Sunday, March 1, 2009

2009 South Beach Wine & Food Festival - Best of the Best

On the first full day of the festival, Friday the 20th, we actually took it easy during the afternoon Trade Tasting because we had a full schedule planned for that evening. It all started with a cocktail hour at The Tides for Batali Rocks - sponsored by Hendricks Gin. The event showcased the collaboration between chef Maria Batali and wristwatch designer Leonid Khankin. Under heat lamps - yes it got a little chilly in the evening - we ate h'ordourves and sampled some interesting gin infused concoctions. After a cucumber laden drink we switched to gin on the rocks - much better. After meeting Guy Fieri we were forced to leave in order to arrive punctually for the evening's main event: Wine Spectator’s “Best of the Best".

The Best of the Best was held at the Fontainebleau, which had just finished a $1 Billion renovation. Yes $1 Billion; talking about bringing a Vegas casino to the beach. We were pretty naive about this event, we knew the wine would be good, but we completely underestimated the quality of the food. This event was the bomb. Walking in you were immediately inundated with awesome wines: Beaulieu Vineyard, Far Niente, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Provenance Vineyards..... We started with a Grgich Hills Cellar Chardonnay - how could you go wrong - and the wines got better. Many of the wines just listed are household names, but we found many new finds - and mostly Pinot Noir. There was the Trolley Pinot Noir from Red Car Wine Company, the Pali Wine Company's Russian River Valley Proprietary Reserve; Donum Estate's Carneros Pinot Noir; and A. P. Vin's Kanzler Vineyard Pinot Noir. We also drank amazing Cabernet Sauvignon from Ladera Vineyards, Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards, and Andrew Geoffrey Vineyards; Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from TOR Kenward Family Wines; and Sauvignon Blanc from Silver Pines Vineyards. The event was definitely California top heavy - but there were wines from Bordeaux - including our friends at Château Lascombes; Spain; Austria; and most importantly Italy. We found two gems from Sicily, both from Planeta. The La Segreta Bianco is a a blend of 5 white varities - predominately the native Grecanico, then smaller amounts of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Fiano. The second was the Santa Cecilia, made from 100% Nero d'Avola. This wine provides a mouthful of flavor, with a smooth, balanced tail. These are two nice wines and coming from Sicily, they must have great price points.

Then there was the food. Even though we are food novices, many of the chefs were familiar to us: Masaharu Morimoto, Tyler Florence, Michael Psilakis. A couple to add to this list are now Michael Symon and Andrea Curto-Randazzo & Frank Randazzo. Everwhere you turned there were plates of gourmet food - we stuffed ourselves worse than any Thanksgiving dinner. You couldn't help it. The crabcakes from a now forgotten chef was the absolute best. (By this point our journalistic skills were quite diminished.) The dessert bar was something out of a dream: truffles, mini key lime pies, apple caramel - you get the idea. The Best of the Best was probably the most worthwhile ticket for the weekend, even with the $300 tag. Its one we will not forget.

Feeling ambitious we ended the night at the Hotel Victor and the Seven Daughters SoBe Soundcheck. The party was held surrounding the rooftop deck and included burgers, Seven Daughters wine, Swiss Vodka, more desserts from the hotel's restaurant, Vix Restaurant, music from The Cringe, and for those interested, Rachael Ray. The Cringe is fronted fronted by her husband John Cusimano. But after one vodka tonic, we had miscalculated. We were done. After gorging and drinking at the Best of the Best - we needed bed. Not even the pool, music or Food Network celebrities were an incentive to remain. We'll have to catch The Cringe another time in New York or SXSW. Ingrid Hoffman, we see you Saturday.

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