Tuesday, February 26, 2008

8th Annual Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival

We were fortunate to count ourselves among the 35,000 attendees to the 8th Annual Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival. We participated in the Friday Trade Tasting and the Saturday General Tasting. There were hundreds of different types of wine, beer, and spirits to taste as well as cooking classes given by the Food Network’s personalities. Even though the festival runs over four days and nights – there is still not enough time to adequately attend each event. This year we once again chose to spend the majority of our time experiencing the amazing wines and spirits; and sadly we did not witness any of the cooking demonstrations. On Friday we allocated our time to tasting red wines from the United States and France and on Saturday, we spent the day tasting white wines, sparkling wine, and spirits. And as a disclaimer, we probably tasted only a third of the wines and spirits poured at the festival and those mentioned below are just a subset of the wines we enjoyed. And remember, in all cases - trust your own palate.

One of the first wines we tasted was a new brand from Seven Daughters, their red and white blends. Each wine consists of 7 types of grapes, hence the name, and is marketing to the value consumers –the wine are priced near $15/bottle. The red is majority Merlot with smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignane, and Sangiovese. If you think this blend different, the white consists of Chardonnay, Symphony, Riesling, Orange Muscat, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and French Colombard. These blends are rather unique. We followed that with a few more traditional wines and found great merlots and cabs from Beaulieu Vineyard, Sterling Vineyards, Bedell Cellars, and Trefethen Vineyards. At Sonoma’s Landmark Vineyards we discovered their 2004 Grand Detour Pinot Noir which was very similar to our favorite Oregon pinot, the 2006 Pinot Noir from Cubanisimo Vineyards. Our friends at Cubanisimo were also pouring an excellent rose and we listened to trade customers inform the Collada family how fast their wines fly off the shelf. Cubanisimo is also a favorite on the many cruise ships departing Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Of the Zinfandel wines we tasted the 2003 Geyserville from Ridge Vineyards (Santa Cruz) stood out. This wine is a blend of 76% zinfandel, 18% carignane, and 6% petite sirah. From Washington State we liked the 2002 Col Solare Red Blend made from Woodinville’s Col Solare Wines. This is a Bordeaux styled blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot had was both smooth with texture. Another Bordeaux-styled wine was poured by Walla Walla’s Spring Valley Vineyard, their 2003 Uriah. This wine is predominately merlot and is incredibly smooth and flavorful.

Luckily a few Bordeaux wineries participated in the festival and two of the best were from Chateau Lascombes, their 2004 (50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot) and 2005 (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot). Both wines were amazing, but both in their own way. The 2004 was a lighter with more texture while the 2005 was fruitier and spicier. And winemaker, Dominique Befve, was present to inform us how this Margaux winery is becoming one of the regions top wine producers. From the Médoc region, we enjoyed the Chateau Greysac Medoc 2003 and the neighboring Château Larose-Trintaudon Haut-Médoc 2003. Both wines retail for less than $20 and show once again that there are affordable Bordeaux wines. You just got to find them. The final wine we’d like to note came from across and down the river, the Château Simard St. Emilion 1998. This wine is released after having aged 10 years in the bottle after fermenting in stainless steel. With this wine, you don’t need to wait to see how a wine ages, and at $30 you don’t pay for it. We left Friday’s tasting a little early in order to interview barbecue champion Chris Lilly – which is posted below.

We started Saturday by tasting white wines and started with one I noticed the previous day, Maison Trimbach, a winery that has been making wines in Alsace since 1626. The French Alsace region is the home of excellent Riesling that the American public normally associates with Germany. We tasted their Gewurztraminer which is made dry with a slight spicy finish and the Riesling “Reserve” – a classic grand cru wine. Both wines are perfect beach wines. Napa’s Trefethen Vineyards also produces a good riesling, the 2006 Estate Dry Riesling. This wine is very refreshing with a citrus\ green apple flavor with a nice acidic finish. We found two very good chardonnays, the classic Grgich Hills Cellar Napa Valley Estate Grown and Oregon’s Domaine Drouhin’s 2006 Chardonnay Arthur. Both wines are crisp and fruity with slight hints of oak that give texture but not butter. We found a good Sauvignon Blanc with Mendocino’s Parducci Wine Cellars. Their 2006 Sauvignon Blanc has a lemon and pineapple flavor with a very refreshing acidic finish. A similar wine, and perhaps our favorite white, was the classic Bordeaux blend from Yountville’s Cosentino Winery and their 2006 Cosentino The Novelist. This wine is a blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon that is partially fermented is French Oak barrels. This wine is similar to the other Sauvignon Blancs with citrus flavors and an acidic finish, but this wine has a stronger floral aroma and more texture and feeling. The wine is also reasonably priced at under $20.

Of the sparkling wines we tasted two California wineries stood out. Napa Valley’s Mumm Napa was pouring two sparklers, their Blanc de Noirs and Brut Prestige. The rosé Blanc de Noirs is made primarily from Pinot Noir grapes where the grape’s skins are removed quickly to produce the pink color but retain the fruit flavor. The Brut Prestige is primarily Chardonnay and is much drier but with similar structure. Both are great value wines, priced below $20. Sonoma’s Gloria Ferrer Winery was also pouring their Blanc de Noirs as well as their 2000 Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvée. The cuvee has a little more Chardonnay than the Blanc de Noirs and is aged 6 years on the yeast. We had an interesting conversation with two wine experts while drinking this sparkler that showed that even educated consumers have different tastes. One preferred the Cuvée whereas the other preferred the Spanish Segura Viudas - one was too carbonated – the other too one-dimensional and their exchange was worth videoing – maybe next time.

Turning to spirits, one of the first we tried is one making a comeback in this country, absinthe, this one produced by Lucid. Absinthe was first commercialized in the early 1800's and is made from various herbs such as Green Anise and Sweet Fennel and the Grande Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). This gives the liquor a black licorice taste. The spirit mixed with water poured over a sugar cube which accents the black licorice taste. Another favorite was the Voyant Chai Cream Liqueur Liquor, made from aged Virgin Island rum, Dutch cream, Black Tea from India, other spirits from Holland, and several Asian spices. This concoction is delicious over ice or used in as in ingredient in the Chai Coloda – basically the Chai Cream, Cream of Coconut and pineapple juice. This is the taste of South Beach. The next spirit was the Cachaça Moleca, think of cachaca as the Brazilian form of rum with a slight tequila flavor. Moleca produces two versions, a Silver which is used as a mixer (simply lime and sugar is our favorite) and the Gold sipping cachaca. The Gold is fabulous - aged three years in oak and extremely smooth with a slight wood flavor. This is as good as any expensive sipping rum and will be a regular at our home bar.

Speaking of rum, we tried several excellent brands and four stand out. The Ron Barceló IMPERIAL has been made in the Dominican Republic since 1929 and is a smooth sipping rum. According to its literature, it was selected as “The Best Rum in the World” by the Beverage Institute of Chicago in both 2000 and 2001. It reached the highest qualification (97/100) never before awarded to a rum by the Institute, after calling it “a superb world-class drink”. Next was the Flor De Caña, a Nicaraguan rum made by the same family since 1937. Our two favorites were the 12 year old Centemario and the Limited Edition Centemario 21 – aged 15 years. One of the best is the Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva, from Venezuela. This dark brown rum has hints of vanilla and a slight toffee finish; and very smooth. Our favorite was Vizcaya, a Dominican Republic rum made from the Cuban tradition where the rum is produced directly from sugar cane juice, instead of converting the sugar first to molasses. The Cuban family responsible for Vizcaya has been making rum in Cuba since the early 1820’s but was forced out after Castro nationalized people’s assets. This rum is smooth and slightly sweet with honey flavors and a vanilla finish.

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As you can see from our commentary – the Food Network South Beach Wine and Food Festival provides an excellent opportunity to sample extraordinary wines, spirits, and food. Next year we plan to spend a little more time in the cooking demonstrations and we thank Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida and Robin Insley Associates for giving as an opportunity to cover this event. And to see how much fun you can have next year, watch the video below.

Update: We apologize for the lack of audio for the videos. We tried to imitate our good friend Dezel at My Virginia Vine Spot and interview attendees, but after reading the manual for our cheap digital camera, we learned that it does not record audio. Time for a new camera.

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