
Summing up, Suckling said that what he likes about Italian wine is that it evokes the terroir, the food, the culture and the history of Italy. "If you want to be part of that," he said, "just buy a bottle of Italian wine."
As New York Wine Experience's last seminar came to a close on Saturday, the excitement was still ramping up. Attendees put on their tuxes and gowns and gathered one more time to enjoy dinner and pay tribute to new Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurants, 2006 Wine of the Year winner Giacomo Neri and Distinguished Service Award winners Chuck Wagner of Caymus and Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages. The latter two received a standing ovation and, if not for the dessert course, the crowd could have simply remained standing, as it would for the long-anticipated performance of Frankie Valli.
The septuagenarian Jersey Boy wowed the crowd with songs such as Grease and Oh, What a Night, just as the wines did for every minute of the three days leading up to Valli's first note.
—Seminar reports contributed by Daniel Sogg, Dana Nigro and Jo Cooke
—Photographs by Kent Hanson and John von Pamer
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