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FEATURE ARTICLE - TWO STYLES, TWO COAST, TOO MUCH FUN
Food & Wine Events Tempt Event Goers
Across the Nation
Despite the intense marketing and growing convenience of fast food, Americans still pay homage to excellent cuisine. The rise of nationally acclaimed food and wine festivals is one example of our keen interest; another is the proliferation of celebrity chefs. Put those two together and you’ve got a growing variety of noteworthy events to attend across the United States.
This year, two back-to-back events presented cuisine, education, and entertainment on two coasts: the Masters of Food and Wine in Carmel, California, on February 17-20, and the South Beach Wine and Food Festival in Miami, Florida, February 25-27. The events couldn’t have been more different in their presentation or their locales, but the underlying premise — the celebration of good wine and food — was the same.
“Two oceans, this one is warmer and that is all I have to say about that!” quipped Bradley Ogden as he served me an amazing langoustine in coconut milk soup with cilantro at the “Best of the Best” event at the Fontainebleau Hilton in Miami Beach. The weekend before he had been by the other ocean (the cold Pacific off the coast of Monterey County). There he had been presiding over an intimate cooking demonstration, as well as serving the third course in the five-course Friday lunch. For that event Ogden prepared buttermilk-poached rocky chicken, black-truffle-crusted sticky rice balls, and smoked cinnamon cap mushrooms with celery-root froth. This was paired with Domaine Serene’s 2001 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve.
“This is one event put together with two people in mind,” Chiarello said referring to both the food and wine producers and those that came to enjoy their efforts
Masterful in Monterey
The Nineteenth Annual Masters of Food and Wine was held at the Highlands Park Hyatt Hotel in Carmel overlooking the stunning Big Sur coastline of Monterey County. Cool morning fog and days filled with lightly misting rain set a mellow mood, and participants strolled leisurely from private cooking demonstrations to lunches to moderated wine tastings. The tastings matched the diversity of the food, with a range of wines, winemaking styles, and vineyard locations. Many of the wines poured are hard to find on restaurant wine lists, no matter how much we wished they were.
I began my tasting series with Henschke from Keyneton in South Australia, which offered two wonderful vineyard-specific shirazes. Henschke is unique in that they own and cultivate vines that range up to 130 years old – before phylloxera and grafting became widespread. We tasted the older wines first, because the Henschkes felt their complexity might be overshadowed by the more powerful fruit in the younger wines.
The next day, I was introduced to one of Burgundy’s better known names, Bouchard Pere & Fils. We tasted the Beaune Greves Vigne de L’Enfant Jesus (Pinot Noir) from 1961, 1998, 1999, 2002, and 2003, and the Le Montrachet (Chardonnay) from 1961, 1998, 1999, 2002, and 2003. This time, we tasted the red wines before the white wines and the young wines before the old wines. Bernard Hervet, Managing Director of Bouchard Pere & Fils, said that it was necessary to drink the fine older wines last because you would not want to move on from them to the younger wines. They were absolutely amazing and delicious.
The last tasting I chose, on the final day of the Masters, was hosted by Dom Perignon. The winery favored us with a vintage 1993 poured from a Jéroboam (a large bottle holding three liters, also known in the Champagne world as a “double magnum”; apparently only 50 of these giants were distributed in Northern California). We also tasted two other current vintages: 1995 and 1996. These wines sound old but are still “in market” as far as Dom Perignon is concerned. We also tasted library wines from 1964, 1973, 1976, and 1990, as well as sparkling rosés from 1990 and 1995. I love sparking wines and both the 1973 and 76 were incredible. As we moved through the tasting, I would frequently return to a wine that had warmed to room temperature (the champagnes were served lightly chilled). Remarkably, the wines held their delicious complexity even as they warmed. While I hovered over the 1973 and 1976, my tasting partner kept going back to the 1993 and 1995.
Bernard Ganter, Director of Trade Relations of Moet & Chandon, hosted the retrospective tasting. During his talk, the conversation turned to screw caps verse corks. As you can imagine, a French Champange producer would not favor screw caps and Ganter did not mince his words. I could almost see a dark cloud forming over the head of Prue Henschke, who was at the tasting — the Henschkes are very favorably disposed toward alternative closures.
Sun and Sand at “SoBe”
After the quiet and studied luxury of the Masters, I found South Beach (“SoBe”) noisy, sandy, warm, and spirited. Literally spirited, in fact, because unlike the California event, the Florida festival mixed vodkas, rums, and other distilled liquors in with the wine.
Two large canopies provided shade from both sun and rain, housing the energetic ensemble of chefs, wineries, specialty food purveyors, publications, and beverage companies. During the day, participants wandered about sampling wares, picking up literature, and attending demonstrations. At night there were parties, dinners, and barbeques. Miami is a party town, so it was possible to start in the tents during the day, attend a dinner, go to a party afterward — and still hit the clubs before the sun came up!
As you can imagine, this is a popular event and almost all activities were sold out (the Masters was as well this year). At the Best of the Best, I ran into a couple that purchased their tickets on eBay. I didn’t ask how much they had to pay, but regular ticket prices were $275 per person.
In addition to Bradley Ogden, 11 other nationally and regionally renowned chefs dished out small plates with big tastes. These were paired with wines from about 30 producers, including both large national wineries and artisanal boutique wineries. Our Napa neighbor, TV chef and cookbook author Michael Chiarello, was sharing samples from Chiarello Family Vineyards in between signing autographs for fans. “This is one event put together with two people in mind,” Chiarello said referring to both the food and wine producers and those that came to enjoy their efforts. “This is not centered around the ego of the promoter.” Chiarello said he was honored to participate, pointing out the high-wattage star power in the room. “Look at the talent that is here tonight,” he said of the other chefs. “These people are not just throwing out food, they are here cooking.”
Indeed they were. Russell Martoccio, of the Fontainebleau, was working over a three-and-a-half foot paella pan. I saw him refill the pan four times before the evening was out. Marvin Woods was serving up some great low-country fare: braised ox tails with chocolate demi-glaze (very nice with Chiarello’s Old Vine Zinfandel). Clearly, because of the location, fresh seafood ruled, but there were some tasty exceptions, including the ox tails.
Every table had a stand-out wine, so choosing a favorite was hard. My wine “find” of the Best of the Best in Miami was Scott Paul’s 2003 “Audrey” Pinot Noir. I found it fun and flavorful, unpretentious, and a good match with the food.
It was anything but hard to enjoy the two fabulous events, and I recommend them for food and wine lovers anywhere. Both the Masters and SoBe sell out early, so plan ahead for 2006.
South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Masters of Food &Wine